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“Ask a Priest: Can Someone Have Belief in More Than One Religion?”
Q: I recently read the book Life of Pi, and it left me with some questions about religion. First, let me ask you, what is the most significant reason you believe in monotheism as compared to a polytheistic religion such as Hinduism? Or is this not a major aspect of your faith? What do you think about a person following more than one religion at a time — is it possible to have faith in more than one God at a time? Which leads me to another question: Do you believe it is possible that all religions are based on different experiences with the same God in different areas of the world? Also, why would God sacrifice his only Son to pay for the sins of other people? Why shouldn’t we pay for our wrongdoings ourselves? As basic as the question is, it is a very difficult concept. Thanks for your time. -A.R.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: Many thanks for your thoughtful questions.
Frankly, I never seriously considered Hindu beliefs. Christianity makes more sense: There is one, uncreated God who created everything else. A religion such as Hinduism (or at least some forms of it) that espouses multiple gods doesn’t seem very satisfying, to be honest. It only raises the question about where all those gods came from.
I think a person who is serious about religion won’t, by nature, try to follow different faiths at once. The various faiths often contradict one another, sometimes on very basic issues. So even intellectually, following different religions doesn’t make much sense. Besides, God, understood as the Absolute Being, has no equal.
As to whether various religions are based on different experiences of God — that is a good question. Various religions (aside from the Catholic faith, which I believe authoritatively can interpret Revelation) have sparks of the truth.
Permit me to cite a longish quote from Nostra Aetate, No. 2, the Vatican II document on non-Christian religions:
“Religions, however, that are bound up with an advanced culture have struggled to answer the same questions by means of more refined concepts and a more developed language. Thus in Hinduism, men contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through searching philosophical inquiry. They seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a flight to God with love and trust. Again, Buddhism, in its various forms, realizes the radical insufficiency of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, may be able either to acquire the state of perfect liberation, or attain, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme illumination. Likewise, other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing ‘ways,’ comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.”
Note that phrase about other religions that “often reflect a ray of that Truth” – meaning, a ray of the truth that is God himself. So, in a limited sense, yes, we could say that other religions might reflect various experiences of God.
As to God sacrificing his Son for our redeemer: Jesus willingly went to the cross, to do his Father’s will. Why was that sacrifice necessary?
Let’s say this: God is infinitely good. To sin against an infinitely good God is an infinite offense. Man is finite and thus cannot make up on his own for his offenses against an infinitely good God. Only God could make up for the offenses (sins) against him. Thus Jesus, being God, was able to redeem us from sin.
Could the redemption have come about another way? Possibly. But God chose the path he did, in part, probably, to show his great love for us.
I hope this helps. God bless.