You may have encountered and engaged these claims, “Christianity is intolerant!” and “Christianity is exclusive!” The other religions are allegedly tolerant and hence, inclusive. Is it so? No! Every major religion claims exclusivity.
Within the theme of “Religious Diversity,” three relevant theories should be recognized.1 The “Pluralist theory” believes that one religion is as truthful as another. The “Exclusivist theory” considers only one religion as uniquely valuable – the sole bearer of truth. The “Inclusivist theory” finds merit with both the pluralistic and exclusivistic religions by arguing that while the exclusivistic religion could hold most value, the others still have religious value, for there may be partial truth in the other religions.
A religion proclaims exclusivity if it absolutely contradicts an essential doctrine (Godhead, Sin, Salvation etc.) of another religion. Since mutually contradictory statements cannot be true at the same time and in the same sense (Law of noncontradiction), the either-or logic (not the both-and) should be applied while determining the truth. When two religions mutually contradict each other, the truth remains with either religion A or religion B (both religion A and religion B cannot be true, in this instance). Therefore, only one religion could be true, but the fact remains that both religions claim exclusivity, for both these religions claim to bear the truth.
Every major religion in the world, either implicitly or explicitly, claims exclusivity. Ravi Zacharias states, “The truth is that every major religion in the world claims exclusivity, and every major religion in the world has a point of exclusion…”2 Therefore, a preliminary study of the claims of exclusivity of the major world religions is in order.
Exclusivity of Hinduism
Hinduism, one of the world’s oldest religious systems, claims to be inclusive.3 But it is not so.
Hinduism excludes other religions based on its core doctrines. Consider the doctrine of God in Hinduism. Brahman, the absolute God of Hinduism, is a mysterious being.4
Although Brahman is one God, he manifests in innumerable forms, “Hinduism is unique because it is essentially a monotheistic faith which acknowledges polytheism as reflective of the diversity in God’s creation. God is one, but also many. He manifests Himself in innumerable forms and shapes.”5 But the God of Christianity does not manifest Himself in innumerable forms. Hence, Hinduism should exclude Christianity or Islam on the basis of the Godhead. The same holds true for doctrines such as karma and reincarnation, which absolutely contradict Christianity and other religions.
While Hinduism claims inclusivity, it excludes the exclusivists, “Hinduism does not recognize claims of exclusivity or a clergy. Anyone who claims to by [sic] the exclusive possessor of spiritual truth or the only ‘method’ of reaching God finds no place in Hinduism; a method or a message can only be one among many…Krishna, speaking as God in the Bhagavad-Gita, says, “All paths lead to me”, and also those who worship other gods with devotion worship me….Hinduism does not force itself on others through proselytisation…”6
Existentially, Hinduism contradicts its own claims for inclusivity. If Hinduism is truly inclusive, it would not proselytize. But Hinduism, in India – the country of its origin, is actively converting people. The recent Ghar Wapsi (Home Coming) program in India is a classic case in point. Ghar Wapsi is, “a series of religious conversion activities, facilitated by Indian Hindu organizations Vishva Hindu Parishad and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, to facilitate conversion of non-Hindus to Hinduism”7
Furthermore, Ravi Zacharias, who was born into a Hindu household, asserts the exclusivity of Hinduism, “Hinduism, for example, is often represented as being the most tolerant and accepting of other faiths. That is just not true. All Hindus believe in two fundamental, uncompromising doctrines—the Law of Karma, and the belief in reincarnation.”8
Therefore it is very reasonable to conclude that Hinduism is not an inclusive faith, since it claims exclusivity.
Exclusivity of Buddhism
Rejection of Hinduism led to the birth of Buddhism, says Ravi Zacharias, “Buddhism was born out of the rejection of two other very dogmatic claims of Hinduism. Buddha rejected the authority of the vedas and the caste system of Hinduism.”9
There are several irreconcilable differences between Buddhism and Historic Christianity. Two such differences are found below:
First, Buddhism rejects the notion of a personal God, which is in stark contrast to Christianity, “There is no almighty God in Buddhism. There is no one to hand out rewards or punishments on a supposedly Judgement Day.”10 However, Buddha is worshipped by some Buddhists.
Second, Buddhism excludes other religions that believe in sin, for there is no such thing as sin in Buddhism, “Buddhists do not regard man as sinful by nature of ‘in rebellion against god’. Every human being is a person of great worth who has within himself a vast store of good as well as evil habits…According to Buddhism, there is no such thing as sin as explained by other religions.”11
There are many such points of exclusions in Buddhism. Hence, Buddhism is also an exclusive religion.
Exclusivity of Islam
Islam, being strictly monotheistic, rejects every contradicting worldview (Trinitarian monotheism, polytheism, pantheism etc.). Moreover, Islam, by virtue of rejecting Christ’s divinity, excludes Christianity.
Islam is also a legalistic system. A Muslim must earn his salvation by holding to the “Articles of Faith” (belief in God, Angels, Scripture, Prophets, and Last Days) and following the “Pillars of Faith” (The Creed, Prayer, Almsgiving, Fasting, and Hajj Pilgrimage). This is in absolute contrast to Christianity, which believes that man is not saved by his good deeds, but is saved by the grace of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, Islam stakes claim to exclusivity by excluding the contradicting religions.
Exclusivity of Judaism
It may be an effortless task to prove Judaism’s claim to exclusivity vis-à-vis other religions that are not named Christianity. Judaism and Christianity have much in common. Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, in their work “Handbook of Today’s Religions,” state the fundamental similarity, “It is to historic Judaism, the Judaism of the Old Testament, that Christianity traces its roots. Christianity does not supplant Old Testament Judaism, it is the fruition of Old Testament Judaism. One cannot hold to the Bible, Old and New Testaments, as God’s one divine revelation without also recognizing and honoring the place God has given historic Judaism.”12
Given this relationship between Judaism and Christianity, the exclusivity of Judaism would be clearly emphasized if Judaism excludes Christianity. A couple of points of exclusion are highlighted below:
First, Judaism rejects the Christian belief that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, “While Christianity recognizes that the promise of a personal, spiritual savior is the core of biblical revelation, Judaism has long vacillated in the concept of messiahship. That Jesus Christ, the true Messiah predicted in God’s Word, would be rejected by the Jews of the first century shows that even at that time there was divergence of opinion on the meaning and authority of messianic passages in Scripture. In the course of Jewish history the meaning of the Messiah had undergone changes. Originally, it was believed that God would send His special messenger, delivering Israel from her oppressors and instituting peace and freedom. However, today any idea of a personal messiah has been all but abandoned by the majority of the Jews. It has been substituted with the hope of a messianic age characterized by truth and justice.”13
Second, the salvation of the Jews is predicated on sacrifices, penitence, good deeds and a little of God’s grace, since they reject the substitutionary atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.14 Salvation in Christianity is absolutely contingent on God’s grace, but not on the performance of good deeds.
Every major religion of the world remains exclusive, for there are irreconcilable contradictions between these religions. The notion that Historic Christianity is the only religion that claims exclusivity is, therefore, incorrect.
6M. G. Chitkara, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh: National Upsurge, A.P.H Publishing Corporation, New Delhi, 2004, p61.
12Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, “Handbook of Today’s Religions,” Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1983, p364.
Websites cited were last accessed on 2nd August 2017.