Aren’t All Religions Equally Valid?

By James Rochford.

Is spiritual reality relative? Many people believe it is. They believe God interacts with different people, through different religions, in different ways. Is this really that bad of an idea? Why limit God to Christianity? If you believe in this view, then you’d be interested in relativism.[1] Relativism is the popular belief that all religions are equal expressions of spiritual truth. Relativist John Hick articulates this view in this way:

It must speak of an ultimate transcendent reality which is the ground and source of everything, but which in its inner nature lies beyond the scope of our human conceptual systems. This reality (which I have been referring to as the Real) is differently conceived, and therefore differently experienced, and therefore differently responded to from within the different world religions.[2]

Hick explains his view with Joseph Jastrow’s “Duck and Rabbit” drawing. Some people see a duck in this picture, while others see a rabbit. In the same way, Hick argues that God might appear differently to different people. He also illustrates God as a rainbow, when he writes, “The rainbow, as the sun’s light refracted by the earth’s atmosphere into a glorious spectrum of colours, is a metaphor for the refraction of the divine Light by our human religious cultures.”[3] According to Hick, we all have a partial understanding –a refraction of light –but none of us have the whole picture of God. Relativist Jonathan Sacks writes,

There is a fundamental difference between God and religion. God is universal, religion is particular. We serve God, author of diversity, by respecting diversity. God no more wants all faiths and cultures to be the same than a loving parent wants his or her children to be the same… We will make peace in this troubled world only when we learn that God loves difference and so, at last, must we.[4]

Relativists argue that one worldview cannot have a monopoly on spiritual truth. Moreover, they argue that exclusive truth claims lead to bigotry, abuse, or the demonization of other worldviews.

Qualification

1. Relativism is Not Biblical

2. Relativism is Contrary to Other Realities

3. Relativism is Self-Defeating

4. Relativism is Illogical

5. Relativism Denies Revelation

6. Relativism Trivializes Religion

7. Relativism is Unloving

What’s the Solution?

 


[1] Some would actually define this as pluralism –not relativism (e.g. John Hick). For simplicity, I am using loose definitions.

[2] Hick, John. A Christian Theology of Religions: the Rainbow of Faiths. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1995. 82.

[3] Hick, John. Preface. A Christian Theology of Religions: the Rainbow of Faiths. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1995.

[4] Jonathan Sacks is the chief rabbi of Great Britain. Quoted in Bauckham, Richard. Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003. 7.