When looking at the reasons for why we should critically examine our faith and that of others, there are several good, practical reasons that have a great deal of impact on the lives we live now, but I don’t believe that these are the most important reasons. The most important reason, I believe, is that every religion, omitting Atheism, claims that the belief system we cling to in this life has lasting consequences in the life beyond the grave. Atheism is largely alone in this because it denies the existence of an afterlife and, as a result, all you have is this life. However, all the other major world religions teach that the soul continues after death to a fate primarily determined by the life you lived. Even the smaller faiths, such as Mormonism, or the historical practices going back to ancient Greece or Egypt all understood and taught that death was not the end of the road.
I’ve previously touched on the contradictory concepts of the afterlife in various religions, but at the time I focused on the rewards that one expects or hopes to receive. In addition to those rewards, each religion teaches that there is an opposite destination reserved for those who do not measure up. In Buddhism and Hinduism, that destination is another life and death in the cycle of reincarnation and the social standing you receive is a direct result of what sort of life you lived the time before. As a side note, don’t let westernized and romanticized versions of reincarnation fool you. In the Hindu or Buddhist framework, you’re not even guaranteed to be human in the next life. You could be a sea slug or a dung beetle if you really screwed up.
We’re jumping off the idea of religious pluralism and why, since religions can’t all be true, we must not therefore be flippant or utilitarian in our approach to who or what we decide to follow.
The following quotes are from someone you’ve probably heard of. See if you can guess who it is.
Recently I’ve been trying to show that religious pluralism – the idea that somehow all roads lead to God – is simply incoherent. Though many faith systems teach similar concepts of morality, they contradict each other in fundamental ways and therefore cannot be equally valid or true. If that’s true, then there are two conclusions we must come to and neither one is comfortable, though I only plan to address one of them now.
The first conclusion we have to confront is this: if it’s not possible for all religions to be true, then at least one or as many as all of them must be false. We are then faced with the distinct possibility that the faith system we hold to, whether we were “born into it” or chose it later on in life, might be wrong.
But what does it matter, right? Why not just let people believe what they want and mind our own business? Live and let live and all that jazz, right? If someone wants to be a Buddhist or a Mormon or a Muslim, then who’s to say they should do otherwise? It’s their life and they have the right, the freedom and the choice to live it as they see fit.
I certainly agree that people have the right, the freedom and the choice to believe whatever they want to believe. At the same time, however, I believe that truth matters and that a rational person cannot consciously hold to a belief they know to be false. In addition, I think this is the prime cause of what is often referred to as “the angry atheist”; someone holds to a belief, comes to be convinced that the belief is not true, and then becomes embittered against the church, faith, establishment they were once a part of because they feel they’d been lied to.
Several years ago, I was with my family as we were leaving our first Back to School Night. My daughter was entering kindergarten and, despite the fact that I knew she would do wonderfully in school, I was more than a little terrified. At the same time, a young child was making national news by claiming – at six years old – that he was really a girl and would be living as one (as if a six-year-old is in any way mature enough to make that sort of life-altering decision or understand its implications) and the school was being forced to accommodate that.
What terrified me about that back to school night was the realization I’d been coming to terms with over the previous weeks. I was beginning to understand that I was effectively powerless to raise my kids in the faith that I believed to be true. I had no tools to show that God exists, that Jesus was a real person, that he really claimed to be God and that he really was risen from the dead. I knew that the world was moving away from its Judeo-Christian heritage and there was a distinct possibility that it would take my kids along for the ride.
What followed from that was the beginning of an investigation into the truth value of Christianity, theology and apologetics in an attempt to “keep my kids on God’s side”, as Natasha Crain puts it. Surely, I believe that God is sovereign and that my children’s eternal destiny is not something that I can guarantee in either direction, but what I can do is to give them the best possible chances of success. The challenge for me, therefore, comes in taking what I’ve learned in my own journey and passing it down to my children effectively. I can give them a copy of On Guard when they’re in high school, but I don’t want to wait that long.
