Which, if any, of the world's
10,000 religions is the true one?
Sorry; if you are looking for "True
Religion" jeans, this essay won't help you. However, you might want to read
"True religion is not about possessing the truth. No religion does that.
It is rather an invitation into a journey that leads one toward the mystery
of God. Idolatry is religion pretending that it has all the answers." Bishop
J.S. Spong "Q&A on The Parliament of the World's Religions," weekly mailing, 2007-SEP-05.
"...just because you don't bow
on your knees and worship an idol or an invisible being, does not mean
you are not a Satan worshiper. The worship of any other god (s) is the
same thing. There are no other gods. They are demons and Satan is in
control of them." From the website www.exposingsatanism.org
"Yes, Christianity is the one true religion. That may sound awfully
dogmatic and narrow-minded, but the simple truth is that Christianity is the
only true religion. Jesus said that He alone was the way to the Father (John
14:6), that He alone revealed the Father (Matt. 11:27; Luke 10:22).
Christians do not go around saying Christianity is the only way because they
are arrogant, narrow-minded, stupid, and judgmental. They do so because they
believe what Jesus said."
Christian Apologetics &
Research Ministry (CARM).
How many religions are there in the world from which to locate the "true" one?
According to David Barrett and team, there are 19 major world religious
groupings in the world which are subdivided into a
total of about 10,000 distinct religions. Of the latter, there were 270
religions and para-religions which had over a half million adherents in the year 2000
CE. Within Christianity, they have identified 34,000 separate
groups (denominations, sects, individual unaffiliated churches, para-church
groups, etc) in the world. "Over half of them are
independent churches that are not interested in linking with the big
Even considering a single religion, Christianity,
within a single country, there are often thousands of individual "Christian
confessions and denominations." For example, Barrett et al. states that
4,684 groups in the U.S.
3,364 in South Africa.
2,079 in Nigeria.
1,581 in Brazil.
1,327 in South-central Asia.
Among other English-speaking countries, there are:
828 groups in the UK.
469 in Canada.
267 in Australia
175 in New Zealand. 2
Differences in the beliefs and practices of various
Perhaps the next greatest range of beliefs are
about the fate of people after death: whether there
is simple annihilation, some form of energy-less existence as taught by the ancient
Hebrews, Purgatory as taught by the Roman Catholic Church, Heaven or Paradise as
taught by many religions, Hell which is also taught by many faiths, Limbo, reincarnation,
transmigration of the soul, nirvana, an alternative world much like Earth, and probably some
other places or states that we have missed.
There is also a great range of beliefs and practices among different
religions over other theological beliefs, ritual, organization, family structure, personal sexual behavior,
and other topics. For example, differences exist on matters such as: abortion
access, adult celibacy, animal sacrifices. appearance factors (shaving,
jewelry), birth control usage, calendar, clergy celibacy, clergy gender, clergy
organization, meeting day, documentation, family power sharing, family types,
gender of deities, homosexual rights, meeting place, nature of deities, nature
of humanity, new year date, number of deities, origin of the universe, prayer,
pre-marital sex, role of women, sacred texts, suicide, surgical modifications to the
body, special clothing, symbols, etc.
To our knowledge, no two religions teach the same
message or expect the same practices from their followers. One would be hard pressed to find two
faith groups within the same religion which have identical teachings and
practices. If a "true religion" exists, then it would probably have to be one or a few
faith groups within one of the 10,000 religions. All of the other religions and
faith groups would be in error.
What do faith groups teach about their own status?
Most religious groups teach that their own beliefs and practices are the only true set, and that all other faith groups contain some degree of error.
For example, the largest single faith group in the U.S., in Canada, and in the world is the Roman Catholic Church. According to the Times News
Service, a year 2000 statement by the Church titled "Dominus Iesus" 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." Only the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches are "churches in the proper
sense." They suffer from "defects." Dominus Iesus further states that religions other than Christianity are considered to be
"gravely deficient." Their rituals can constitute "an obstacle to salvation" for their followers. 3,4
Because religions are so different, only one could
be the "true religion." Perhaps none are. Within the "true religion" there may
be more than one faith group that are sufficiently accurate in their beliefs and
practices that all could qualify as "true." The problem is how to find out which
religion and which faith groups have this status.
