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.
To illustrate this, I want to pass on the story of Wonmug, a fictional character created by philosopher J.P. Moreland. An audio recording of a talk Dr. Moreland gave wherein he tells the story can be found here.
I love this illustration because it shows a scenario wherein someone is perfectly contented and fulfilled by their beliefs. As Dr. Moreland says, Wonmug spends his life believing things like, “Everybody adores my work. What I do is really important. I’m smart. My doctoral students are lucky to be studying under me. The US Government? Fortunate to have me in their corner. That interview with Newsweek magazine? Scintillating. My work is meaningful and important and I am respected by people all across the country.”
Wonmug is happy. He feels valuable, respected and loved which are all the things a mother wants for her child. Except no mother would want her child to be a Wonmug. We don’t envy people who are happy in their delusions, we pity them because we understand that it’s better to know the truth than to be blissfully deceived by a lie. We don’t need to be taught to value truth, we do it from the day we’re born even if we never consciously acknowledge it. It's for this reason that we need to approach our search for God based not on what works, what feels right or what we like to hear, but rather we should approach it as a search for that which reflects reality. We need to find what it true, not just what is pleasant.
This is something I try to bring up in my own conversations. If Joseph Smith was lying, if Muhammad was not a true prophet of God, if L. Ron Hubbard was just a kooky science fiction writer that started to believe his own press, wouldn’t you want to know? Of course, the question works both ways. If Jesus was not the Son of God and was not raised from the dead, then I would like to know that. If the Watchtower or the LDS Church has the correct interpretation of the bible, then I want to know that. I believe that this is a reasonable approach to life and faith. If your own answer to this question is “No”, if you would rather remain deceived in a system that is false in order to avoid the discomfort such a realization could bring, then I have to suggest that there is some serious introspection to be done because this is not the position of a rational human. It is simply, I believe, rooted in fear more than anything else.
Writer, artist, lay theologian, student of comparative religion.