Can All Religion Be True? The Problem With Ecumenicalism

And after having said, “I don’t have anything to say about Cee Lo Green’s revision of ‘Imagine’ that my friend Rebecca didn’t already say,” I’m finding that I have something else to say.

This whole incident is a perfect example of what’s wrong with ecumenicalism.

religious symbols
This notion that “all religion’s true”? This notion that everyone finds their own path to God — even atheists, in our own way? This notion that people can hold religious beliefs that are not only different but totally contradictory — Jesus both is and is not the son of God, dead people both go to Heaven and are reincarnated, homosexuality is both loved and despised by God, there are many gods and there is only one God and God is a sort of three-for-one deal, Catholicism is the one true faith and Mormonism is the one true faith and Islam is the one true faith and no one faith is the one true faith — and that, somehow, all of these contradictory beliefs can be true?

It’s not just laughably absurd. It’s not just logically impossible. It shows a callous unconcern about whether the things you believe are true.

This attitude isn’t just something Cee Lo Green came up with on his own. It’s ridiculously prevalent among the ecumenical/ interfaith crowd. There’s a very common idea that all religions are true in some sense, and/ or that all believers are finding their own path to God in their own way.

Except that different religions aren’t just subtly different, or stylistically different, or different in trivial matters, or orthogonally different and concerning themselves with different arenas of existence. Their differences are, in many cases, central to the very foundation of the beliefs. Especially when you look at the number of religions that have, as a central defining tenet, the idea that their religion is the one true religion, and that believers in all other religions are damned to perdition. And when it comes to the ecumenical, “all religions are sort of true in their own way” sort of belief, these differences reveal a deep crack in the very foundation of the faith.

So when ecumenical believers blithely ignore or gloss over these differences, they’re basically saying that they don’t care very much whether the things they believe are true. They’re saying that sure, there are differences, but it’s divisive and unpleasant to look at those differences too closely — and let’s forget about trying to actually resolve them and figure out who’s wrong and who’s right, that’s a total clusterfuck. They’re saying that, when you put reality on one side of the scale, and put conflict avoidance on the other, conflict avoidance wins hands down. (And in my experience, when you press them on these questions, they tend to get either very vague or very defensive and pissy.)

Now, I genuinely do understand the desire to work for mutual understanding and respect of people who are different from you. And I think this ecumenicalism comes, in large part, from an admirable place: a revulsion at the horrors caused by religious wars and hatreds and bigotries, and a passionate desire to end them. I get that revulsion, and that desire. I even share it.

But there is a huge difference between saying “Everyone has a right to believe something different from what I do” — and saying “All beliefs are equally true.” There is a huge difference between saying, “People who believe different things from me can be good people” — and saying, “People who believe radically different things from me are right, and I’m somehow magically also right.” There is a huge difference between saying, “We should respect and embrace diversity of cultures and identities” — and saying, “We should ignore serious differences in truth claims about how the world really works.” There is a huge difference between saying, “Arguing about religion is divisive and unpleasant, so let’s temporarily set aside our differences so we can focus on our common ground” — or for that matter, saying, “Let’s discuss and debate our disagreements without being uncivil or ugly” — and saying, “Arguing about religion is divisive and unpleasant, so let’s never do it, and let’s convince ourselves that we’re all somehow magically right in our own way. And let’s not think too hard about whether that statement even makes a lick of sense.”

circle holding hands
And while I think this desire to ignore religious differences comes partly from a desire to avoid religious wars and hatreds and bigotries, I also think it comes, at least sometimes, from an aversion to conflict that verges on the neurotic. And I definitely think it comes from an intense unwillingness to think very carefully about one’s own beliefs. Ecumenicalism is like a gentlemen’s agreement: you don’t ask hard questions about my religion, and I won’t ask hard questions about yours. You don’t point out contradictions or falsehoods or absurdities in my beliefs, or ask whether they have any good evidence to support them, and I’ll do the same for you. We’ll all hold hands and sing “Kumbaya,” and we’ll utter vague deepities about the beautiful mystery of it all… and we’ll stick our fingers in our ears and ignore the atheists outside the campfire circle, the ones who are yelling, “None of you has any good reason to think that any of this is true!”

Yeah. Good luck with that.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Religion relies on social consent to perpetuate itself. Ecumenical religion is a perfect example of that. And more and more atheists are denying that consent. Simply by coming out as atheist, simply by saying “No, we don’t believe in God or the supernatural,” we are denying that consent. And we’re going to make it harder and harder to ignore those hard questions. If you have any good answers to those questions, we’re more than happy to hear them. But if we ask the question, “How do you reconcile the differences between your religion and other religions, and how do you decide which belief is true?” — and the only answer you have is “Kumbaya” — we’re not going to take you very seriously.

