“The truth about religion is that there is no one Truth but rather multiple versions of many possible truths.” Gary Laderman in The Huffington Post Depending on your point of view, this is simply a truism, or the greatest fallacy of our time. What is certainly true (if we can talk about certain truths) is that there are “multiple versions of many ideas which claim to be true”. Some of these are mutually exclusive: Either Jesus Christ is the eternal God incarnate, or he was a relatively enlightened but ordinarily mortal Jewish preacher who has been dead and gone for centuries. Both of these could be true. Both have advocates who claim that they are true. But they can’t both be true at the same time – and, as Laderman writes in the Huffington Post, those who believe the one have to learn to live with those who believe the other without starting wars.
Is it nevertheless legitimate to talk about “one Truth”? Well, it must be. Because the consequence of my believing in Jesus as God incarnate is that the other “possible truths” are in fact not true. I know that I cannot “prove” this in terms of scientific method. I also know that the circumstantial evidence that I could adduce can be explained by other “possible truths”. My evidence might stand up in court, but I would need a sympathetic jury, and a good prosecutor could pick plenty of holes in it. In fact, from one point of view (as the late Douglas Adams wrote in “The Salmon of Doubt”), God is no longer “the best explanation we’ve got” but “something that would itself need an insurmountable amount of explaining”. Now I don’t know about “insurmountable”, but I recognise that many aspects of what I believe will need some explaining for many people. Of course some (like Douglas Adams and his friend Richard Dawkins) aren’t very interested in the explanations anyway.
But the point is that either they are wrong and I’m right – or I am wrong and they are right. Either way there is only “one truth”, but in the end none of us are going to know which it is until… well, if you agree with Douglas Adams then you’re never going to know because when you die, you die, and there will be no great revelation of The Truth for anyone. If you agree with me, you will know you were right at the final judgement. If we’re wrong, we’ll probably never know…
So, contrary to Gary Laderman, there is “one Truth”, we just don’t know what it is. Mutual respect means recognising that fact and listening to what people have to say, however much we disagree. What it doesn’t mean is giving up on what we ourselves believe, making a sort of existential soup of all the available ideas, or treating as “true” ideas that we believe to be false. We don’t know who’s right, but we are entitled to believe what we believe, and to tell others about it, and to argue our case with those who disagree.