Which Religions Should be Considered True Religions?

First, I believe with all my heart and mind that Christianity is the truest form of religion and that Catholicism the truest form of Christianity. I am not debating or doubting that truth in this article. There is no truer or better religion or belief system than Catholic Christianity. However, it is undeniable that other religions and belief systems contain some truths, such as that one God exists, that He created all else that exists, and various moral truths. But the question here is which belief systems should be considered true religions, and which should be considered false religions, though with some elements of truth.

The narrowest possible answer would be to say that Catholicism is the only true religion, and all other religions are false religions. I would argue against this view. Catholic teaching is that Judaism was a religion established by God, by Divine Revelation. Some of the Saints were Jews who never converted to Christianity: Saint John the Baptist, and his parents: Saints Zechariah and Elizabeth, and the parents of the Virgin Mary: Saints Joachim and Ann, and Saint Joseph. It would be absurd to claim that Judaism is a false religion, while also believing that it was a religion established by God, with several very holy Saints, including Saint Joseph, patron Saint of the universal Church.

Michael Voris claims that Judaism became a false man-made religion after the fall of Jerusalem in the first century A.D. But his claims are incompatible with the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the recent Popes on Judaism. In fact, his claims are incompatible with the teaching of Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium:

“We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked, for “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). The Church, which shares with Jews an important part of the sacred Scriptures, looks upon the people of the covenant and their faith as one of the sacred roots of her own Christian identity (cf. Rom 11:16-18). As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God (cf. 1 Thes 1:9). With them, we believe in the one God who acts in history, and with them we accept his revealed word.” (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 247)

So we must consider Judaism to be a true religion. Judaism was established by Divine Revelation from God. We cannot call a religion established by God as false, without committing blasphemy.

Judaism today does not accept Jesus as the Messiah. But they do accept the teachings of God in the Old Testament, and they look forward to the promised Messiah. They don’t realize that those teachings are from Christ, and that He is the Messiah. So they accept Christ implicitly, not explicitly, just as the Old Testament Fathers did:

[1 Corinthians]
{10:1} For I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and they all went across the sea.
{10:2} And in Moses, they all were baptized, in the cloud and in the sea.
{10:3} And they all ate of the same spiritual food.
{10:4} And they all drank of the same spiritual drink. And so, they all were drinking of the spiritual rock seeking to obtain them; and that rock was Christ.

The Jews today can be saved by means of their religion. See: Are Jews Saved under the Old Covenant? and Are Jews Saved by the Law?

By loving God and neighbor, a Jews can enter the state of grace by an implicit baptism of desire. If he is not culpable to the extent of an actual mortal sin for rejecting Christianity, he remains in the state of grace. If he falls out of the state of grace by any type of actual mortal sin, he can return to the state of grace by perfect contrition out of love for God and neighbor.

The love of God and neighbor is an indispensable condition for a religion to be considered true. If any sect of Jews were ever to abandon the love of God and neighbor, then their version of Judaism would not be a true religion and would not be true Judaism. But the same is true of any sect of Christianity or Catholicism. And such sects do exist.

The love of God and neighbor is an indispensable condition for salvation. No one can be saved except by the state of grace. And the state of grace is essentially the state of loving God and neighbor. (I argue that atheists and agnostics who truly love their neighbor selflessly also necessarily love God implicitly, but that is another topic.) Every actual mortal sin is incompatible with the love of God and neighbor. All those persons and only those persons who die unrepentant from actual mortal sin are sent by God to eternal punishment in Hell.

Orthodox and Protestant Christianity believe in one God who is Three Persons, and in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. The Protestants have the Sacraments of Baptism and Marriage. The Orthodox have all Seven Sacraments. And above all, they teach the love of God and neighbor. Both Orthodox and Protestant Christianity must be considered true religions, despite the acceptance of grave heresies and schism by those Churches.

Many Catholics today have fallen into grave heresies. And yet the religion that they practice is the truest form of religion: Catholic Christianity. The fault lies with the individual’s understanding, not with the religion. Similarly, Orthodox Christians and Protestant Christians believe in Christianity, so they cannot be said to adhere to a false religion. But they do adhere to certain false doctrines.

As for Islam, the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis regards Muslims as true worshippers of God.

“We must never forget that they ‘profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, who will judge humanity on the last day’. The sacred writings of Islam have retained some Christian teachings; Jesus and Mary receive profound veneration and it is admirable to see how Muslims both young and old, men and women, make time for daily prayer and faithfully take part in religious services. Many of them also have a deep conviction that their life, in its entirety, is from God and for God. They also acknowledge the need to respond to God with an ethical commitment and with mercy towards those most in need.” (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 252)

This implies that, in some sense, Islam is a true religion. As Christians, we believe in certain truths of faith and morals that are contrary to the beliefs of Islam. All religions are not the same. However, it is undeniable that many devout peaceful Muslims adore God and love their neighbor with full hearts.

In one sense, we might say that Catholic Christianity is the only true religion, since it is the fullest source of religious and moral truth on earth. Yet in another sense, we can also say that any religion based on the love of God above all else and the love of neighbor as self is a true religion. For the heart of Catholic Christianity is the love of God and neighbor. Whoever worships God in the light of that love, worships in truth.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Forgiveness and Salvation for Everyone
is now available in print (paperback, 510 pp.) and in Kindle format.

The Catechism of Catholic Ethics
is now available in print (paperback, 752 pp.) and in Kindle format.

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1 Response to Which Religions Should be Considered True Religions?

  1. John D. says:

    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. (Vatican II, Nostra Aetate)

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