Related post:
Against Ecumenicalism: Why Atheists Don’t Have to Show “Respect” for Religion

Can All Religion Be True? The Problem With Ecumenicalism

56 thoughts on “Can All Religion Be True? The Problem With Ecumenicalism

  1. 2

    Yeah, I always hear that argument from christians that they have their own personal god. So it gets to the point that not only is there division in religions. And then there is division within the religions. Now they are divided up into individual beliefs. And when it gets to that point well anybody can believe any old silly thing and its A-okay.

  2. 3

    You are correct, of course.

    But for some reason (and you mentioned this) I feel better when I here someone expresses a worldview that “all faiths are a way to god,” than “it’s my way or the highway…to hell.”

    It’s almost as if all theists are really “meists.” Whatever concept they’ve developed about a god seems to match exactly their personal views of what should/should not be. If they are more accepting of others, then their “god” will think that way. If they are rigid and fixated on being right, then of course, that’s they way their god is. If they have a particular disdain for a given way of thinking, then their god has the same disdain.

    I don’t think there is a creator/god, but if there is one, given what I see around me, it appears to be one that is completely indifferent to…perhaps not even aware of…humans. So, IF there is a god of that sort, in an odd way, all these folks could be “right” in that they all think there is a god, but it doesn’t really matter what human-devised belief system one comes up with, it makes no difference.

  3. 5

    Whatever concept they’ve developed about a god seems to match exactly their personal views of what should/should not be.

    I think you’ll find most atheists are not concerned with what should or should not be, but with what is.

  4. 6

    Strictly speaking, ecumenism refers to the goal of greater Christian unity or cooperation. It is used with reference to Christian denominations separated by doctrine, history, and practice (this is a rough paraphrase of the definition found on Wikipedia). Ecumenism just says that all types of Christianity are really one religion.

    In this article, I think what you’re criticizing here is interfaith dialog that papers over differences between religions – Christian and non-Christian.

    [pedantic mode off]


  5. 7

    The recently deceased Unitarian Univeralist minister Rev. Forrest Church used a metaphor of cathedral with many different windows as a way of explaining how the many different religions can all be “true” at the same time:

    “Cathedral of the World”

    As an atheist and skeptic who belongs to a UU congregation, here is my criticism of Forrest Church’s metaphor:

    “Stained Glass, Plate Glass, and the ‘Cathedral of the World'”

    The short version of my blog post is saying that the “beauty,” “poetry,” and “meaning” that many feel religion provides may not be worth the costs if these costs are increased pain and suffering.

  6. 8

    It isn’t a question of compatibility between religious beliefs so much as a bunch of religious mafia families making a peace treaty so that they can better concentrate on carving up the territory to their own advantage. Of course, as always, when one family is very much more powerful than the rest all bets are off.

  7. 9

    One thing that I am curious about is how often you actually practice what you preach? I understand that you are on the speakers bureau of the Secular Students Alliance and I presume that entails speaking to groups who are primarily composed of secular students. When you allude to challengin religious people who “ignore the atheists outside the campfire circle, the ones who are yelling, “None of you has any good reason to think that any of this is true!” are you ever within earshot of the campfire?

  8. 10

    Steve Caldwell

    Reading your blog post made me think of this:

    Stained and plate glass windows

    A man looks up at a window
    Says one man to another
    As he looks in wonder
    At the stained glass fresco

    “So you atheists have science
    Behold my religion’s art
    Set above and apart
    Beauty in faith’s compliance”

    The other looks up and smiles
    Odd wistfulness in his face
    Lines as he contemplates
    Thought through his mind whiles

    “Give me the plate glass
    That I can see through
    The stars that humans woo
    And the green of the grass”

    “Give me the world straight
    Beyond comprehension
    Lovely beyond mind’s retention
    Beyond my ability to relate”

    “Give me the plate glass
    That shows the bird in flight
    Unbroken as the light
    Shining to the last”

    “Give me reality as it stands
    And let me see it clear
    Without the straining fear
    That blinds with commands”

    “Give me the plate glass
    Unwounded with inks
    Cleared of all chinks
    That lets the light pass”

  9. 11

    Steve Schuler

    Most of us were right by the fire at one point, and quite a lot of the people round the fire want to throw us in it, so frankly yes, yes we do hear the conversation.

    And it is stupid.

