Do all Paths Lead to the Same Destination?
We live in an age characterized by choice. Our grocery stores contain every type of food imaginable, cable television brings just about every conceivable type of programming into our homes, and the Internet offers us more information than we could ever download.
In light of all the options we have in the modem world, it seems only natural to assume that the spiritual world provides us with just as many choices. Like a menu offering many types of food, the religions of the world seem to provide us with a variety of ways to satisfy our hunger for something beyond the physical world.
Is it possible that Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism all represent valid paths to the same destination? Are all religions basically the same? Many would say that the answer is "yes."
Then how does one account for the significant differences between religious traditions such as Islam and Buddhism? How does one account for these differences and still maintain that all paths lead to the same destination?
Why All Paths Do Not Lead to the Same Destination
In this article, I will give several reasons why all paths in religion do not lead to the same destination.
1. First of all, the major religions of the world do not teach the same things.
There is widespread disagreement on a variety of issues. For example, Muslims claim that there is only one God, Allah, who created the universe from nothing. Some Hindus, instead of believing in a personal creator, believe in Brahman, an impersonal, absolute reality that permeates all things. Other Hindus believe there are millions of deities (such as Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and Krishna) which are manifestations of Brahman.
2. A second area of disagreement relates to the explanation which each religious tradition gives for the basic problem of humanity.
Hindus claim that the universal problem is Samsara. Samsara is an endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (reincarnation) which traps every person. Only the knowledge of ones relationship to the Brahman and commitment to religious devotion can break this cycle and allow moksha (release) to occur.
Christianity, on the other hand, claims that the universal problem of humanity is separation from God. Christianity claims that every person has rebelled against God by violating His commands (what the Bible calls sin), and that the penalty for our sin is death. Christians insist, unlike Hindus, that there is no human solution to this problem. They believe that Jesus Christ is a substitute who paid our sin penalty in order to restore our relationship to God.
3. A third area of disagreement relates to the fate of individuals at death.
Muslims believe that each of us will die once and then face judgment by Allah. We will spend eternity in heaven or hell, depending on Allahs judgment. Hindus, on the other hand, claim that we will live (and have already lived) many lives on earth and that the conditions of our past and future existence depend on the cosmic laws of Karma. Following death, each of us reincarnates into different forms (human, animal, etc.).
These claims about the nature of God, the problem of humanity, and the fate of individuals at death are just a few examples of conflicting assertions made by differed religious traditions. These conflicts render it unlikely that all paths lead to the same destination.
Allow me to use an illustration to explain why this is the case. Consider the following two statements:
Obviously, both of these claims cannot be true at the same time. Two contradictory claims cannot both be true. Thus, if two religions make truth claims which contradict each other, they cannot both be correct. For example, Buddhism denies the existence of a personal God while Islam affirms the existence of a personal God. Can God be both personal and not personal at the same time? Christians affirm the deity of Christ while Muslims deny the deity of Christ. Can Jesus Christ be God incarnate and not God incarnate at the same time? Clearly, the answer is "no."
Several Objections Raised Against The Claim
Several objections are often raised against the claim that all paths do not lead to the same destination.
1. First, many people feel that such a position is narrow and intolerant.
Most of us believe that tolerance is a virtue. We tolerate those with whom we disagree. Who can argue with this? It is important that we continue to work to create a world where there is greater religious freedom.
However, the assumption behind this objection is not valid. A position can be narrow and wrong, or it can be narrow and right. Just being narrow doesnt make something either right or wrong. The fact that 2+2=4 is very narrow, but it is also right.
Suppose someone feels that the automobile industry cramps his style by specifying "unleaded fuel only" for his automobile. If he resisted this narrow confine by using diesel fuel or, worse yet, water, his car would fail to operate. The specifications may be narrow, but, nevertheless, they are valid.
2. A second objection relates to the matter of sincerity.
Often, people will say, "It doesnt really matter what you believe as long as you are sincere." The assumption is that because people are sincere, they cant be wrong.
Sincerity, or the lack of it, has nothing to do with determining truth. We can be sincerely right or sincerely wrong. For example, during a football game, my roommate Greg sincerely threw the ball to someone who appeared to be one of his receivers. His sincerity did not change the fact that he threw an interception.
3. A third objection is that it is just not that important to be right in the area of spiritual truth.
"Whats the big deal?" People say, "Why is it so important to be right?" Allow me to use an illustration. Suppose you were experiencing severe abdominal pain and you went to two different doctors to get their diagnosis of your physical condition. The first doctor tells you that you have a simple case of heartburn and hands you a bottle of Maalox. The second physician, however, says that you have several cancerous tumors in your stomach and wants to operate immediately and start you on chemotherapy in the morning. Obviously, these doctors offer conflicting opinions of your condition. It is very important that you get an accurate diagnosis of your condition. An inaccurate one could result in death.
This situation is similar to what we face in the spiritual area of our lives. Different religions offer conflicting diagnoses of our spiritual condition and prescribe different solutions to our predicament.
Without an accurate diagnosis, we run the risk of living our earthly lives based on faulty information that could ultimately affect our eternal lives as well. We could get to the end of the ladder of life only to discover that it was leaning against the wrong wall. Needless to say, it is very important that we attempt to discover which religious path actually leads to God.
At this point, you may be thinking, "How can we determine which path leads to God?" "Are there any objective criteria we can use to evaluate religious traditions?" I believe there are at least five criteria.
1. logical consistency
2. adequate factual support
3. experiential relevance
4. consistency with other fields of knowledge
5. moral factors.
These criteria can be used to evaluate any theory-whether it be historical, scientific, or religious. In light of the differing truth claims of religious traditions, it seems clear that all paths do not lead to the same destination. This means that each of us must examine the available evidence and make an informed decision.
A Post Script
So where does a person begin? Perhaps I can offer my own experience. From my personal study of world religions, I have become persuaded of the truth claims of Christianity. Though I began to follow Christ as a teenager, upon entering college I had many questions, such as, "How do I know God exists?" and "How can I trust the Bible?" It was important to me that what I found to be psychologically satisfying was also intellectually sound. To my surprise I discovered that Christianity provides criteria by which one can evaluate its truth claims. Allow me to explain.
The central claim of Christianity is that God entered human history 2000 years ago in the person of Jesus Christ who died on a cross and rose from the dead three days later. The truthfulness of Christianity stands or falls with a critical historical event-the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. In a first century letter to a group of Christians, the apostle Paul wrote, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." (1 Corinthians 15). In other words, if Christ did not rise from the dead, then Christianity is false.
Therefore, to disprove Christianity, all one has to do is show that Jesus never rose from the dead. Several years ago, a skeptic of Christianity named Josh McDowell set out do to precisely this. He didnt buy the claims of Christianity and wanted to put an end to it once and for all. In his book Evidence That Demands a Verdict, he summarizes his conclusion:
"After more than 700 hours of studying this subject, and thoroughly investigating its foundation, I have come to the conclusion that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most wicked, vicious, heartless hoaxes ever foisted upon the minds of men, or it is the most fantastic fact of history."
As a skeptic of Christianity, Josh McDowell not only found the evidence for Christs resurrection from the dead compelling, but he also became a follower of Christ.
Christianity, as I said before, offers criteria by which one can evaluate its truth-claims. This, I believe, makes Christianity a great place to start in beginning ones investigation.
Josh McDowell, "Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith." rev. ed. (San Bernardino: Heres Life, 19.79), 179. McDowell discusses several other issues related to the historical credibility of Christianity in this work as well.
Article by Brian Owen