The Conflict Between Absolute and Relative Truth In Religion

Truth in religion. What, actually, is the truth?

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A person, whom I will call “Anon” — short form for “Anonymous” — recently sent me Email discussing absolute and relative truth in religion. He asked:

“If I believe I am an automobile, does that mean I am one?”

I feel that the correct answer is no, that a human cannot be an automobile. I base this assertion on the source of all secular knowledge, “Google,” which defines “automobile” as:

“a road vehicle, typically with four wheels, powered by an internal combustion engine or electric motor and able to carry a small number of people.”

That sounds like a reasonable description, although I might have added the presence of doors and a steering wheel. Also, the word “vehicle” is not defined. However, Google’s seems sufficiently precise in this case.

I suspect that A.C. has no wheels, has no engine or motor in the conventional sense of those words, and would find it difficult to carry even one person of average weight for a long distance, let alone a small number of people.

Therefore, I confidently assert that he is definitely and absolutely not an automobile.

The essence the remaining part of Anon’s email is similar a quandary that I had some 23 years ago when I launched the ReligiousTolerance.org website, during the infancy of the Internet.

Various sources claim there is between 20,000 and 40,000 individual organized denominations, sects, and faith groups worldwide, within Christianity.

Let us assume that there are 30,000. All base their beliefs and practices on various translations of the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament) and Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. New Testament), and perhaps include the Apocrypha. Most of them regard themselves as having the fullness of truth about Christianity. That is, their version of Christianity is the correct one. However, they all teach different beliefs and follow different practices. Further, many faith groups regard others who regard themselves as Christians to actually be sub-Christian, non-Christian, or even anti-Christian.

My quandary was: when essays on my website discuss Christianianity, how wide a net should be used? What faith groups should be included as “Christian?” and which should be excluded?

Some conservative Protestants teach that a Christian is any person who believes that the Bible is inerrant, that salvation is by grace, and that one must be “born-again” to be saved and avoid eternal punishment in Hell after death. Otherwise, they will be sent on to the torture chambers for all eternity.

The Catholic Church teaches that their denomination is the only one with the fullness of Christian truth.

To many in the very early Christian movement, a Christian was defined as a person who was baptized and proclaimed “Jesus is Lord.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is often referred to as the Mormon church or the LDS. They believe that when the last apostle died during the first Century CE, all of the Christian groups started to deviate quickly from the original teachings of Jesus. They believe that the LDS founder, Joseph Smith, created a denomination that is the only one that follows the original Christian beliefs. And so on, with other faith groups.

After much discussion in the group, we decided on a definition of “Christian.” The current definition that we use is:

“We accept as Christian any individual or group who devoutly, thoughtfully, seriously, and prayerfully believe themselves to be attempting to follow the teachings of Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ) as they interpret those teachings to be.”

This definition includes the two largest organized Christian denominations within the U.S., the Roman Catholic Church, and the Southern Baptist Conference, as well as tens of thousands of smaller ones. It probably includes essentially all of the 280 million in the U.S, adults who consider themselves to be Christian.

“Anon” disagrees with this definition, because it regards a Christian as anyone who thinks they are a Christian. By the same general argument, anyone who thinks they are an automobile should be considered an automobile.

Perhaps the resolution to this conflict is that “Christianity, the religion” cannot be defined. But if one cannot define a religion, then how can one discuss it?

References

Robinson B.A. 2016. ReligiousTolerance.org. Who is a Christian?

The views presented on this blog are an extension of those presented on the Religious Tolerance website. The purpose of all articles is to compare the full range of beliefs and actions by people who are members of various faith groups within Christianity and other world religions, individuals who are NOT Affiliated with a faith group (NOTAs), and secularists.

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