  10. 12


    Perhaps you assume that I do not come from religious background or that I am, in some way, a proponent of ‘Bad Religion’. In the first case, I was raised as a Christian. In the second, I am not a proponent of Bad Religion. Neither am I some one who suggest others ought to assault religionist while not actually engaging in that practice myself. Greta will have to speak for herself on that issue, as I surely can’t.

  11. 13

    One of the fundamentals of religion is that things are true that are logically impossible but which somehow due to quirks of the human brain seem reasonable on an emotional, animal level. It’s called mysticism (well, sort of).

    God can be everywhere and at the same time be walking around Nazareth preaching and at the same time be flowing like water from one believer to another as they lay hands on each other. Because people have a hard time comprehending concepts like vacuums, molecules, and consciousness arising out of a sack of meat.

    The complex universe could not have spontaneously come into existence, even starting with elementary particles. But a far more complex intelligent, all powerful super-human could spontaneously and eternally exist. Because humans have a prejudice towards humans always existing, being everywhere, and being more than their temporary bodies.

    Every religion can be true. Because humans have a deep pre-rational brain, biologically drive to believe what they’re taught as toddlers and this belief is so important and feels so profound that it must not be questioned, even when logic proves it false and even when it contradicts one’s own ingrained belief.

  12. 14

    To answer the title, if you believe any of them to be true, then you must also believe all of them to be true, or at least most. Most religious people claim to believe in an omnipotent god, but then limit that god by human logic. It’s very Augustinian. A truly omnipotent being is all things and nothing simultaneously and therefore all religions can be the one true religion while still disagreeing on damn near every point.

    The problem, of course, is that this then renders religion and even belief as entirely meaningless. Why bother believing in something if it is no more a reflection of what is real than it isn’t a reflection of what is real? Moreover, it perpetuates the horrendous, to quote Asimov, “…false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” Since all things are true, nothing is true.

  13. 15

    Steve Schuler

    Neither am I some one who suggest others ought to assault religionist while not actually engaging in that practice myself. Greta will have to speak for herself on that issue, as I surely can’t.

    And where, exactly, did Greta say that people ought to assault ‘religionists’?

  14. 17

    Bruce Gorton,

    Greta said:

    “It doesn’t do any good for atheists to argue with believers about religion, or to make fun of religion, or to insult it. In fact, it’s counter-productive. It actually hurts our cause.”

    We see this argument a lot among atheists. And my usual response is to say, “Does not!”

    In which “arguing with believers”, to include “make fun of religion” and to “insult it” I think qualifies as the encouragement of a variety of ideological assault against believers. But I have my doubts as to whether she actually engages in these practices with religionist, or to what extent.

    I’m looking forward to her addressing this matter herself so as to set the record straight.

  15. 18

    Hell I’ve talked to people who basically admit that they don’t care if it’s true. I’ve been told that we can all believe different things because if what I believe is real to me, it’s real and if what you believe is real to you, then it’s real. It’s mental gymnastics to cloud the reality that no, many people DON’T care if what they believe is real because it makes them comfortable and thinking too hard about it is unpleasant.

  16. 19

    Steve Schuler

    That is not assault, that is simply engaging in argument and the style one employs doing it. To define it as assault, essentially opens the door to the idea that you may violently defend yourself against competing ideas.

    That, cannot hold. The implications of that phrase ‘ideological assault’ I find personally horrifying.

    The religious organisation’s right to advertise their faith is something we all recognise as not being assault.

    That we have the same right to respond is not an assault. That we have the right to advertise is not assault, heck we could do what the Jehovah Witnesses do and it should not be considered assault.

  17. 21

    I’ve always struggled with this. Considering the teachings of Christ (or his paraphrasers if he actually existed or his creators if he didn’t) christians really have no room even for ecumenicalism. If they start giving the “all paths are valid” argument they are in conflict with their faith, and if they start giving the “mine is the only true path” they’re in conflict with ecumenicalism. It’s sort of a weird parlor trick that absolves them from critical thinking about religion. It’s like holding a political debate while putting politics off-limits. It’s all very nice but it’s not going to get you anywhere. Instead of being “ecumenical” and accepting everyone for who they are, why don’t we just be human and accept everyone for who they are. Considering that atheists tend to believe in good without god or gods, but as an intrinsic human value, I think we’ve actually got the head start on this.

