Which religion is true or most true? Trever, 12, New Mexico
Gayle Kimball’s answer:
Professor and author Huston Smith taught about world religions for decades and wrote about them in numerous books. In his CD “The Big Picture,” he said all religions share a belief in a higher dimension. Mystics and people who have experienced near-death experiences report the other side is blissful and loving with helpful guides.
The Bible and the Koran talk about heaven and earth, Buddhism contrasts samsara (this world) and nirvana (which can’t be described in words), and Hinduism contrasts maya (this world of illusion) with Brahma (god). Much older tribal religions, which date back 30,000 years–compared to only 6,000 years for historic religions, agree a superior world exists beyond this plane. Religions also agree humans were made in the image of God and there will be a happy ending, usually with the coming of a prophet (for Christians, the second coming of Jesus, while Muslims believe Mohammed was the last prophet).
Smith believes the advent of the scientific method in the 16th century, with its use of controlled experiments and proofs, led to unbelievable technological advances, like walking on the moon. But “the critical mistake of modernity” is that science denies the possibility of another world, keeping many from exploring it. Science ignores meaning, values and purpose. We’ve lost a great deal in dismissing these dimensions, Smith concludes.
Greg Tropea comments:
I think your answer provides a nice focus for the question, and bringing in Huston Smith—who would respond to any claim beyond the most mundane with the question, “But is it true?”—strikes me as a good move that is right in tune with the question.
For accuracy, I would include in the near-death and mystical reports the minority experiences of demonic presences and hellish situations. That these accord in one way or another with teachings that occur in all of the major traditions, even if not always in the “official” texts, adds sufficient motivation in my view.
I would be more restrained in my characterization of science as denying the existence of higher dimensions. Philosophical materialists, some of whom are scientists, will make this scientifically nonsensical (because it is untestable) claim, but the more sophisticated scientists have always said that what cannot be measured is outside the purview of science to decide. Additionally, we have a large literature documenting the sometimes beautiful and sometimes embarrassing efforts of scientists to come to terms with Western or Eastern religions.
From Smith’s perspective, the idea that religions teach us to define our values wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) quite work. The reason is that religions themselves deliver the values and demand of us that we come to understand them. Smith does believe in a “real” truth that essentially carries its definition within itself, so for him there is a truth to be discovered that has already been defined by God.
In the philosopher’s way, one of my first impulses was to reflect back on the question. When the boy asks which religion is true or most true, we have to wonder what his understanding of truth is. Would it be decided by which religion’s writings has the largest number of statements that correspond with observed phenomena? The smallest number of statements that are contradicted by observation or history? And then we have wonder what a standard of truth like that has to with all of the claims about unseen realities that show up in the texts of religions. In this philosophical vein, one can go on and on.
Of course, the Bible raises the issue of truth in a number of ways, most traditionally philosophically in John 18:38, when Pilate demonstrates a complete absence of spiritual discernment in the face of Jesus’s assertion of the specificity of his message by asking rhetorically and in a general way, “What is truth?” As high as the stakes are, Jesus realizes that you can’t say much about color to a blind man.
I like how your answer moves in the direction of understanding religions as ways to truth, but wish for a stronger assertion of this. Maybe it is my Christian bias showing or maybe my personal eccentricity. When I hear Jesus say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” I hear a list of four synonyms, not a set of different things. So I am far away from a correspondence theory of truth when it comes to religion. Because my experience of spiritual life has been more characterized by surprises than fulfillment of dreams or expectations, one other thing I would want to emphasize in the thought of higher dimensions is that when we are aware of our participation in them, we encounter possibilities that overflow the categories of our 3-D world at noontime.