Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What About Other Religions?

Logically, the mutual exclusiveness of religious claims is evident to many people. There are fundamental differences: 

How do we get right with God? (Through good works or by grace) Where do we go after death? When a person dies, he can’t reincarnate, go to heaven or hell, end up in purgatory and cease to exist all at the same time. They can’t all be true. At least, one view must be wrong.

But the pluralist may respond like this: The doctrinal dogmas may be different but the spiritual experience or moral teaching/practice is the same. Different religions are just fighting over words when they are experiencing essentially the same thing (Story of ten blind men encountering the elephant for the first time). 

In reality, although it sounds humble, pluralism says, “All religions are mistaken or partially correct like the blind men. All of them did not get the whole picture. But now I got the truth of what the elephant is like!” The only way you can know everyone else is blind is if you are the one who can see the elephant. Despite their mistaken beliefs, they are all in some way responding to God. It is just that they are not doing so in the manner in which the believers themselves think they are. But it is hard to see why this way of rejecting other’s beliefs as ‘blind’ is any more tolerant than the non-pluralist.

Do all religions really teach us to do good? They do share much ethical insights but differ on moral issues also. Is it good to have many wives or just one? Is it good to eat meat or sacrifice animals?

What is the common subjective spiritual experience that all religions share? (John Hicks: a move from self centeredness to Reality-centeredness) But if the Real is absolutely beyond knowing, how can we know it exists? If no truth claim can describe it, how can one say anything of it?

Zen Buddhism claims mystical, direct, unmediated access to the ultimate nature of reality (satori – enlightenment). It is not just a human response to the Real. If true, then one religion has direct privileged access to truth contrary to pluralist claim. What does it mean to be ‘self centered’ or ‘Reality centered’? (Realize you are one with Brahman? Recognize that nirvana is ultimate? Center your life on Jesus?). It’s too vague and reductionistic in a way not acceptable to what other faiths claim about themselves...

Is belief in ‘one way to God’ narrow-minded as it shuts you off from new insights that come from other religions?

It is common to confuse ‘narrow-mindedness’ with holding a particular view with strong conviction. Gregory Boyd: “Narrow-mindedness does not attach to what you believe, but how you believe it. If I refused to consider any perspective, any religious book, and any philosophy which disagreed with my own, that would be narrow-minded. But just because I hold to a belief that disagrees with other perspectives, other religious books and other philosophies doesn’t itself make me narrow.”

Can we learn insights from other religions? Sure, but it doesn’t mean we cannot be critical as well. “Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” – G.K. Chesterton

Isn’t it unfair that God revealed Himself to only some people and not to others? What about those who have never heard of the good news? Where is the justice in that? It should be more open to all. 

Different theories to reconcile God’s justice with the necessity of the gospel for salvation: God will not offer the gospel to those whom He knows would not have responded positively anyway. Or, after death, those whom God knows would respond positively may be offered the gospel. Keller: It’s a mystery that God has not revealed to us.

What does Romans chapter 1 say about ‘not enough evidence for God’? Actually, people are suppressing the universal knowledge of God they do have because of sin. People are without excuse for God’s moral character, power and wisdom have been evident to all since creation of the world. They are still accountable for how they live by the moral law within their hearts. So it’s still fair because they won’t be judged by what they don’t know. But the bad news is we have all violated our own moral standards and deserve just punishment. That is why we need a Savior (Christ) who died for our sins.

There are different theories to reconcile God’s justice with the necessity of the gospel for salvation. See Terrance Tiessen’s “Who Can be Saved? Reassessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions

Ecclesiocentrists: Access to salvation is only available to those who hear and receive the gospel at least in the case of competent adults.

Agnosticism: It’s a mystery that God has not revealed to us since Scripture is silent.

Accessibilists: Salvation is through Christ alone but accessible to the unevangelised beyond the boundaries of the church. Non-Christian religions are not salvific.

Religious instrumentalists: Salvation is through Christ but accepts that non-Christian religions are means of salvation.

“[My] position is exclusivist in the sense that it affirms the unique truth of the revelation in Jesus Christ, but it is not exclusivist in the sense of denying the possibility of the salvation of the non-Christian. It is inclusivist in the sense that it refuses to limit the saving grace of God to the members of the Christian church, but it rejects the inclusivism which regards the non-Christian religions as vehicles of salvation. It is pluralist in the sense of acknowledging the gracious work of God in the lives of all human beings, but it rejects a pluralism which denies the uniqueness and decisiveness of what God has done in Jesus Christ.” (Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society)

Pluralism promotes peace and tolerance in a world of religious conflict. When you have exclusive hold on truth, it will lead to problems. Solution: Take religions less seriously or literally i.e. Jesus is God. 

But everybody brings their essential faith commitments (which cannot be proven by science). Everyone has their worldview (about where we come from, who we are, the purpose of life and our destiny) and all have their exclusive views.

For example, even pluralism will exclude other beliefs like the incarnation of God in Christ. It works only if followers of all faiths water down their conflicting truth claims in favor of pluralism. In the end, the only way humanity could attain unity is when they exclusively agree on a ‘faith’ different than their own.

The real question, then, is “Which fundamental belief leads their believers to be the most loving and honor those with whom they differ?” (See: Reason for God, page 18 – 21)

Peace may be achieved not at the cost of truth or dismissal of genuine differences. In fact, tolerance itself implies disagreement. We do not ‘tolerate’ people who agree with us. They are on our side! If every religious person is a pluralist, what room is there for tolerance? Instead, genuine tolerance recognizes conflicting truth claims and does not press for artificial common denominator. Despite our differences, we respect and honor one another as persons who have the God-given right to believe, practice and propagate our faiths. We should avoid what Alister McGrath called ‘a repressive enforcement of a predetermined notion of what something or someone should be, rather than a willingness to accept them for what they actually are.’

OK fine – Only one religion is true or all are false. But how can you tell? How do you choose your ‘home’ or belief (worldview)? By research or upbringing? 

What are some criteria that you think ‘the true religion’ ought to have? There are some tests of truth that can help us measure different religious claims (moral criterion, coherence, empirical/historical claims, trustworthy authority). We can know whether these claims are true or false, rather than wishful thinking.

Greg Koukl: For example, if I told you that out in my car, in my glove box, I have a square circle, how many of you would want to take a peek? There are no square circles because a square circle is a contradiction in terms.

It's like a person who said, "I met a woman who was ten years younger than her son." Now, no empirical search is necessary for you to reject this claim. By definition, mothers are older than their children. That is why there can't be a woman ten years younger than her son. Even if the most brilliant person said this to you, you could immediately reject it.

The point I am making is this. There are some particular things you can judge as false without ever leaving the room because a moment's reflection tells you there is something wrong. These things can't be true because they violate the test of coherence. In other words, it doesn't make sense; it's contradictory.

What about this “all religions are the same” view? What it fails to take into consideration is that much of religious truth is actually competing and not complimentary. Religions have contradictory claims. For example, God in the Christian tradition is personal and in the eastern tradition is impersonal. God can't be personal and not personal at the same time. One view must be wrong.

The point is, we can use this test of coherence to disqualify certain views as being false on their face. The religious pluralism view--the idea that all religions lead to God, that all roads lead to Rome--is false on its face because all religions can't be true at the same time.


Brendan M said...

Like the insight and depth of your analysis. You lost me for a but there, but good for you in maintaining your conviction.
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