  18. 22

    In the UK we have a daily God slot in the middle of the BBC Radio 4 morning news program “Today”. In response to this, The Rev. Dr. Peter Hearty posts a daily parody of each day’s effort and invites his loyal congregants to comment. There was a discussion about inter-faith meetings a few weeks ago, after that day’s mini sermon by a prominent Rabbi. If you follow the link you can access the original piece by clicking ‘Listen/Read’ at the bottom of the OP.

  19. 23

    We’re looking at this from an atheist perspective, but I suspect that it’s also problematic from a minority-religion perspective. If ecumenicalism trivializes differences, it could just be a way for majority religions to congratulate themselves while not really understanding the beliefs, practices, or social issues of minority religions. Sort of like “colorblind racism”: ignoring the problem rather than solving it.

    Or I could be completely wrong. It would be best to have people in minority-religions speak for themselves.

  20. 24

    Steve Schuler: Your question is a little unclear, but you seem to be asking, “Do you confront religious believers about their beliefs?” If that’s your question — then the answer is Yes. For starters: Religious believers read this blog. I sometimes engage in debate with them in the comments (although less often than I used to, given increased time constraints). Religious believers read me on Facebook, and I read them, and I sometimes engage in debate with them there. Religious believers read AlterNet, where I write regularly. Religious believers sometimes attend my talks, and ask questions in the Q&A. And simply being an out atheist is, IMO, a form of confronting religious believers about their beliefs.

    So yes. I do. If that was, in fact, your question. If it wasn’t — can you please clarify?

  21. 25

    Ecumenicalism is like a gentlemen’s agreement: you don’t ask hard questions about my religion, and I won’t ask hard questions about yours.

    Sounds like it is a gentlemen’s agreement.

  22. 26

    Steve Schuler,

    I think we can all agree that talking is not not violence. If talking is violence, Bruce Gorton deserves a misdemeanor charge for typing you upside the head.

    As far as setting the record straight, speaking at conferences, running a popular atheist blog on a popular free thinking website and routinely posting challenges to and debunkings of religous arguments qualifies as “being outside the fire.” Are you really trying to impugn her for not doing enough?

    Or are you just disappointed that atheists, instead of running around saying “you’re stupid!” and other various charicatures, are actually people. people capable of tolerance and holding many varying beliefs and priorities at once without completely blowing up?

    I also think you have it wrong with you’re claim that you do not promote “bad” religion. All religion is based on either the premise that assertions without evidence can be equally valid as assertions with evidence (ecuminicalism) or that their specific assertions without evidence are more valid than other people’s assertions with evidence because of some sort of supernatural arbitration (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, everything else involving things that don’t exist, i.e. religion). Therefore all religion is “bad” religion.

    Some are worse than others; but telling us your religion is a “good” one is like saying you’re an exceptional dictator. Congrats on not slaughtering people and all, but I think I’ll keep prefering representative government. The problem isn’t the result, it’s the system.

  23. 27

    Bruce Gorton

    The article I quoted Greta from led to considerable discussion pertaining to the merits of confrontationalist atheistic tactics, which Greta is an explicit proponent of. Two definitions of confrontation are:

    A) a face-to-face meeting

    B) the clashing of forces or ideas; conflict

    From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary

    I think that both definitions are consistent with what Greta advocates in both this article and the previous one from which I quoted her. The second definition of confrontation included here is very consistent with my use of “ideological assault”.

    I agree with you that “ideological assault” is, if not horrifying, at least not usually warranted or desirable. Of course it would provide me some relief to find that Greta does not really ‘practice what she preaches’.

  24. 28

    Steve Schuler @ #27: I am now entirely confused by your point. You now seem to be accusing me of (a) advocating violence, and (b) advocating violence but being a hypocrite about it and not practicing what I preach. But I do not advocate violence. I have never advocated violence. I have repeatedly spoken out against violence.

    So what, exactly, is your point?

  25. 29


    Thanks for your response to my questions.

    While I am, obviously, very aware of your presence and voice as an atheist blogger and have recently learned that you are also a speaker with the SSA, it seems to me that you rely more on religionist making their way into the circle of your campfire/s (if I may borrow that metaphor) than you are likely to make your way into the circle of their campfires. While this is, I think, a very prudent and civil approach, I think that it falls pretty far short of what ‘confrontationalism’ implies.

    As you have probably been made over-aware of in my comments, I am curious if you actually “make fun of religion” and “insult it” when in face-to-face conversation with relgious people or whether those terms are merely used to ‘heat up’ what might be construed as hyperbolic rhetoric.

  26. 30

    Don’t be more confused than you want to be, Greta.

    Of course I don’t think that you promote violence, at least not beyond, evidently, encouraging the deliberate insulting of religious people. And even then I think you probably only do that within the safe confines of your kin, thank No-God!