In my latest posts, I’ve been looking at the concept of religious pluralism and pointing out what I feel to be significant problems. They are as follows. Pluralism fails because:
There is much more to be said about this topic, particularly because in each of my own posts I’ve only compared a handful of faiths in specific areas. There are also other issues that I haven’t addressed at all. While each of these issues can be explained or dealt with on its own, to do so requires a great deal of imagination and theological gymnastics rather than clear reasoning. Taken together, I feel that these provide ample reasons to reject the idea of religious pluralism outright. If you want to continue looking into this subject, then I recommend Contradict: They Can't All Be True by Andy Wrasman.
Of course, this will bring us to an uncomfortable conclusion: If not all religions are true, then at least one of them (or as many as all of them) is false. If at least one of them is false, then we must deal with the possibility that there are consequences for choosing the “wrong” faith.
And that is something I will be looking at in the next few posts.
There is a quote commonly attributed to G.K. Chesteron (though it is doubtful whether or not he ever actually said it) that goes something like this: “When a man ceases to worship God, he does not begin to believe in nothing. Rather, the danger is that he begins to believe in anything.”
Whether or not this is actually true can be debated, but it does bring up something that many of us will readily admit: some people believe some very strange things. These may be vague, folk superstitions like walking under ladders, breaking mirrors or rabbit’s feet that are well known in the US (and their equivalents in other countries) or they may be specific parts of recognized religions that outsiders find strange, especially when laden with degrading and condescending terminology.
Now, I don’t intend or desire to disparage anyone’s beliefs here. I’m firmly convinced that there’s a distinct difference between discussing the validity of a belief or set of beliefs (when properly understood) and simply bashing it because it seems strange. However, as this relates to religious pluralism, we must recognize that a view which holds all religions as equally true cannot – by definition – be restricted to the well-known faith systems like Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or Mormonism. Truth has never been decided by the quantity of people who affirm it. Instead such a view must also account for, quite literally, anything that anyone might come to believe.
I’m taking a quick break from my series of posts on religious pluralism to look at something that has been on my mind for several months now but I have not attempted to articulate until responding to a blog post over at ComeReason.org.
That “something” is the state of the relationship between the church and the arts.
Now, I won’t pretend to have anything particularly original to say here. This has been a topic of discussion within certain circles for years now, but it continues to be ignored by the church at large. I hope that my own contribution can at least serve as one more voice that may help get the attention of mainstream Christianity.
Before I get into this, I want to admit a few things. I don’t wear “Christian” clothing, I don’t listen to “Christian” music, I don’t watch “Christian” movies and I don’t read “Christian” novels. There are one or two exceptions to almost all of these statements – a song or a book here or there – but they are accurate truisms of my own life. This is not out of principle. I don’t have a problem with the general concept of Christian books, movies, music or clothing. Rather just because it’s very rare to find any of these things that are any good.
Note: All bible verses are from the ESV unless specified otherwise. Emphasis in all quotes has been added.
Some listening music while we talk again.
One of the reasons people conclude that “all religions are true” or that all paths lead to God is the assertion that all religions teach basically the same thing. Be nice to each other, don’t steal or murder, etc. While there is some truth to the idea that all religions tend to instruct people to live in ways that are generally conducive to a peaceful life (though there are exceptions), this is an extremely naïve approach to the teachings and requirements laid down by each faith system.
We’ll start with Islam. In Islam, it is expected that the faithful Muslim will follow what are called the Five Pillars of Islam. These Five Pillars are speaking the Muslim confession of faith (“There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet”), paying alms (charities), reciting your five daily prayers, observing the fast during the month of Ramadan, and making – at least once in your lifetime – a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Here we already have problems. The first pillar is a confession and acknowledgement of Muhammad as a true prophet of God. This creates problems for the Jew and the Christian who believe that Muhammad taught false doctrine and therefore cannot be a true prophet according to the test of a prophet as laid out in Deuteronomy 18. I will not attempt to settle the issue of true or false prophets now, it is enough for the moment to say simply that already we have tension and disagreement between these faith systems which are supposed to somehow all be true.
Writer, artist, lay theologian, student of comparative religion.