All Roads Do Not Lead to Rome

Sep 30, 2013 | Wes Hynd

Will Ockenden | CreativeCommons It is a popular philosophy in our day that “all paths lead to God.” However, this is akin to saying that all mathematical equations equal four, or that no matter which direction I go from my house, I will arrive in China. There are multiple paths to the same conclusion or destination in many aspects of life, but in no case does every path lead to the same place. On the contrary, there are most certainly many cases in which only one path can lead to a certain result.

The problem with holding the position that all paths lead to God is that there are contradictions between these paths which cannot be true at the same time. For example, God cannot both be satisfied by what we do (Islam) and simply by trusting in His sacrifice for our sins (Christianity). The two are contradictory. Having to earn something through good deeds makes very little sense when it is also offered for free. And of course, Muhammad, Jesus, and the path of the Buddha cannot all simultaneously be the only way to God (or to enlightenment).

The ironic thing is that very few faiths support this idea of there being multiple paths to God. Islam believes in only one path to God. Christianity believes in only one path to God. Buddhism believes in only one path to enlightenment. It would appear that many of the people who claim universalism as truth are those who do not actually subscribe to a particular belief themselves. Those who do hold to a particular belief as well as universalism most often have contradicted themselves already.

Universalism stems from a well-intentioned, yet misguided (and harmful) desire to make tolerance mean assent. Nobody likes conflict (well…I do know some people…), but this has led to the opposite extreme in our society. Religion has caused wars and death and conflict and discrimination and hate. Now, as a result, nobody can claim that they have the truth. Now, it is arrogant to say that your way is the only way. Lots of other kinds of ideas, be they political, social or even sports strategies, may be challenged, but not spiritual ideas. Not the most significant ideas to the well-being of all people everywhere. All paths lead to the same God. All religions worship the same God and teach the same essential truths. Just love each other. That’s what it’s all about, right?

False. Finding some commonalities between different beliefs does not automatically mean that those commonalities are the core of those beliefs! I share a love of soccer with many of my friends, but this does not automatically mean that I and my friends are all the same, or that soccer is all that defines each one of us! Many religions worship one God, but they do not teach the same things about that God (and some religions do not believe in a God, or believe in multiple gods). Love is huge, but it is not actually what defines every religion. The definition of definition is what sets something apart from all things that it is not. All religions do not lead to the same place just as all equations do not equal four and all routes do not lead to China.

It is right to decry intolerance, war and hatred. It is right to promote love and tolerance for one another regardless of different beliefs. But let us be clear about what defines tolerance. It is to love and respect someone even though you think they are wrong. Let us not make the mistake of thinking we must say somebody’s worldview is perfectly valid in order to love and respect them. Often, loving someone means disagreeing with them and telling them so. If a friend of mine were having an affair, loving him would mean telling him he is making stupid choices and helping him see the consequences: destroying his marriage and his family. If one believes they know the truth about life, it is unloving for him not to share that truth with others.

Rather than deceiving ourselves with all of this politically correct “all paths lead to God” nonsense, why not simply acknowledge the differences and seek the truth about them together? There is no obligation to turn disagreement into conflict. Shying away from one extreme does not necessitate moving to the other.

It does not make sense to believe in contradictory ideas. We do this because we do not want to fight over beliefs. This is honourable, but misguided. There is a middle ground. We are not obligated to fight or flight. We can seek the truth in love for one another, respecting each other even when and especially when we disagree. To say instead that “all paths lead to God” is simply dishonest with oneself, and the consequences of that dishonesty could be incredibly costly.

What do you believe is the path to God? Why?

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About the Author

Wes Hynd

Wes has been involved with Power to Change as a student and on staff for 10 years, including one year on STINT in Panama. Currently, he works with students at the University of Calgary and Mount Royal University and loves to get students excited about living a life of passionate commitment to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Wes is married to Nadine and enjoys playing soccer, listening to music and talking about deep philosophical questions. He is also a Toronto Maple Leafs fan (do with that what you will).

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