  27. 31

    Whether inter-christian, inter-abrahamic, or broader still, the ‘gentelman’s agreement’ lasts only until any party gains the power to impose their will.

    Note the catholic church in the US: so long as catholics faced exclusion and prejudice from entrenchec protestant authority, they campaigned for separation of church and state. Remember, catholic children were flogged and expelled from public schools for refusing to recite the protestant version of the Lord’s Prayer or read from the King James Bible.

    Today, with its wealth and power, the catholic church seeks to dictate educational, medical, and social policiy to the rest of the nation.

    Even Khomeini practiced ecumanicalism (ecumenicism? ecumenism? ecu?) right up to the day he began issuing death warrants against atheists, sunnis, Kurds, and anyone else whose existence he found objectionable.

  28. 32

    Steve is trying to “prove” to himself that you (Greta) are advocating his caricature of “confrontational atheism” as he did repeatedly on the other thread of yours that he quotes… then he can pat himself on the back for trying to tone you down as he imagines his passive aggressive approach is more reasonable for achieving some goal.

    I think you are clear to everyone else. You just aren’t clear to Steve because he’s trying to promote this idea that you are advocating something you are not (on par with Tom Johnson stories). He wants to scold you for this “assault” he imagines you are advocating or else claim that you are a hypocrite because he cannot characterize your “confrontation” in the way he wants to characterize it. In his faitheist mind, you are either a hypocrite for not really being “confrontational” while advocating being so, because in his mind being confrontational means going up to people minding their own business and mocking them for their beliefs and/or using violence to enforce non-belief.

    You’ve been clear:

    Steve, can’t get it because, like “Tom Johnson”, needs to believe in his new atheist caricature so he can imagine himself “more tolerant than thou”. Like a theist, he seems keen on proving points to himself via insincere questions and semantic games. I don’t think he’s really interested in discussing the topic.

    –Awesome post by the way. For anyone who cares about the truth, the conflicting claims about religion should be a concern. When I was a kid, I figure scientists must be hard at work testing the various religious claims because it would be important to everyone to know which one was true if our eternity was at stake. I wasn’t just going to assume that I was born into the right religion when being wrong could mean eternal damnation. Who wants to take chances with eternity? And what could be a more important topic to study?

    Then I grew up and realized that an increasing number of scientists were of the opinion that souls weren’t real. We weren’t going to be feeling any more after we die than animals would because you need a brain to experience anything. Moreover there was no way to tell a supernatural claim from a false one and no good reason to believe that anyone could know about any such thing.

    The bottom line is that not all religions can be true– but they can all be false. And as far as the evidence is concerned, the supernatural things people believe in are no more likely to be true than the supernatural beliefs they reject. I think it’s very hard for theists to understand that the atheist considers their beliefs as wrong, delusional, and misguided as the believer thinks of other cults, superstitions, myths, and delusions… and for the same reasons.

    All criticism of religion is seen as rude or “confrontational” to the faithful and those who prop up the notion that faith is a virtue– or something worthy of respect.

  29. 33

    Excellent post. Again.

    I once got into an amusing discussion with a Bahai who told me that all religions were minor variations of the same truth (she used the blind man and the elephant story, of course.) God embraces all religions; no spiritual belief is ever “wrong.” Different paths, same destination. Never say that you understand God better than another.

    I asked her then if the people who think that only their own religion is right were wrong. When she said “yes” I asked “so those people’s religion is wrong? THEY don’t understand God — but you do?” I get “no.” Ask again, I get “yes.”

    Then she gets snippy.

    But why should I believe she understands God better than another? In the land of blind men, how come the narrator isn’t blind too? Maybe it IS a snake instead of an elephant.

    I think she was just so sure that the peaceful lack of confrontation would charm the atheist into agreeing that yes indeed, only that sort of God would be real if it was real. The Atheist Seal of Approval, as you call it.

  30. 35

    heddle #34

    Do you also agree that the Christian god is not the Muslim god is not the Jewish god?

    Oh look, it’s heddle’s turn to play goddist non sequitur.

    So how are you doing, heddle? Do you still believe in your calvinist god who hates his creations so much he’ll torture the vast majority for ever and ever?

  31. 39

    Steve Schuler @ #29 & #30: It seem, alas, that articulett @ #32 has it exactly right. You seem to be defining confrontationalism extremely narrowly and idiosyncratically, as “being insulting and mocking in one-on-one conversations with friends and family.” Then, because I advocate a more broad and commonly- understood version of confrontationalism, you accuse me of hypocrisy if I don’t insult and mock religion in one-on-one conversations — even though I’m not advocating confrontationalism as you define it.

