Religious Doctrines are Self-Contradictory: How Can They All Be True?

Contradictions in Religion are a Reason Not to Believe Them, Convert

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Cline, Austin. "Religious Doctrines are Self-Contradictory: How Can They All Be True?" ThoughtCo, Mar. 2, 2016, thoughtco.com/religious-doctrines-are-self-contradictory-248229. Cline, Austin. (2016, March 2). Religious Doctrines are Self-Contradictory: How Can They All Be True? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/religious-doctrines-are-self-contradictory-248229 Cline, Austin. "Religious Doctrines are Self-Contradictory: How Can They All Be True?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/religious-doctrines-are-self-contradictory-248229 (accessed September 26, 2017).

The most obvious and significant source of self-contradictions in a religion lies within the alleged characteristics of a religion's god. This is not, however, the only ground on which contradictions can be found. Religions are complex, detailed belief systems with a lot of different elements swirling about them. Given this, the existence of contradictions and related problems not only shouldn't be surprising, but should in fact be expected.

This certainly isn't unique to religion. Every complex ideology, philosophy, belief system, or world view which has sufficient age also has plenty of contradictions and related problems. These contradictions are sources of tension which can become sources of productivity and flexibility that allow the system to adapt to changing circumstances. A belief system with absolutely no contradictions is one which is probably relatively limited and inflexible, which means that it won't easily survive the passage of time or transfer into other cultures. On the other hand, if it's too open, there's a good chance that it will become completely assimilated into a larger culture and thus disappear for good.

The same is true with religion: any religion that's going to survive over the long term and become integrated into other cultures is going to have to have some contradictions within it. Thus the presence of such contradictions shouldn't be a surprise when we are dealing with old religions that have developed in the context of multiple cultures.

Different cultures will contribute different elements and, in the long run, some of these will likely conflict. So, from the perspective of helping a religion to survive, this should not only not be a problem, but it should be treated as a positive benefit.

There's just one problem: religions aren't supposed to be human-made belief systems with flaws like this, however advantageous they may be from a pragmatic standpoint.

Religions are usually supposed to have been created by gods, at least on some level, and this greatly reduces the scope for acceptable errors. Gods, after all, aren't normally considered fallible in any way. If it is perfect, then any religion constructed around this god and by this god should also be perfect — even if a few minor errors in practice creep in through human adherents.

Contradictions in a human belief system aren't necessarily grounds to dismiss that belief system because those contradictions aren't unexpected. They also provide a potential means through which we can contribute to the system and leave our own mark on it. Contradictions in religions, however, are another matter. If some particular god exists, and this god is perfect, and a religion is created around it, then it shouldn't have significant contradictions. The presence of such contradictions indicates that there is an error in one of those steps: the religion isn't created around that god, or isn't created by that god, or that god isn't perfect, or that god simply doesn't exist. One way or the other, though, the religion itself as held by its adherents isn't "true" as it stands.

None of this means that no gods can possibly exist or that no religions might possibly be true.

A god might logically exist even given the truth of everything above. What it does mean, however, is that the contradictory religions we have before us are unlikely to be true, and surely aren't true as they currently stand. Something about such a religion must be wrong, and possibly many things. Therefore, it's not reasonable or rational to join them as-is.