Religious pluralism is intellectually bankrupt

pluralism.jpg

There are two main kinds of religious pluralism.  One is good and one is intellectually bankrupt.

Good pluralism: Numerous distinct ethnic, religious, or cultural groups are present and tolerated within a society.

Bad pluralism: All religions are true and equally valid paths to God.

Pluralism can be a good thing if it means we should tolerate the beliefs of others.  Jesus, who was God in flesh, didn’t force anyone to convert.  So why should we think that we can?

Christianity should flourish in a society with good pluralism, as the Gospel can be shared freely and there isn’t pressure to fake one’s beliefs.  Sadly, we often get complacent in such atmospheres and Christianity spreads just as well or better in times of persecution.  It tends to weed out false believers and teachers more effectively.

Of course, there are some truths in each religion, but there are irreconcilable differences in their essential truth claims regarding the nature of God, the path to salvation, their view of Jesus, etc.

Here are some examples:

One of the following is possible when we die, but under no circumstance could more than one be possible:

  1. Reincarnation (Hinduism, New Age)
  2. Complete nothingness (Atheism)
  3. One death then judgment by God (Christianity, Islam, others)

Jesus was either the Messiah (Christianity) or He was not the Messiah (Judaism and others), but He cannot be both the Messiah and not the Messiah.

God either doesn’t exist (Atheism), He exists and is personal (Christianity) or He exists and is impersonal (Hinduism).

Jesus either died on the cross (Christianity) or He didn’t (Islam).  The Koran repeatedly claims that Jesus did not die on the cross (Sura 4:157-158). What evidence does Islam offer? One guy with a vision over 500 years after the fact. That is not what we base history upon, especially when scholars of the first century — whether Christians or not — agree that a real person named Jesus died on a Roman cross.

God either revealed himself to us (many religions) or he didn’t (Atheism, Agnosticism).

Jesus is the eternally existent God (Christianity) or He isn’t (everything else, including the Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness). In fact, in Islam it is an unforgivable sin to claim that Jesus is God, so there is no way to reconcile Christianity and Islam.

Some people hold the view that God will be whatever you conceive him to be in this life.  That is one of the most bizarre religious views I have heard.  I’m not sure how they came to the conclusion that every human gets a designer god and that at death it would be just as one wished.

Consider the view of Mahatma Gandhi and Hinduism in general:

After long study and experience, I have come to the conclusion that [1] all religions are true; [2] all religions have some error in them; [3] all religions are almost as dear to me as my own Hinduism, in as much as all human beings should be as dear to one as one’s own close relatives. My own veneration for other faiths is the same as that for my own faith; therefore no thought of conversion is possible. (Mahatma Gandhi, All Men Are Brothers: Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi as told in his own words, Paris, UNESCO 1958, p 60.)

Yet the exclusive claims of Christianity prove Gandhi’s worldview (that of Hinduism) to be false.  Among other things, the Bible claims at least one hundred times that Jesus is the only way to salvation.  It also commands us not to worship idols and that we die once and then face judgment (it does not hold to reincarnation).  Those are key elements of the Hindu faith.  So if Hinduism is true then Christianity cannot be true.  But if Hinduism is correct in stating that all religions are true, then Christianity must be true.  But Christianity claims to be the one true path, so if it is true then Hinduism is not.

Also, Hinduism claims that Christianity is true, so if Christianity is false then so is Hinduism.  Either way, the logic of Gandhi and Hinduism collapses on itself.

When I share the Gospel with people I do so as respectfully as possible.  But I always try to work in examples like the above to highlight that under no circumstances can we both be right about the nature of God and salvation.

I used to hold the position of religious pluralism.  We studied world religions about 15 years ago in an Adult Sunday School class and, sadly, didn’t dig very deep (I was attending church but not really a believer . . . at best I was “saved and confused”).  Most of us walked away thinking the religions were “all pretty much the same” and with no incentive to go out and make a case for Christianity. 

So why did I – and so many people today, including Christians – embrace bad pluralism? I think it is typically out of a lack of clear thinking on the topic.  When you examine the essentials of these faiths it is not that hard to show how they are irreconcilable.

