If there is only one God, why are there so many different religions?

by Luke Wayne

The existence of other religions is no obstacle for the truth claims of Christianity. Indeed, anyone reading the Bible would come away fully expecting to find many false religions and idolatrous practices flowing out from the fallen nature of man and the existence of our spiritual adversary, the devil. So, while this is a common question, it is not a particularly difficult one for Christians to answer. Still, before walking through the answer, it is worth briefly noting first that the question is actually rather vacuous when used as an objection to Christianity. Even apart from specific Christian teachings, the question itself doesn't really say anything.

Logical and Practical Issues

It is an observable reality that many mutually exclusive claims about God exist. If the mere existence of differing opinions proves one of them wrong, however, it proves all of them wrong. In other words, the question equally applies to all worldviews. Sure, to the monotheist you can say "If there is only one God, why are there so many different religions?" But if that is going to be taken as a serious challenge, I could just as well say to the atheist, "If there is no God, why are there so many religions?" or to the polytheist "If there are many gods that all actually exist, why are there so many monotheistic religions?" In each case, the question is basically the same. "If your view is true, why are there other views?" It's just not really a meaningful objection. Essentially the question is assuming that if something is true then there can't possibly be other opinions on the matter. It assumes that large numbers of people can't be wrong. But that is obviously false. Large numbers of people all over the world have had wrong views of all kinds of things. Diversity of opinion does not negate the truth. On any matter of objective truth on which there are multiple opinions, only one can be right, and the existence of wrong opinions doesn't make the correct opinion less correct.

In the case of God, there are three basic opinions:

  1. There is only one God,
  2. There are multiple gods
  3. There is no God

Logically, one and only one of these claims must be true. There are no other options. Only one, more than one, or none at all exhausts all the possibilities, so one of these claims must be correct. The others, in turn, must be false. If there is only one God, it cannot be true that there are many gods or no gods at the same time and in the same sense. If there is no God, it cannot also be true that there is a God (one or many) at the same time and in the same sense. If there are multiple gods, it cannot be true that there is only one God or that there are no gods at all. One of these claims is correct, and the others are incorrect. So, the existence of many mutually exclusive religions does not mean that all of them are wrong, nor does the mere fact that all these opinions exist prove which one of them is right.

The Biblical Answer

The Bible directly explains the origin of false religions through human sinfulness and rejection of God and God's subsequent giving man over to his own sinful desires. One of the clearest and most concise passages on this is in Paul's letter to the Romans:

"For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen," (Romans 1:21-25).

Paul states just before this that we "suppress the truth in unrighteousness," (Romans 1:18) and goes on to explain:

"And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper," (Romans 1:28).

So, men turned from God and desired instead to create a view of the world that justified their evil desires and often gave them a sense of control through the idea of gods and spiritual powers that they could influence through rites and rituals to get what they wanted without having to submit to the law and will of God Almighty. God gave us over to these desires and allowed us to suffer the consequences. Men invented false religions and truly believed them. In their sinful hearts and their rebellion against God, they wanted to believe such things and God gave them over to it. The many false religions that oppress the souls of men are a prison of our own making, and the gospel is the way to freedom and a restored fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. But so long as we continue to want a religion that is focused on us and what we can get out of it and not on submitting to our maker and taking our rightful place before Him, we will continue to invent and believe lies that suit our sinful, selfish purposes.

What's more, the Bible teaches that we have a spiritual adversary in the devil and his demons, or fallen spirits. The Bible calls false religious teachings that lead people away from the truth "doctrines of demons," (1 Timothy 4:1) and says that those who worship false gods are actually worshiping demons, (1 Corinthians 10:20). As Jesus said to one crowd:

"You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies," (John 8:44).

So, just as we actively deceive ourselves and deceive one another to justify our own self-deception, there are also spiritual forces in this world actively trying to deceive us; to turn us from God and keep us in darkness. Here, too, the gospel is the answer. It is the power of God unto salvation and, through the redeeming work of Christ and the regenerating power of the Spirit to make us new in heart and soul, it is the message of freedom from the Devil's wiles.