Many people draw a distinction between churches that assert exclusive truth claims and churches that don’t, based on their belief that many religions don’t make exclusive truth claims. Nevertheless, even if some religions do not vocalize claims of exclusive truth, it’s poor logic to conclude that they don’t actually make such claims. All religions lay claim to exclusive truths.

The Logic of Assertion of Belief

On a recent Mormon Matters podcast, Ann Porter, John Crawford, John Delin, and I discussed the Pope’s recent statement asserting the Catholic claim to exclusive truths. Not one of us objected to the notion of asserting exclusive truth claims. Later, several people took us to task for this. John Hamer stated the objection most articulately:

Well, I would like to have engaged with you guys on this one. I have a very different view of “one and only true church” claims. I don’t agree that most churches view themselves that way. My understanding of the beliefs of most mainline Protestants is that they believe in in a large “Church of Christ” of which their individual expressions (Lutherans, Episcopalians, Baptists, Methodists, etc.) are denominations.

You don’t have to claim to have the one and only truth in order to claim that your path has validity. Your path and heritage can have value without extravagent, unsupportable claims that devalue the claims and traditions of others. Viewing faith traditions other than your own as valid is a sign of a more mature world-view. The movement of the current Pope away from that maturity is another example of how he is choosing to lead his church in a regressive direction.

I’ll leave aside the question of whether it’s extravagant and supportable to devalue traditions by labeling their key elements as extravagant, unsupportable, and devaluing.

John Hamer states, “Viewing faith traditions other than your own as valid is a sign of a more mature world-view.” This is where John and I disagree, because I believe that as a matter of logic, it’s impossible for a religion not to assert the invalidity of the beliefs of other religions.

To start with, every meaningful statement entails the falsehood of an entire set of statements. For example, if I assert, “DKL drives a grey car,” then I’m asserting the falseness of the entire set of statements that disagrees with that assertion. This includes everything from “DKL drives a car is not grey” to “DKL drives a blue car,” “DKL doesn’t drive a car,” “There is no DKL,” and so on. So if you believe in any meaningful proposition at all, you are asserting the invalidity of an entire class of meaningful propositions. (As a logical positivist, I take the size of the class of excluded empirical statements to be one measure of meaning for a given proposition; it’s just another formulation of the theory of verification.)

Of course, every church espouses some practices and beliefs. Even the most universalist believer, who believes that there are numerous routes to salvation, makes assertions that contradict the specific religious claims of other churches. For example, when a universalist asserts his belief in multiple routes to salvation, she is implicitly repudiating the Catholic belief that there is only one route to salvation.

In this case, the disagreement boils down to two competing assertions:

  1. The Catholic assertion that only the Catholic Church possesses the full compliment of essential religious truths.
  2. The Universalist assertion which entails the falseness of the Catholic Church’s claim to possess the full compliment of essential religious truths.

It is, therefore, inevitable that the Universalist believes that the Catholic Church lacks an important truth; viz., the truth about the universality of salvation regardless of church. This is easily shown to occur with any belief specific to Lutherans, Episcopalians, Baptists, Methodists, etc.

This type of belief in exclusive truth is inevitable, thanks to the very nature of meaningful statements. All meaningful beliefs assert truth exclusivity (whether explicitly or implicitly). Therefore, a fortiori all meaningful religious beliefs assert truth exclusivity.

The Salvation Impact

There is a key difference between statement A and B above. Specifically, the Catholic believer will hold that one’s belief or disbelief in assertion A impacts her salvation, while the Universalist does not. So in our give-and-take of religious opinions, we have the following exchange:

  1. The Catholic believer holds that the Universalist’s disbelief in assertion A will impact his salvation.
  2. The Universalist believer holds that a key Catholic belief concerning salvation is altogether mistaken.

The first statement, we have a denigration of the universalist’s beliefs. In the second statement, we have a denigration of the Catholic religion relative to the universalist. We end up asking the question, “Which is the bigger insult?” or, perhaps, “Who’s the bigger victim?”

In truth, there’s no insult, and there’s no victim. Each of these religious assertions holds true only within the religious framework in which it is couched. In other words, if you think that someone is mistaken about religion, then it shouldn’t matter to you whether they think that you’re mistaken about religion. It’s just too much to claim both (a) that someone else is mistaken about religion, and (b) that this someone must acknowledge that you are not mistaken about religion.

Conclusion

The pretense that the Pope’s statement represents an unusual or unique outlook is easily shown to be mistaken simply as a matter of logic. In reality, what makes a society’s outlook pluralistic is it’s toleration of a wide variety of truth and authority claims without casting aspersions on maturity or desirability. The notion that it’s somehow possible (much less mature) to accept all reasonable truth claims as valid is a misguided and illogical fiction.