Political correctness and fear contribute as well.  It is easy to deny the exclusivity of Jesus (or the truth claims of whatever faith one follows) if one wants to avoid controversy.  But as unpopular as it is to make truth claims, it is really a rather logical thing to do.  The one claiming all religions are true needs to back up that claim with their evidence and logic.  Just rattle off a list of religions, sects and cults and ask why they are all true.  Just be careful saying things like, “Hinduism has a lot of sects.”  If you say it too quickly people will have surprised looks on their faces.

Sheer laziness is another factor.  Knowing enough about one’s faith to defend it in the marketplace of ideas is hard work.  Religious pluralism is a great excuse not to evangelize.

I expect many non-Christians to say that all paths lead to God, but it really bothers me when Christians do so.  They should meditate on this passage, among others:

Galatians 1:8-9 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

 

Roundup

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

14 thoughts on “Religious pluralism is intellectually bankrupt

  1. Simply outstanding. There’s a popular saying these days, “it’s all good.” It is sometimes used in a religious context. It is NOT all good. Your piece clearly explains why.

  2. I have always found this topic interesting. I don’t mean this in a negative or offensive way, I truly hope you do not read it that way, but don’t you think its pretty amazing that the religion you were born into turned out to be the “right one” all along? isn’t that just an astounding coincidence? considering all of the gods and religeons throughout time? And isn’t it funny that it seems humans LOVE to make up gods?

    If you ask muslims about their faith, they will tell you that they feel god in their life too, that they feel that connection when they pray. same as anyone of most faiths as well. this all just seems so anecdotal. if your god (let alone exists) is the right god, why do these other people feel the same joy/euphoria/strength from their faith as well? Why does this god allow others to genuinely feel the love of a god that apparently doesn’t exist? And then the hook for christianity to me, (again I don’t mean this as offense but my observation) is that the “loving god’s” attitude toward this is “I love you, but if you don’t love me ill burn you”….not really fair to the devotes of other religions, admittedly godly people.

    • Hi — the Bible answers those questions, if you are really interested. Yes, people do make up their own gods, or pretend that they are in charge of what is “truly” right. The Bible predicts and describes that. You will have to face God and be accountable for your life. Your only hope is in Jesus.

  3. Hello, and thank you for your response!

    I am certainly interested, could you point me in the right direction? the bible is a big book. I no longer believe, but I do try to

    In my youth I was a not really devout catholic raised in the super secular northeast. The whole pedophile priest scandle broke and that was pretty much the end of church for my family. that whole event put me into doubt about gods existance. “God” would just stand by while unspeakable evil played out in his house and he decides “ill deal with this later, unless the priest is sorry, then its all good” while the victim is condemned to a life time of struggle. do you think these kids prayed for this abuse to stop? where was god? watching? and when they turn their back on the faith that failed them, now they get to burn in hell while pedo-priesto gets to laze about on a cloud. please understand these our my sincere thoughts, and I’m not trying to talk bad about you, or christianity. these are really things that bothered me, and reasons I left the faith. I thank you for takingthe time to read and respond to my comments, and I’m sorry I bombard you with walls of text. I don’t really kno many christians in my life anymore, and the ones I do have fairly shallow faith, they don’t answer the hard questions.

    • Hi Chris,

      Thanks for the good questions. I’ve enjoyed your dialog with Glenn. A couple other thoughts . . . yes, the Bible is big and can be intimidating. I suggest picking a book or two and reading them carefully, such as the Gospel of John, then Philippians then Romans. But it is all good ;-) .

      Here is a post on what some call the “minimal facts” — that is, some facts of history that even atheist historians agree to and which are best explained by the resurrection of Jesus being true — http://tinyurl.com/ykzpu42

      This is a good book about how we can trust the Gospels — Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels — http://www.amazon.com/Cold-Case-Christianity-Homicide-Detective- Investigates/dp/1434704696/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1366286399&sr=8-1&

    • Other thoughts — I know how sin in the church or in the Catholic religion can be a turnoff. One thing to keep in mind: God used the greatest evil ever (the crucifixion) to be about the greatest good ever (the salvation of millions who could never save themselves), so He can bring about good from any smaller evil as well. Don’t judge Christianity based on those who violate what God says.

      I am sorry that people avoid your hard questions. We’ll be glad to take a shot at them here!

      • Thank you so much for you reply!