    So let me spell it out. I advocate a confrontationalist approach to religion: not as the only good path to atheist activism, but as one good path. By “confrontationalist,” I mean “being willing to confront religious believers about their beliefs — in whatever form or forum (within reason) you think is appropriate, to whatever degree (within reason) you think is appropriate.” I mean questioning believers about the accuracy, consistency, plausibility, moral foundation, etc. of their beliefs — again, in whatever form or forum (within reason) you think is appropriate, to whatever degree (within reason) you think is appropriate.

    I preach this — and I practice it. I practice it in my blog and other primarily atheist public forums; I practice it on AlterNet and other not-at-all atheist public forums; I practice it in my private life. I tailor my approach depending on the context, since different approaches are more effective in different contexts, and I don’t do it with every single person I encounter in every waking moment of my life (or even in most waking moments of my life) — but I do practice it.

    As to this:

    Of course I don’t think that you promote violence, at least not beyond, evidently, encouraging the deliberate insulting of religious people.

    If you seriously think that insulting religious people is a form of violence in any way, shape or form whatsoever, then I am not going to bother engaging with you further. Thank you for sharing.

  32. 40


    I’m glad that you have taken the time to clarify what you mean by ‘confrontationalism’. Fortunately you do seem to confine the use of your divisive language to the ‘circle of your own campfire’ and while it is disputable how much good you accomplish in so doing, it certainly confines the harm that you might otherwise accomplish. While I think that, ultimately, your rhetoric only serves to fuel prejudice against people of faith, I trust that the actual number of people who take you very seriously is very limited.

    As you point out, when your practice is preaching, how could you not practice what you preach? A bit much of an exercise in circular reasoning for my mind, but still, well said.

    And no, sitting around the campfire with like-minded people while belittling, mocking, or insulting religious people does not constitute direct violence against those people. I do suggest that my usage of “violence” is not so far-fetched as you might prefer. Here is one definition of violence taken from the World English Dictionary: “great strength of feeling, as in language etc., fervor”. I think it should be very clear that when I refer to the insulting of religious people as a form of violence, it is well within standard usage of that term.

  33. 42

    Steve, I think you are only making sense to yourself. You said you were a peaceful hippy sort on the other thread… I don’t find you peaceful–rather, I find you passive aggressive and your garbled communication makes me assume that you are posting while high.

    Yes– you are a faitheist… a person who thinks religious woo should be coddled and treated differently than other woo by skeptics.

    You put down the atheists who are more direct and honest than you are. You appear to imagine yourself more diplomatic and better at communicating than people like Greta but can’t figure out why no else seems to think so. I recommend you hang out at Chris Stedman’s website or Chris Mooney’s. Greta’s column appears to be “over your head”. Everyone else seems to understand her, but your need to find fault with critics of religion makes you unable to do so. You have a desperate need to prove some point that only makes sense in your head.

    Oh, and I don’t think you need to worry about what good Greta is accomplishing: –just as you don’t have to worry about the “harm” she “might otherwise accomplish” (sic). There is no evidence that she’s “accomplishing” any harm at all.

    Perhaps your time might be better spent in brushing up on the basics of communication… or maybe in trying to amass evidence that you are accomplishing something of value other than derailing threads with insincere inquiries and faitheist blither.

  34. 43


    Well, you do have a way with words, that I’ve got to admit. Maybe I’ll just ‘burn another one’ and try to soak up some of your style, might just help me out some with my communication skills.

    The Dude Abides!

    Whatever’s abideable, that is.

  35. 45

    sumdum: “I think you’ll find most atheists are not concerned with what should or should not be, but with what is.”

    Should, in this context (following personal views), has the connotation of ethical oughts and ought nots. If I had meant “what is” I’d have said something like “is or is not.”

  36. 46

    Sastra #33

    I asked her then if the people who think that only their own religion is right were wrong. When she said “yes” I asked “so those people’s religion is wrong? THEY don’t understand God — but you do?” I get “no.” Ask again, I get “yes.”

    The trouble is that you asked different questions. The first one was about a particular tenet, and you received the “yes” answer. The second (“Those people’s religion is wrong?”) could be taken as meaning: “is their religion useless as a way to God?”; and you received the “no” answer. Then you “asked again” – yeah, but which question? My guess would be that the different answers you received were motivated by differences in questions you asked.

