Is It Wrong to Claim a Religion Is True?

Author Tim Barnett Published on 02/04/2016

Here’s a challenge I received:

No-one can “validate” his/her own religion. Likewise, no-one can “invalidate” any other religion. I believe in some type of god/gods, but I choose not to associate that belief with any specific religious teachings, because I’ve never felt qualified to refute the equally unprovable beliefs of other cultures. You can’t claim anyone’s beliefs to be “right” or “wrong” when it’s all based on conjecture.

I can’t help but draw your attention to the self-refuting nature of the last sentence. We need to ask the question, is the belief that “you can’t claim anyone’s beliefs to be right or wrong,” based on conjecture? If so, why is he telling me it’s wrong to “claim anyone’s beliefs to be right or wrong?” Doesn’t he think he’s right? Isn’t that why he’s correcting me? He thinks my claims about my beliefs are wrong and his claims about his beliefs are right.

Having said that, let’s get back to responding to the broad challenge—you can’t claim anyone’s beliefs to be right or wrong. This person has expressed a very common confusion. He’s confused objective truth with subjective truth. Let me define what I mean by these terms.

By subjective truth I mean that the belief or claim is made true by the subject’s personal preference. So if I said, “The best flavor of ice cream is Butterscotch Ripple,” and you said, “The best flavor of ice cream is Chocolate Peanut Butter,” both claims about the best flavor of ice cream would be true. But how can the best flavor of ice cream be both Butterscotch Ripple and Chocolate Peanut Butter? That’s simple! It’s because the claim is true for you. That is to say, the truth of the belief only depends on the one who believes it. It turns out that when I claim that Butterscotch Ripple is the best flavor of ice cream, I’m not actually saying anything about the ice cream. I’m only talking about me. That’s how subjective truth claims work.

Now just imagine how ridiculous it would be if I said, “Your belief that Chocolate Peanut Butter is the best ice cream is wrong.” Why is this so ridiculous? Well, it’s because you can’t tell someone that his or her personal preference is wrong. It’s their preference after all. Thus, no one can invalidate your personal preferences. I think this is what the challenger is trying to get at when he says, “No-one can ‘validate’ his/her own religion. Likewise, no-one can ‘invalidate’ any other religion.” The only problem is he has assumed that religious claims are personal, subjective preference truths.

Objective truth is very different. Objective truth is about the way the world really is. It’s when a belief or claim corresponds with reality. If I say, “Insulin regulates diabetes,” then I am making an objective truth claim about the real world. If I have diabetes, it doesn’t matter if I like insulin or not, or if I believe it works or not. My beliefs and preferences don’t change the fact of the matter; insulin controls diabetes. So objective “insulin” truths are very different from subjective “ice cream” truths.

As I hope you are beginning to see, our challenger believes that religious truths are simply subjective “ice cream” truths. However, he couldn’t be more wrong.

Every world religion makes claims about the real world. Just take the central claim of Christianity that Jesus physically rose from the dead. This is a historical claim. It’s about an event that took place in time and space. It either happened or it didn’t. He either rose or He didn’t. But, make no mistake, it’s not the kind of thing that can be true for me but not for you. Notice that if this claim is true, then Christianity is validated and many other religions are invalidated by default. Let me show you.

The Muslim will tell you that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead because He didn’t actually die on the cross, but rather, a substitute took His place. (Some say that Judas Iscariot was made to look like Jesus and the Romans actually crucified Judas.) So, Muslims don’t believe in the resurrection. A Jewish person will tell you that Jesus was a false messiah, and that after He was crucified He stayed dead. The Christian teaches that Jesus was crucified by the Romans, buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb, and on the third day rose physically from the dead.

Now if it turns out that Jesus really did rise from the dead, then Christianity is vindicated, and Islam, Judaism, and every other religion that denies Jesus’ resurrection would be wrong. This is simple logic.

Therefore, Christianity is not the kind of thing that can be true for you and not for me. It makes objective truth claims about reality. So, in principle, it can be falsified. The Apostle Paul said it himself in his first letter to the Corinthians.

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. (1 Corinthians 15:14–17)

These words are absolutely striking. Essentially, he’s saying that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then we are really wrong. Paul knew he was making an objective truth claim about the resurrection. Now whether that objective claim is indeed true is another question.

I answer the question “Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?” in this presentation. You can book me to come to speak at your church on this topic by clicking here.