        Yes, I do not blame/hate Christianity for the awful acts of a handful of people out of billions. I did for a while when I was in my teens, but later you realize that is a foolish and extreme way to view the world. I think Christians do many many great things around the world for those in need. But by the time cooler heads prevailed I found myself very skeptical, but I’m researching more about it now.

        Thank you for the recommendations, I will need to take the time to look into them later today. I appreciate you and Glenn’s generosity with my questions. I have tried some other christian forums before, but the responses were actually shockingly rude, and evidence or reasoning was not really presented. (I asked a science question in a baptist forum once, and they told me ALL scientists are child molesters…and that I’m worshiping satan by learning any sciences at all…..not really what i’m looking for!)

        Its going to take some time for me to read those, but I will be sure to check back into your blog when I finish, and undoubtedly have more questions! Thank you again so much, your blog is becoming a great theological resource for me :)

      • Hi Chris — I really appreciate how you are approaching this. I hope you visit again after studying some of those things. I am sorry to hear that you received rude/poor responses elsewhere. That’s disappointing.

      • That was a long time ago, but learning the faith was discovering that it is the only religious belief which is consistent, and which actually has the answers for the condition of the world, and way of eternal life.

        Think about it:
        A. Deism says that there is a God who alone is eternal, and who created the world and then walked away from it so that the world operates by natural and self-sustaining laws that He put into existence. A deist says that the supernatural does not exist, that miracles do not occur. This position is inadequate and illogical. If they admit to the miracle of creation, then they have to accept the possibility of other miracles. And if God was concerned enough to create man, it would follow that He would be concerned enough about man as to intervene personally.

        B. Pantheism says that all is God and God is all; that God is the world, is us, etc. Hinduism and other Eastern and so-called New Age religions profess this, and this idea is promoted as the “Force“ in Star Wars. There are actually several types of pantheism, some of which devolve into polytheism. He is not a personal god and is more “it” than “him.”
        The very quick way to demonstrate the self-defeating aspect of this system is that if God is unknowable and inexpressible by language or thought, then how do they know and express this about God?
        Another way to demonstrate that it is self-defeating is to point out that, in this view “God is and I am not,” that is, God is all that is. But one must exist in order to claim they don’t exist! And if all there is, is God, then there is no I-thou relationships because there is only one entity. Religious experience then becomes impossible.
        This view also claims evil is only an illusion, but if that is the case, what is the source of the illusion? This makes God the source of evil.
        Pantheism’s god is dependent on creation; without creation the god doesn’t exist. But then they have to explain where the creation came from.
        Another problem is, by saying God is all, he must include opposites. This then says nothing meaningful about him because he is and he isn’t.
        Finally, there is a contradiction of God’s nature. If he is infinite yet shares his being with creation then part of him is finite, which now makes him infinite and finite which is a logical impossibility. This gets involved in philosophical arguments about contingent and necessary beings, which pantheism tries to make both at the same time.

        C. Panentheism. This is similar to Pantheism. God is in the world the way a soul or mind is in a body. A lot of New Age teachers promote this. God is finite and limited. There are two poles of God: an actual temporal pole and a potential eternal pole. A form of this is also known as process theology because God is in a continual process of change.
        A primary proof of falsehood is that the concept of God as an eternal potential seeking temporal actualization is self-defeating. No potential can actualize itself. And then there is the problem of evil: a finite god cannot guarantee the defeat of evil.

        D. Theism. Proving the other theistic belief systems false leaves us with theism. It becomes the only adequate world view. So once we determine theism is true, how do we prove that Christianity is true instead of Judaism and Islam? The need would be to prove that Christianity is true, which by extension falsifies the other belief systems. If the Christian faith is true, then no other faith can be valid because Christ said that only through him can we get to the Father (John 14:6) and we are told that there is salvation in no one else (Acts 4:12).

    • Thank you so much for the in-depth response! I truly appreciate it, you have certainly given me things to think about. I hope I reply to this correctly, as there is no reply button underneat your 2nd post :(

      I agree that it stikes me as strange that a diest would say god would go to all the trouble of creation, only to abandon it right afterward. but I don’t know how we could know gods motives. If you asked me I would say that god does not intervene very much in our world. I imagine people starving to death pray for food and comfort, is it better to worship an all powerful being that ignores these cries?

      Pantheism sounds romantic but I agree that does sound self deflating. I know very little about eastern relegions, and I will be sure to take a gander into them out of curiosity.