    Some general remarks. As far as I know, the usual inclusivists strategy (and this whole topic is about a rather extreme version of inclusivism) for dealing with the problem of conflicting religious claims consists in minimizing the importance of this claims: a typical retort would be “they are not crucial for our salvation”. This is taken to apply to conflicting historical claims (concerning e.g. the appointment of Peter by Jesus as the first pope), but also to some metaphysical ones (as far as I can remember, an inclusivist John Hick praised Buddha a lot for his silence on various metaphysical issues). All in all, my impressions are as follows:

    1. The inclusivists (Greta’s “ecumenical believers”) do not claim that all religious tenets are true. They know pretty well that some of these tenets are contradictory. The inclusivists say in fact that some tenets should be rejected (like “mine and only mine religion provides a way to salvation”)
    2. They seem to claim however that all (most of?) religions are indeed on a par when treated as ways to salvation. At this point an inclusivist could perhaps say “and my own inclusivist version is no exception – it doesn’t give you a better access to your personal salvation than – say – traditional exclusivist Christianity”.
    3. Inclusivism is not a detailed religious doctrine. In practice it is rather coupled with this or that body of religious belief (so we can have e.g. inclusivist Christianity, inclusivist Buddhism, etc.) If – as Greta wrote – some religion “have, as a central defining tenet, the idea that their religion is the one true religion”, then the inclusivist version of this religion would be quite a serious modification indeed. But I think the proper inclusivist reaction to this should be: “yeah, right. So what?”
    4. I don’t think it’s fair to say that the inclusivists don’t care at all about the truth of their beliefs. It seems to me that their rejection of exclusivism is (partially) motivated by issues of truth. (In other words: caring about truth is one of the motivations for becoming an inclusivists – that’s at least how I understand them). However, I think Greta is right that truth is not their hero and it doesn’t occupy the highest place in their hierarchy of values. Some of you might blame them for that. Others – like me – perhaps not so much.

    Ok, the topic is interesting and one could go on and on … but I guess it’s enough for now. Just a final remark. I have mixed feelings about inclusivism. On the one hand, I appreciate the skeptical trend hidden in it, I think also that its success would minimize harmful bigotry. On the other, I appreciate passion in religion (crucify me for that), and I’m just not sure whether inclusivism has a chance for becoming anything else than a lukewarm creed of the indifferent.

  37. 47

    if all religions are true, then the “onetruegod” hasn’t got around to telling many theists. In fact, it intentionally buggers the matter by supposedly telling them the exact opposite. This newly made-up kumbiya woo simply makes any magic omnigod an idiot.

  38. 48

    steve is amusing. I’ve observed that many theists construe any disbelief in anyone’s part as an attack on them, claiming that it is insulting, disrespectful, etc ad naseum. I think it must be their wannabee martyr complex.

  39. 49

    There is a huge difference between saying, “Arguing about religion is divisive and unpleasant, so let’s temporarily set aside our differences so we can focus on our common ground” — or for that matter, saying, “Let’s discuss and debate our disagreements without being uncivil or ugly” — and saying, “Arguing about religion is divisive and unpleasant, so let’s never do it, and let’s convince ourselves that we’re all somehow magically right in our own way.

    I’m not sure about this one. I can count on my fingers the number of people I’ve encountered who claimed to be arguing either of the first two, who weren’t actually arguing the third – and who weren’t observably emboldening and giving a structural advantage to the third.

  40. 50

    -There is a consistency to your criticism of Greta:

    And no, sitting around the campfire with like-minded people while belittling, mocking, or insulting religious people does not constitute direct violence against those people.

    -Having read the vast majority of posts in Greta’s archives (those related to the topic of religion, that is) I’ve yet to see anything that indicates that she “belittles, mocks or insults” religious people. Her comments indicate that she calls them on the carpet about their religious beliefs.
    If I were to have a conversation with a theist and the topic of religious belief comes up, I’m perfectly within my rights to ask them
    “how can you believe in the story of Noah’s ark when it is riddled with impossible actions (8 people building the whole thing, gathering all the animals from around the world, finding food for that many animals, cleaning up the fecal matter and urine, preventing species from eating each other, etc)?,
    “why do you cherry pick from the bible?”,
    “why do you believe in a genocidal, child-killing, slavery endorsing, misogynistic god?”,
    “where is your _loving_ god when millions of children are starving to death?”,
    “why do you attack gays, yet divorce which is also punishable by death, gets a free pass?”,
    “why do you believe no morality can exist without god, when the Golden Rule existed long before Christianity?”,

    Would you find my questions to be insulting, belittling, or mocking? If so, why? If not, why? Also, if those questions don’t belittle, insult, or mock religious people then what is wrong with asking them? Why can we not engage in conversations about the beliefs of others especially when those beliefs continually affect far more people than just the believer?*
    I agree with others in here. You come across as someone who doesn’t agree with Greta’s methods, and would prefer to live and let live with regard to religion. You also come across as someone who actively doesn’t like atheists trying to persuade believers out of their beliefs. You come across as someone who sees an atheist having a conversation with a religious believer about the problems with their beliefs as being = to insulting, belittling, and/or mocking them.

