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Religious Tolerance logo

Truth in religion:

Introduction: two very different
aspects of religious truth

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Most people in North America regard themselves as either Christian, Jewish or Muslim. These three religions, and others, each teach a very wide range of conflicting religious truths. These truths can be divided into two groups:

bulletTheological beliefs: These include topics like the nature of gods, or other deities, the afterlife, salvation, seasonal days of celebration, sin, etc.

Most fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians hold about ten cardinal doctrines as important foundational beliefs. Many Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, mainline, liberal and progressive Christians agree with most of these same doctrines, although they might interpret them differently.

However, it is obvious from even the most superficial study of religion that:
bulletFaith groups share an Ethic of Reciprocity, commonly called the "Golden Rule." It states that people should treat others as they would like to be treated themselves. It is difficult to understand how a company, city, county, state or country could survive harmoniously unless most people shared this ethic.
bulletFaith groups differ greatly in many of their other teachings. Most believers have little doubt that their group's beliefs are true. However, they have doubts about the tenets of other groups. Religious folks generally take one of three viewpoints about truth in their own and other religions:
bulletExclusivism (a.k.a. Particularism): Their own group possesses the full truth as God revealed it millennia ago. Other religious groups are consistently in very serious error.
bulletInclusivism: Their own group possesses the full truth; other religions contain only parts of the truth.

bulletPluralism: All religious groups' beliefs and practices are equally true, when interpreted within their own culture. 1

These three viewpoints apply not only to other religions, but to other denominations within the same religion. For example, in Christianity, as in other religions, there is no consensus on the definition of what a Christian is. Everyone seems to have a definition, but there is no consensus. Also, there are many opinions, but no consensus, on which denomination(s) -- if any -- is the true Christian church, or which denominations are to be considered Christian, or which religion is the true one.

Often, there will be greater differences in the truth claims between fundamentalist and progressive Christians as there are between, for example, progressive Christians and Reform Judaism.

Ultimately, the main influences that determine an individual's religious truths are:
bulletThe place where they are born, and
bulletThe religion of their family of origin.

Almost all persons born in Iran will be Shi'ite Muslims as adults; those born in other predominately Muslim countries will probably be Sunni Muslims; in South America, most will be Roman Catholic Christians; in North America, they will probably be either Protestant or Roman Catholic Christians. If the stork was blown off course before you were born, then today you might well be worshiping a different deity and holding different beliefs in God, humanity and the rest of the universe as absolute truths.

bulletSocial, moral, and political beliefs: In addition to teaching theological truths, faith groups and parachurch organizations frequently teach about morality and ethics, human sexuality, etc. They also teach about scientific topics like the origin of the species, the age of the Earth, cosmology, etc., where they may disagree with the general consensus reached by scientists.

We have noted a tendency in recent years for some denominations and parachurch organizations to depart from clear, objective, accurate reporting. They rarely lie, but often tell only part of the story in a way that confuses the reader and/or guides them towards an invalid conclusion. We hope to document individual examples of this and provide a more complete treatment of the topic for our visitor.

Copyright © 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Initial posting: 2009-SEP-16
Latest update: 2009-SEP-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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