      You kinda lost me a bit at the end there though. It sounds to me like your saying Christianity is the correct religion because….Christianity says that it is? I mean no offense by this but I think that Jesus would say that, as he is the prophet of his own religion. To a worshiper, this is vindication. But to a skeptic, this sounds like a recruitment tactic.

      • Chris,

        No, I was summing up that the true faith has to be theistic, and that there are only three theistic religions. Then I just ended with the question of what we’d need to do to prove Christianity true, and that if it IS true then the others can’t be. I sort of had to leave it there because I had to run.

        First, let me say that God is indeed involved in the world, but has given man the free will to do as he pleases. Evil is in the world because man brought sin into the world (Rom 5:12) and God lets man suffer the consequences of his actions. Of course this means other people suffer as a result of someone’s sin. God is not a puppeteer, but intervenes when it is in His will to do so, for purposes which glorify him. God doesn’t “ignore” cries – he may answer “no.” And if they are pagans – unbelievers – who are praying to a false god, why should the real God respond?

        Let me see if I can finish as to why Christianity is true.

        Now, this God would certainly give us a mind and a free will choice to accept him.  I like this quote from a favorite book:

        “If the Bible is true, then God had provided each of us with the opportunity to make an eternal choice to either accept him or reject him.  And in order to ensure that our choice is truly free, he puts us in an environment that is filled with evidences of his existence [as I noted above], but without his direct presence – a presence so powerful that it could overwhelm our freedom and thus negate our ability to reject him.  In other words, God has provided enough evidence in this life to convince anyone willing to believe, yet he has also left some ambiguity so as not to compel the unwilling.” [emphasis in original]

        Of course to investigate God, one has to accept that there is such a thing as objective truth, for if there is no objective truth, then why learn anything?  So only one religion can be true, since they all contradict each other.  Which is why I have to start with a theistic God.

        Everywhere in the world we see a moral law, which in many ways is pretty standard across the board.  While societies may disagree on what constitutes murder, they all seem to understand murder is wrong.  And if there is an objective moral law, and I believe there has to logically be such, then there has to be a moral law-giver who is God.  And of course, the Bible says that all of us have the moral law written on our heart.  (Romans 2:14-15).  We don’t have to individually reason what the moral law is; we don’t have to rely on our own opinions as to what the moral law is because God has planted it in us.  The Founding Fathers of the USA called it “Nature’s Law” while others call it “natural law.”  Besides the law against murder, there would be the moral law that there is only one God and we are not to misuse His name or worship false gods; there would be the law about honoring one’s parents, not committing adultery, not stealing, not lying, and not even desiring that which is not yours to have.  These moral laws have been found in civilized societies around the world throughout time.  We know this because of how we react when anyone violates these moral standards, we use them as the basis for human rights, we use them for our standards of justice, we use them to determine whether someone is moral or immoral, and if there were no moral law we wouldn’t find people making excuses for not following them!  So contrary to the claims of humanist philosophers such as Kant, we don’t reason what is right and wrong on our own – it has been planted in us by God!  There is indeed a moral standard and He is it.

        So, if God exists, then that logically means miracles are possible; after all, he created the universe and all that is in it and that is the biggest miracle of all!  From the cosmological argument we know that God has to be self-existent, timeless (outside of time since he created time), non-spatial (he created space), immaterial (he created matter); he is without limits – infinite.  (which means he can’t be polytheistic because you can’t have more than one infinite being)  To create the universe out of nothing, he has to be powerful beyond our imaginations.  Since he chose to create the universe he demonstrates that he is a personal God, since an impersonal force can’t make choices.
        From the Teleological argument God has to be supremely intelligent since he designed and created an extremely complex and precise universe.  He also has to be purposeful because he designed so many forms of life with purpose.
        From the moral argument God has to be 100% pure, since he is the unchangeable standard by which all morality is measured.

        So how would this God communicate to his creation (besides putting the information in our “heart”)?  Appearing to us could very much interfere with our free will.  A written language, a book, would be a very logical way.  So assuming he could use a book, do we look to the book of the Jews (the O.T. Bible), the Christians (O.T. and N.T.) or the Muslim’s (the Qur’an)?
        Assuming that God would put his seal of approval on a written communication, what would that seal of approval look like?  How about miracles!  After all, I just pointed out that if God exists, then miracles are possible.  A miracle has to be unmistakeable as such; supernatural event without any natural explanation.  It would have to have obvious purpose or no one could see it as a miracle.  And it could have no immoral component.  Both the Bible and the Qur’an say that miracles have been used to confirm a word from God.

