Cee Lo Green, a popular mainstream singer, in one of the last events of 2011, sang John Lennon’s classic song “Imagine,” but with a twist. Instead of singing, “Nothing to kill or die for and no religion too,” Cee Lo Green sang “Nothing to kill or due for and all religion’s true.” Many commenters have objected to Cee Lo Green’s turning a secular song into a ‘pro-religion song’ and have argued that John Lennon’s song should not be lyrically modified at all. There is little discussion, though, surrounding the philosophical implications of Cee Lo Green’s lyrical change. What, exactly, does Cee Lo Green mean when he says “all religion’s true?” Can a position like this be defended?
A main and very fundamental principle of logic is what philosophers call the law of contradiction. A proposition, according to this law, cannot be both true and not true. If one’s reasoning is riddled with a contradiction, the reasoning breaks down because something cannot be both true and not true. A clock, for example, cannot be both on a wall and not on a wall. This is quite evident and, whether we know it or not, we use this principle on a daily basis.
Enter religious claims. Some religions posit very particular claims about the fundamental nature of the universe typically asserting that their religious claims have truth value and claims from other religions are wrong. Many Roman Catholics believe that God created the universe, sent his son Jesus to die on the cross, and believe that there is only one god who is tripartite in nature (the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit). Muslims, on the other hand, believe that there is no god but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet. Hindus typically believe in all sorts of gods such as Shiva and Ganesh while not positing the existence of Allah and the Christian god. All of these assertions can’t possibly all be true.
Some, while realizing this, will assert that everyone is ‘sort of getting it right’ and seem to be pointing to some sort of ‘fundamental essence,’ ‘likeness of the ultimate,’ etc. Religious ideas, some believe, might just be representations and attempts of humans at trying to understand a supernatural reality.
The problem, though, is that while there might be some truth to religious claims, everyone’s also getting it wrong. Additionally, people who adhere to particular religious claims aren’t claiming that they are sort of right, but rather are often making very specific claims about the nature of the universe. How can we even know that people are ‘sort of getting it right’ and that there is a supernatural reality to begin with?
Might Cee Lo Green and some others perhaps argue that ‘truth’ — as far as some religious claims are concerned — does not involve some sort of knowledge about a supernatural entity being correct, but rather truth means that some religious teachings are either beneficial or ‘truth-ful’ in the lives of many?
This approach, though, commits the informal logical fallacy of equivocation in which a term is being used in two different contexts. Saying religious claims are true in the matter of “Does the Christian god exist?” is much different than saying that religious claims are true in the matter of ‘There are some great moral lessons to be learned.’ This approach can’t possibly work. [Read more on this here.]
In some communications on Twitter, Cee Lo Green reveals his real stance — responding to a commenter who typed “The whole point of that lyric is that religion causes harm. If “all religion’s true” it would be a pretty bleak place — typing “I meant all faith or belief is valid…that’s all.”
Putting religion aside for a moment, it should be quite obvious that not all “faith or belief is valid.” Considering matter-of-fact issues about an objective reality, all beliefs can’t possibly be true. Suppose Jill believes the North Star is the brightest star in the sky and Jack believes the North Star is not the brightest star in the sky. Both can’t possibly be right.
While ideas of ‘everyone is right’ might seem quite appealing, non-confrontational, inclusive, accepting of others, etc., the more honest route, it seems, is to not advocate for positions in which one is forced to accept contradictions. All religions can’t possibly be true – and even if all religious claims were ‘sort of true’ and aiming at some sort of supernatural reality, how can we even know this? The mere fact that people around the world and throughout history have been talking about supernatural entities that might be similar says nothing about their truth value, but rather might say a great deal about human psychology and attempts to answer questions which we can’t know or do not know the answers to by appealing to the supernatural.
Disagreement, as some religious pluralists might believe, constitutes disrespect…so we’re best to ‘be accepting’ by saying that everyone is right — in some way or another — when religious beliefs are concerned. This, though, doesn’t have to be the case. Honest discussion can be had and ideas, rather than people, can be attacked. We can understand perspectives of those whom we happen to disagree with by having a genuine conversation without being offensive to persons.
Cee Lo Green’s ideas of all religions being true and all faith being valid is untenable.