How Christians view other religions
Views of Protestant, Roman Catholic,
and Eastern Orthodox
Topics in this essay:
Their beliefs differ:
||Many conservative Christians are exclusionists (i.e. they believe that their own denomination and those who agree with
them are the only valid faith, while all other groups are in serious error).
||Some are inclusionists (i.e. they believe that their group's beliefs are fully true, while all other groups only have
part of the truth).
They see their own faith group, as based upon the Word of God as expressed in the Bible. Generally, they believe in the
inerrancy of the Bible. Most believe in the traditional Christian belief that an individual will be sent to Hell when she/he dies if she/he has not
first repented of their sins and then been "saved" by trusting Jesus as Lord and Savior, while still alive.
This would include essentially all members of non-Christian faith groups and many members of Christian denominations.
They may view other world religions as one of the following:
||only partially true, or
||mostly worthless, or
||influenced by Satan or
||actually controlled by Satan, or
||a variety of Satanism.
In addition, many conservative Christians do not recognize other Christian denominations as being truly Christian. This is seen in their local
ministerial associations which are frequently separate from the mainline/liberal Christian ministerial group in the same city. It is also seen in
their attacks on more liberal Christian denominations and on new religious movements which teach beliefs that are different
from their own, and at variance from historical Christian beliefs.
the most common types of complaint mail that we receive demonstrates this exclusion
of other Christian faith groups: Letters from Fundamentalist Christians
often complain that we include such groups as the Roman Catholic Church, the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses,
Unificationists, etc. in our
lists of Christian denominations. They often regard Catholics as Pagans, Mormons as
Gnostics, and Jehovah's Witnesses, Unificationists, etc. as an
Some conservative Christians believe that the Gods and Goddesses of other religions are
actually demons. Thus, they see little difference among Hinduism,
Wicca, other forms of Neopaganism, and all other non-Christian religions. They believe
that while members of these religions think that they are worshiping deities, they are
really interacting with evil spirits or with Satan himself.
They generally recognize the existence of spiritual power in other faith
groups' rituals, services and leaders. But they often attribute that
power to demonic spirits, and describe it as a form of counterfeit power which
may appear to be of God, but which originates in powers of evil.
They agree with those passages in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament)
that state that unsaved people view the Gospel message is nonsense
and/or undecipherable. It is only when a person is
saved -- i.e. becomes part of the "Body of Christ" -- that the Holy
Spirit will intervene in their life, and sanctify them. Only after the person
is saved will the Gospel message become clear to them. Those who are not saved
cannot be trusted to give wise advice or to teach accurate beliefs, because
they are not empowered by the Holy Spirit to understand and speak the truth.
On 1965-OCT-28, following the Vatican II meetings of the leaders of the church, the Vatican
issued a "Declaration on the Relation of the Church to non-Christian Religions."
1 In this document, the Roman Catholic Church followed the
inclusivist path by holding their own faith group to be the only
true church, even as they recognized
some value and truth in non-Catholic denominations and non-Christian religions. Some important passages of the
declaration "Nostra Aetate"
||"The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions."
||"The Church therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and
collaboration with the followers of other religions... they recognize, preserve, and
promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found
among these men."
||"The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems."
||"Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great,
this Sacred Synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect
which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as fraternal
However, an apparent hardening of the church's views since Vatican II
resulted in the release of "Dominus Iesus," first
published on 2000-AUG-6 by Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith. According to the Times News Service,
the statement implies that "Churches such as the Church of
England, where the apostolic succession of bishops from the time of St.
Peter is disputed by Rome, and churches without bishops, are not
considered 'proper' churches." They suffer from "defects."
Religions other than Christianity are considered to be "gravely
deficient." Their rituals can constitute "an obstacle to
salvation" for their followers. 2 More details on "Dominus Iesus."
Many liberal Christians are
pluralists: they view the major religions of the world as
different attempts to understand questions related to deity, humanity, and the rest of the universe. They
generally view the all-evil quasi-deity, Satan,
as being a concept of profound evil, and not as a living entity with
supernatural powers. They see the Gods and Goddesses of non-Christian
religions as being unrelated to Satan, although some of those deities may have both good
and evil aspects. They view all of the major religions as inspiring many of their members
to lead more moral and spiritual lives. They welcome religious diversity and
view it as making a positive contribution to the country.
Who is right?
Religious diversity is a given, at least in North America. The U.S. has been
called the most religiously diverse nation in the world. 3
About 76% of Americans currently identify themselves as Christians. About 14% do not
follow any organized religion. The rest follow an amazing array of non-Christian
religions, from Asatru to Zoroastrianism. In addition, the
religious composition of the U.S. is changing rapidly:
the percentage of Christians is dropping almost one percentage point a year;
those not affiliated with any religion are increasing over one half percentage
points a year.
All of these numbers and trends are emphasizing the importance of how each
faith group reacts to this increasing religious diversity. The fundamental
question is whether a group's understanding of religious truth
includes or excludes the validity of other faith groups' beliefs. There are
three popular approaches to this question:
||Exclusivism: the belief that their faith group is the only
completely true religion, and that all others are false, and perhaps
Satanic in nature.
||Inclusivism: the belief that one's faith group is the only
completely true religion. However, truth is also found in other
||Pluralism: the belief that all of the tens of thousands of
faith groups in the world are valid and true, when viewed from within
their particular culture.
Unfortunately, excluding other religions can lead to misunderstandings and conflict.
