Good question – thanks for asking!
First of all, I agree. They can’t all be right. They can all contain some element of truth – but they can’t all be definitive, because they don’t teach the same thing. Christianity says that Jesus is God in human form; Islam says he isn’t. They might both be wrong, but they aren’t both right.
So, either one of these innumerable belief-systems is right, or they are all wrong. And Christians would happily declare that. We don’t think Buddhism is the whole truth. We think it has a trace of truth, a signpost to something more true, perhaps – but it’s not The Truth.
So, how can we possibly hope to work out which one is right?! It seems at best daunting, at worst impossible.
The problem is that people look at it as though it’s the national lottery. There’s thousands of religions and so you basically have a 1/10000 of getting the right one. And what happens in the event of a rollover?
That last bit didn’t make any sense, sorry.
First of all, we can tell a lot of the non-wheat to chaff off. Religions like Scientology and Jedism are just obvious works of science fiction. You might as well pick up a copy of Watchmen and say ‘I think this is how the universe started and why we’re all here. And no, I don’t know why that big blue guy is totally nude, but he works in mysterious ways.’
So they’re just erroneous statistics.
Even when we get rid of the self-confessed fictions, though, we are still left with quite a lot. Maybe this is helpful…
If you turned up at the scene of a butchered dog, and there were 5 people in the vicinity – an old lady in a wheel chair; a weeping mother and her 4-month old baby; a member of the RSPCA, vomiting; and a blood-stained bloke with a hatchet, laughing maniacally and saying over and over ‘I’m just more of a cat person’, you wouldn’t think there was a 1/5 chance of getting the right man. (nb. No dogs were actually harmed in the making of this incredible analogy).
So, back to the question: how can we be sure we’ve got the right religion? I think there’s two things we can do. First we can look at the evidence. Of all the major religions, Christianity is the only one that is testable, or ‘falsifiable’. With Mormonism, for example, there’s nothing we have to go on other than the personal testimony of Joseph Smith.
With Christianity, we have historical evidence that we can look into. For example, if the bones of Jesus were found, or if history showed conclusively that Jerusalem was actually called Fat Alan during the first century, then the Gospel accounts and the whole of Christianity would come crashing down. The Gospels correspond to what we know about the history and geography of the time. We have no historical evidence of elephant-headed Gods wandering around major cities or chillaxing by a well.
Beyond that, we have to ask, I think, ‘which one of all these competing worldviews makes the most sense of what we already know about ourselves?’
My point would be (and we’ll expand in a future blog) that Jesus makes the best sense of what we already know about ourselves: the existence of love, hope, beauty, purpose, morality, forgiveness. No other worldview makes compelling sense of why we understand all these things from our own lives.
The other thing to say is that Atheism is just as much a worldview – a way of viewing reality – as any of these religions. Let’s not be silly and say that it’s a lack of belief. Of course it isn’t. It’s a belief that there is no God. Atheism is in the same boat as Christianity. It states that all the other competing worldviews are not true.
So that’s how you might start to show, theoretically, why Christianity might be true, and why someone might want to look into it. But the real answer to the question ‘how can you be sure you’ve got the right one’ is altogether more simple: I know the guy.
People become Christians because they experience Jesus. It really is as simple as that. The best way of finding out if Jesus is real is by asking him.