Religious Dialogue and Truth Claims

In the comments on a blog post about the Pope’s remarks during his flight to Manila an interesting exchange took place. Two readers effectively claimed that the Pope insults and mocks people of other religions because he consider his own religion true and others false.

Here’s a screen dump:

Auszug der Kommentare auf "Jesuscreed"

Extract of comments on “Jesus Creed”

If we accept this idea then we, not just  Christians but also Muslims, Jews, etc., have to either abandon all truth claims for our faith (and if you expect me to do that, you are indeed insulting me!) or we have to give up all hope for peaceful co-existence of people of different faiths and worldviews.

Truth claims in themselves must not be viewed as insults or mockery. It is in the nature of religions which claim to be based on divine revelation that they claim to be true, and this implies inevitably that they consider other religions, which teach other things, to be false, or at least less true.

Muslims consider their religion to be true, and consider Christianity untrue and false: of course I disagree with them, but I do not feel insulted, mocked or denigrated by the fact that they consider their religion true, and mine consequently untrue and in error.

The Pope believes that the Catholic Church (i.e. the part of Christendom which accepts him as its earthly head) most fully and truly realizes Christs teaching and intentions for His church. As an Evangelical Protestant I disagree, and there are other points of doctrine and practice where I also disagree with the Pope and the Catholic Church. I consider the Pope and the Catholic Church to be in error in these things, and undoubtedly the Pope considers us Protestants to be in error, as well. I do not feel insulted, mocked, or denigrated by these disagreements — they are simply the reason I am an Evangelical Protestant and not a Roman Catholic.

It is precisely this which is one of the big problems with jihadist Islam (not with all of Islam, but certainly with this expression of it): that it feels insulted, mocked, and denigrated by the fact that not everyone has submitted to it, and by the fact that non-Muslims refuse to abide by Islamic law as the jihadists interpret it, such as the prohibition against images of their “prophet.”

You cannot have peaceful co-existence of people of different faiths and worldviews without tolerating and living with widely differing truth claims. Truth claims, if they are at all meaningful, by necessity imply untruth claims, error claims:

Jesus Christ cannot be both

  • the incarnate Son of God who died on the cross and rose again from death on the third day, and
  • a mere human being who fainted from the stress and pain of crucifixion, and came to again in the tomb when his body had recovered some from that stress;

Only one of these claims about Jesus Christ can be true, and the other is then inevitably untrue, false, and in error. The true insult would be to demand from Christians and Muslims that they abandon their convictions in this matter so as to not offend those who disagree. That would indeed make a mockery of both religions.

It is only when we try to force on others what we believe to be true, when we prevent others from practicing their religion, that problems arise. And even though the Church and Christian rulers have been guilty of this in the past, today it is primarily in Muslim countries that Christians and other non-Muslims are not just harassed and discriminated against, but are violently persecuted.

And let me be clear about one other thing: Freedom of Religion also implies (a) the freedom to try and persuade others of the truth claims of your religion, and (b) the freedom to change your religion if you have become convinced of other truth claims. One of the problems with Islam in general is the lack of freedom of religion in countries where it is the dominant religion — where people risk their lives if they speak of their non-Muslim faith or want to convert to a non-Muslim faith.

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