        So let’s take a step back for a minute and look at Jesus.  Did he exist?  Of course – even you agree with the historical evidence for his existence.  We know from non-Christian historians from the first 150 years AD the following:
        1.  He lived during the reign of Tiberius Caesar
        2.  He lived a virtuous life.
        3.  He was a wonder-worker
        4.  He had a brother named James
        5.  He was acclaimed as the Messiah
        6.  He was crucified under Pontius Pilate
        7.  He was crucified on the eve of the Jewish Passover
        8.  Darkness and an earthquake occurred when he died.
        9.  His disciples believed he rose from the dead.
        10. His disciples were willing to die for their belief
        11.  Christianity spread rapidly as far as Rome.
        12.  His disciples denied the Roman gods and worshiped Jesus as God.

        Now, all this non-Christian stuff agrees with what the New Testament says about Jesus.  But is the N.T. true?  Do we have accurate copies of the originals which were written in the first century?  As for the accuracy of what we have compared to the originals, that has been empirically demonstrated very thoroughly, and if you need reference sources I can supply them.  

        But what about the veracity of what it reports?  Well, we have testimony from very early sources in the first century (all N.T. was written before the end of the first century) with most being written before 70 AD, and many before 62 AD (some as early as 40 AD).  And the sources are eyewitness sources.  We have multiple independent eyewitness sources – the N.T gospels were written by four people, and Paul was a fifth person who told of many more witness who could have been examined by those desiring to do so at the time.  Then we have James, Peter, Jude and the author of Hebrews as additional eyewitnesses.  The witnesses have been proven to be reliable and trustworthy (the accurate reporting of geographic details, cultural details, political details, etc have all been verified).  We have corroborating evidence from archaeology, as well as from other writers (as noted above).  There is enemy attestation (as noted above – the non-Christians as well as anti-Christians).

        Scholars have detailed ten reasons why we can know that the NT writers told the truth (besides the accuracy of the details previously mentioned)(of course these reasons are thoroughly explained).
        1.  They included embarrassing details about themselves.
        2.  They included embarrassing details and difficult sayings of Jesus
        3.  They left in the demanding sayings of Jesus.
        4.  They carefully distinguish Jesus’ words from their own.
        5.  They include events related to the Resurrection that they would not have invented.
        6.  They include more than 30 historically-confirmed people in their writings.
        7.  They include divergent details – i.e., they didn’t get together to come up with the exact same story.
        8.  They challenged their readers to check out verifiable facts, even facts about miracles.
        9.  They describe miracles in the same way they describe other historical details, without embellishment.
        10.  They abandoned their long-held sacred beliefs and practices and adopted new ones, and refused to deny their testimony even under persecution and death.

        Did Jesus really rise from the dead?  We know even from outside sources that Jesus was crucified and was dead before brought down from the cross.  And we know he was buried in a tomb.  The disciples were bereaved and discouraged, and then the tomb was found empty.  The disciples then became transformed in their lives and proclaimed that Jesus had risen from the dead and that they had seen him, and they refused to deny such even when executed for that belief.  Sunday became a special day of worship for those who believed he rose from the dead, they preached a gospel message which required his resurrection, his brother James was converted (previously was a skeptic), and Paul’s visitation by Jesus led him to a complete change from a persecutor of Christians to a zealous devotee of the faith.  All objections to the Resurrection have been dismantled for centuries.

        In the N.T. Jesus claimed to be God.  This was confirmed by his many miracles, his fulfillment of many O.T. prophecies, his sinless life and miraculous deeds, his prediction and accomplishment of his resurrection.  Since he is God, what he says has to be true.  He taught that the O.T. was the word of God, and therefore the O.T. has to be the Word of God.

        There is no getting around it.  Either Jesus was/is God, or he was a lunatic or a liar (to borrow from C.S. Lewis).

        This is the rational faith I have.  This is the reasoning behind my faith.  You don’t have to accept it for yourself, but it is the only true faith nevertheless.

So, what do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s