A philosophical analysis of Cee Lo Green’s “All religion’s true” lyric

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┬áhere.]

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.┬áHonest 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.

“Debunked Science” admits of openness, progress

Persons who try to discredit science or otherwise are quite skeptical of the scientific enterprise frequently voice the following claim almost immediately betraying a very fundamental misunderstanding:

You can’t trust scientific findings! Scientists got it wrong so much in the past and what we think was a fact constantly gets overturned! Everything we know today is going to turn out to be wrong in the future. Look at [example x theory or idea]. People thought that was true, but now we know it is not. You can’t trust scientists. Read More

Dr. David Kyle Johnson talks about his book “Inception and Philosophy” at Google

He recently spoke for Google:

Information on the book from the Amazon.com page:

Is the top still spinning? Was it all a dream? In the world of Christopher Nolan’s four-time Academy Award-winning movie, people can share one another’s dreams and alter their beliefs and thoughts. Inception is a metaphysical heist film that raises more questions than it answers: Can we know what is real? Can you be held morally responsible for what you do in dreams? What is the nature of dreams, and what do they tell us about the boundaries of “self” and “other”? From Plato to Aristotle and from Descartes to Hume, Inception and Philosophy draws from important philosophical minds to shed new light on the movie’s captivating themes, including the one that everyone talks about: did the top fall down (and does it even matter)?

  • Explores the movie’s key questions and themes, including how we can tell if we’re dreaming or awake, how to make sense of a paradox, and whether or not inception is possible
  • Gives new insights into the nature of free will, time, dreams, and the unconscious mind
  • Discusses different interpretations of the film, and whether or not philosophy can help shed light on which is the “right one”
  • Deepens your understanding of the movie’s multi-layered plot and dream-infiltrating characters, including Dom Cobb, Arthur, Mal, Ariadne, Eames, Saito, and Yusuf

An essential companion for every dedicated Inception fan, this book will enrich your experience of the Inception universe and its complex dreamscape.

Buy his book!

Confidence in science: Faith, fact, or something else?

A discussion in the New York Times starting with an article published on December 21, 2011 titled “On Flu Strains, Folkies and Faith in Science” prompted readers to ponder whether scientific inquiry and discovery will lead humanity down a smoother road, whether scientific inquiry will produce more good than harm (or vice-versa), whether there should be limits on scientific inquiry, and whether ‘faith’ in science is the same kind of faith as, say, religious faith. Read More