Can everyone be right?
That is the million-dollar interfaith question.
Even if the interfaith movement is working towards harmony (living together in peace) rather than unity (making everyone believe in the same ideas) it is still a question that gets asked by both advocates and critics.
My answers (plural) to that question come from another movement—the integral movement.
There, the basic assumption is that everyone is right, that no human mind in history has been smart enough to be wrong one hundred percent of the time.
Let’s weight the implications of that for a moment.
If everyone is right, it means that everyone is also wrong, at least, to some degree, although right and wrong may not be the correct words to use here. The difference is rather between having a complete or partial philosophy or theology.
Some systems of thinking are more complete than others but all of them fall into the category of true but partial according to integral theory.
For those who believe their religion to be infallible, that theirs is the only true religion, this is an impossible pill to swallow.
“My religion can’t be partially true. It is either THE TRUTH or nothing.”
For a large part of humanity, this is the de facto stance.
People, who believe in this way, may be okay with interfaith tolerance but always approach it armed with the understanding that their belief system is superior and everyone else is wrong.
Of course, as I have written before, I would much rather see that kind of reluctant tolerance than the alternative of theocracy, where one religion reigns supreme.
Humility and Interfaith
However, if you are willing to carefully consider and examine the world’s religions, you will probably realize that the truth is a vast concept that cannot be easily encapsulated. At that point, you have, knowingly or unknowingly, come to the integral conclusion of true but partial.
It’s an understanding that encourages humility.
The idea that your religion or wisdom tradition may not be infallible is humbling.
It is not to say that you are completely wrong.
No. Your belief system may represent your truth, the truth of your peers, the system you have lived by for hundreds or thousands of years, but is not the only truth.
Relationships and Truth
When I was a newly married man, I learned a lesson that I have repeatedly used throughout my marriage, a lesson that has diffused many difficult situations.
The lesson came in the form of a sentence.
“I may be wrong, I often am.”
I don’t know how often I have repeated this sentence, but I know that it has probably saved my marriage from disaster a few times.
Now, I am not suggesting that people of faith begin to doubt their entire belief structure or even admit that they might be wrong, but I would like to suggest the following sentence as a humbling reminder.
“My truth may be partial, I know most truths are.”
Easier Said Than Done
As I pointed out earlier, a vast number of people on this Earth are likely to vehemently disagree with the sentiments in this column. Their religion is right and everyone else is wrong, and, in my view, that’s okay, as long as it is tempered with reluctant tolerance and does not lead to violence or active discrimination.
However, even if you are intrigued by this idea of true but partial, it may take you a while to come around to it.
Just as it took me some time to be able to easily say the sentence, “I may be wrong, I often am,” it may take you some time to easily admit that, “my truth may be partial, I know most truths are.”
Can Everyone Be Right?
If we revisit the original question—can everyone be right—we will see that the answers are both yes and no.
First, yes, everyone can be right, because the human mind is incapable of being completely wrong one hundred percent of the time.
Also, no, everyone can’t be right, because truth is partial, which means that everyone is wrong part of the time.
The integral answer is both yes and no, making it one of many spiritual paradoxes that we need to contend with as we mature as human beings.
Author & Interfaith Minister