Some Christians can view other religions as
anti-Christian whereas others
see them as un-Christian. Kerr Cuhulain, a respected Neopagan, wrote
about the attitudes of some Christians towards his religion of
is exclusivism: the idea that there can only be one true faith. The same individuals who
make this suggestion usually accuse any faith or Christian denomination other than their
own of being anti-Christian or Satanic...We [Wiccans] are not anti-Christian. We are simply
different." Problems can occur when individuals convert their beliefs into
practice. Religious minorities in Canada and the United States have been heavily
discriminated against. Anti-Semitism is believed to be
responsible for the largest number of serious religious attacks in these two countries.
However, those Wiccans who are open with their faith
have probably suffered the
greatest on a per-capita basis. There have been incidents of lynching, attempted mass
murder by stoning, shooting, assaults, firebombing, and other criminal acts against
Wiccans and other Neopagans. More details.
Barna Research Ltd. is the most active religious polling
organization in the United States. They conduct telephone polls about a
variety of topics -- mainly involving Christianity. 4
George Barna, president of Barna Research commented: "While
many Americans are not practicing Christians, they retain some identity
with the Christian faith and remain protective of it. They are suspicious
of other faith groups because they are unknown but different—and we are
generally uncomfortable with those who are not just like us..." Barna asked a random selection of American adults in 1995-JUL
whether they thought that various religions had a positive or negative
effect on U.S. society. The margin of error is ~+mn~3 percentage points.
Responses were only counted from those subjects who were familiar with the
religion in question. 5
American adults, Christians and non-Christians alike, regard Christianity and Judaism as
having a positive influence on society. The remaining five religions
included in the survey (Islam, Buddhism, Mormonism, Scientology and
Atheism) received mixed reviews. (Barna Research apparently does
not consider The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the
Mormons, to be a Christian denomination. This is a common stance taken by
many conservative Christians who consider the Mormons to be either a
non-Christian religion or a cult. Mormons consider their faith to
be a reconstruction of the beliefs and practices of the early Christian
movement; they regard other Christian denominations as having deviated
from true Christianity which they represent).
Partial results of the survey are:
||% of born-again Christians who view the religion's impact as
||% of non-Christians who view the religion's impact as negative
We suspect that mainline and liberal Christians have opinions that are
intermediate between the above two groups. The percentage of American
adults who are "born-again" is about 35%. The percentage of
non-Christians is about 15%.
These beliefs do not
bode well for the future of religious tolerance in the U.S. Large minorities of citizens view other religions
negatively. If similar results were found in a survey about other races,
other genders, other sexual orientations, or other nationalities, then one
could attribute the response to simple racism, sexism, homophobia or xenophobia.
But the above survey is in a different class. Many born-again Christians
believe that the normal destination for people after death is
only those who are born-again will attain heaven. Thus, any religion that
does not motivate people to be "saved" would, in their view,
have a negative impact on its members, and thus on society as a whole. So,
it may be positive concern for followers of other religions that is causing the
born-again Christians to have extremely low opinion of those religions.
The most mistrusted religion: Atheism:
There are probably hundreds of definitions of the term
"religion" that people have proposed -- all different. We use a very
inclusive definition: "Religion
is any specific system of belief about deity, often involving rituals, a code of ethics, a
philosophy of life, and a worldview."
Atheism qualifies under this definition because Atheists either believe
that God does not exist, or they have no belief in the existence of God.
In the Barna survey cited above, 92% of born-again Christians view Atheism's
impact on society as negative; this is a higher percentage than for any other
religion. Even 50% of non-Christians view Atheism's impact as negative -- again
a higher percentage than any other religion.
University of Minnesota researchers conducted a telephone survey of
over 2,000 households in early 2006. 7
They found that:
"...Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and
lesbians and other minority groups in 'sharing their vision of American
society.' Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least
willing to allow their children to marry."
Lead researcher, Penny Edgell, noted that Atheists:
"...offer a glaring exception to the rule of increasing social tolerance
over the last 30 years....It seems most Americans believe that diversity is
fine, as long as every one shares a common 'core' of values that make them
trustworthy—and in America, that 'core' has historically been
religious'....Americans believe they share more than rules and procedures
with their fellow citizens—they share an understanding of right and wrong.
Our findings seem to rest on a view of atheists as self-interested
individuals who are not concerned with the common good'." 7,8
Pope John Paul, "Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian
Religions (Nostra Aetate)," 1965-OCT-28. Available at: http://listserv.american.edu/catholic/church/vaticanii/
Joseph Cardinal Retzinger, "Dominus Iesus on the unicity and
salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the church," Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith. See: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/
- Diana Eck, "A New
Religious America: How a 'Christian Country' Has Become the World's Most
Religiously Diverse Nation," HarperSanFrancisco, (2001).
Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
Barna Research has a home page at: http://www.barna.org
"Christianity has a strong positive image despite fewer active
participants," Barna Research, 1996-FEB-5, at: http://www.barna.org/cgi-bin/PagePressRelease.asp?
The term "pluralism" is ambiguous.
It is sometimes used to refer to the belief that all religions are true. Other
times, it refers to religious diversity.
"Atheists identified as America’s most distrusted minority, according to
new U of M study," University of Minnesota, 2006-MAR-20, at:
The study will appear in the 2006-April issue of the American Sociology
Copyright © 1997 to 2007, by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2007-SEP-07
Author: B.A. Robinson