Prior to the twentieth century, knowledge of other religions was very limited. With the increasing ease of worldwide travel and the greater study of different faiths, many more people are aware of multiple faiths. In a society such as the UK which has become multicultural to an extent, many of these religions, beliefs and practices can now be found in places in this country.
Before reading any further, read the extract Reasons for the rise of atheism: the awareness of other faiths and then continue reading.
This increased awareness and understanding has brought with it some difficult questions for those religions. Questions ranging from the nature of God to the afterlife to the status of prophets and sacred texts.
The problem arises when we realise different religions have different answers to the same question. Take for example questions about Jesus. For Christians, he is God incarnate, the Messiah, the Son of God, born to a virgin who was crucified for our sakes and who then rose to life.
In Islam, Jesus is accepted as a miracle performing prophet sent by God via a virgin birth to bring a message. However, Muslims reject the idea that Jesus was God incarnate, that he was crucified to death or that he rose from the dead.
So who is right? The main point here is that obviously they can’t both be right. Some of the beliefs Muslims and Christians have about Jesus are contradictory.
As John Hick says:
It is a short step from the thought that the different religions cannot all be true, although they all claim to be, to the thought that in all probability none of them is true.”
David Hume also argued something similar in reference to different miracle accounts found across different religions. Since it seems unfair to accept the miracles of one religion and not those of others we should either accept them all or we should accept none of them, but since they contradict each other, we cannot accept them all and instead should reject the all.
Hick’s link of religious belief to culture also raises questions. His observations that if I were from India it is likely I’d be Hindu and if I were from Sri Lanka I’d be a Buddhist suggests that religious belief is far more to do with cultural factors such as where we are born and the kind of family in which we are raised than about what is actually true.