    *and yes, the religious belief of an individual can and does affect others. Anti-gay marriage legislation, proposed constitutional amendments that add discrimination, bombing abortion clinics, legislation that seeks to introduce creationism into schools, forced indoctrination of children into religious cults, and far too many other instances. These cases are religiously derived.
    Remove religion, and what’s the issue against gay marriage?
    Remove religion, and why do you have define marriage in the constitution?
    Remove religion, and why would you bomb an abortion clinic?
    Remove religion, and there wouldn’t be any creationism.
    Remove religion, and children can grow up and come to conclusions about reality on their own without it being forcibly shoved down their throat from birth.
    Religious beliefs are not private in the way they should be.

  41. 51


    This newly made-up kumbiya woo simply makes any magic omnigod an idiot.

    -Not only that, but I wonder…if all religion is true, where do the Greco-Roman and Scandinavian gods fit in? Or was Cee-Lo referring only to modern monotheistic religions?

  42. 52


    Hey Dude!

    I think that we have already had this conversation previously and if you would go and review that discusson I think that what I said before is probably still pretty close to what my perspective is now.

    You can take Greta’s writing to mean whatever you would like Greta’s writing to mean. That’s fine and as it should be. If you would like to take Greta’s explicit promotion of “making fun of religion” and “insulting it” while in conversation with believers, to mean something other than what a plain reading of it would suggest (i.e. belittling, mocking, or insulting religious people) you are fully witin your rights to do so. In fact, I think that we all are probably much better off if you do not take Greta’s proposition literally or seriously. Do I think she actually engages in these practices ? Of course not, which should be very apparent in what I’ve previously written.

    As I have previously made clear to you, I am no stranger to religious and philosophical discussion and most certainly promote civil discussion with people who are so inclined. My own sense of civil discussion with religious people does not include “making fun of religion” or “insulting it”, but hey, I’m a Faitheist, so what do you expect?

    I think that much of the most egregious behaviour that humans have, and do, engaqe in does not depend so much upon religion per se, but is much more deeply rooted than simply eliminating religion from our world could begin to hope to acheive. I think that I’d developed this idea a bit more in the course of our previous discussion.

    Finally, In the big scheme of things I imagine this whole conversation is of very little significance. I certainly do not take it, or myself, too seriously.



  43. 54

    I believe what you published was very reasonable. But, consider this, suppose you were to write a awesome title? I mean, I don’t wish to tell you how to run your blog, but what if you added a post title that makes people desire more? I mean Can All Religion Be True? The Problem With Ecumenicalism | Greta Christina's Blog is kinda vanilla. You should glance at Yahoo’s front page and see how they create post titles to get viewers interested. You might try adding a video or a picture or two to get readers interested about everything’ve got to say. In my opinion, it would bring your posts a little bit more interesting.

  44. 55

    Human beings, having intelligent minds, must try to explain everything including the meaning of life, God, and the universe. That is all fine and good, however, know this TRUTH: We Know Nothing. Us understanding God would be like an ant understanding rocket science. Personally, I find it more beautiful and empowering to know that there is much more out there that I could never understand than to CHOOSE a religion based upon what my peers believe…or rather what they are told to believe.

  45. 56

    There is in inherent problem with this argument that all religion cannot be true, and that is that religion must be governed by logic. Logically all religions must be false because they cannot be proven and require a belief in something that is not at all grounded in fact or certainty. So if I say I believe I will go to a heaven, and someone else believes I will be reencarnated, they both have the same merit as there is no proof behind either. We can not see or touch heaven, and if we must draw the conclusion with the least assumptions then there is no heaven, but if we allow any belief to be rendered at least plausible, there is no reason to say one can be true while the other must be false. It’s like political systems. One thing might work one place, another in another, but they’re both equally fabricated, and yet they are both real and both work. If the physics that govern this universe don’t work in another, does that mean they are wrong? It doesn’t. Though again I am using logic to analyze something outside its scope. Sometimes you just gotta have faith.

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