Some methods of determining the "true" religion
Conduct an opinion poll: Unfortunately, beliefs differ around the world:
In Saudi Arabia, the government claims that 100% of the population is Muslim. So there is probably a very high probability
that a given citizen picked at random would firmly believe Islam is the true religion and that theirs is the true faith group.
India is about 80% Hindu. There is a very high probability that any given citizen believes that their tradition with Hinduism
is the true religion.
The U.S. is about 75% Christian. The population in the American "Bible belt" is significantly higher than
that. There is a very high probability that any given citizen in South Carolina, for example, believes that their denomination within
Christianity is the true religion.
It is obvious that one's personal beliefs about the true religion is largely a function of the country in which one happens to have been born, the
area of that country, and the beliefs of one's parent(s):
If Jerry Falwell had been born in Saudi
Arabia of Muslim parents, and obtained his religious education in that
country, there is a near certainty that he would be promoting Islam today.
If the late Sheikh Mohamed Mutwali al-Sharawilittle of Egypt, who was called
"The Arab world's best known television preacher of the Holy Qur'an,"
had been born and raised by Southern Baptists in Dallas, TX, that he would
almost certainly have promoted Christianity.
One's personal beliefs and the certainty with which one holds them is an
unreliable measure of truth, because they are largely determined by one's
culture and the faith of one's parents -- both largely accidents of birth. So, an opinion poll might show what
peoples beliefs are. But it would not be helpful in locating the "true" faith
Pray to God 5 and
ask to be enlightened. The founder of the Mormon movement, Joseph
Smith, did precisely this. Mormons believe that God and Jesus Christ appeared to him
side by side, and told him that none of the then existing Christian
denominations were the true religion. He was instructed to create a new
denomination to restore Christianity to its first century CE purity
before it fell into heresy.
This method appears to be unreliable. When people
pray to God for enlightenment, most seem to conclude that their own religion
and faith group is
the true one. If people could access the will of God on this matter, then a vast
majority of the world's
population -- the folks who pray -- would realize that their faith group was
not the true one. They would gradually migrate to the true religion. There
would eventually be only one religion and one tradition within that
religion left standing. Otherwise, people would be rejecting the will of
God. All the other 11,000 religions and their tens
of thousands of denominations or traditions would be phased out.
The OCRT, the group that sponsors this web site, conducted a pilot study to determine whether a person can assess the will of God through prayer. We used
a controversial topic: whether God favors same-sex marriage for homosexuals and some bisexuals. The answer that we found
was that people appear to be unable to assess the will of God through
Communication from God: God could initiate a direct communication to humanity. In order to be convincing, it would have to
be totally unambiguous, clear and convincing. One example might be for God to rearrange a few thousand stars to spell out in the evening sky the name
of the true religion. Unfortunately, at least within the Judeo-Christian traditions, God seems to be progressively withdrawing from humanity. He
walked in person with Adam and Eve. Later, he only appeared in rare occasions as at Mount Sinai. Still later, he communicated with humans only
through prophets. Most Christians believe that Jesus Christ is God and walked among humans in first century CE Palestine.
However, he was seen by only a miniscule percentage of the human race. Now, access to God is through prayer.
Unless God were to take the initiative, it appears that there is no way for humans to determine which religion is "true."
Note: The following are personal musings and
are perhaps biased and lacking in objectivity.
There is often great wisdom in comic strips. In 1976, Charles Schultz had
Snoopy write a book on theology called: "Has it ever occurred to you that you
might be wrong?" In 1980, he had Linus ask his Sunday School teacher the
exact same question. 7
Imagine the results if more people in the world realized the simple fact
that there are over 11,000 religions in the world and that it is impossible with
our present knowledge to find out which is the "true" one. An inevitable
corollary to this belief would be that they would develop a degree of doubt that
their religion is the only "true" one. People might be less inclined to
oppress, discriminate against, murder or commit mass murder and
genocide against people of other faiths such as has
happened during the past decade in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia,
Cyprus, Nigeria, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka,
Philippines, Indonesia, the U.S. etc.
Imagine the results if more people accepted their religion as the best
faith for them, but at the same time recognized that there are other religions
which teach about other deities, other systems of morality, other religious
practices, etc. Yet almost all of them motivate people to lead better lives.
There might be fewer people willing to defend their particular religion by
oppressing or killing followers of other religions and spiritual paths.