As I touched on in my last post, it has become popular in recent times to suggest that every religion is equally true and that we should just live and let live, let the Mormon and the Muslim and the Satanist believe what they want and get along, right?
I’m no sociologist, but my understanding is that, while this concept has roots in some eastern faiths, the idea has grown in popularity exponentially since the rise of global culture. When the world was largely divided into the distinct camps of the Christian West, the Muslim Middle East and the mystic East with very little interplay between them, the idea that people who do not believe as you do would be facing an eternity in judgment did not raise deep concerns. There was “us” and the far-off “them” and the “them” were always imagined to be wicked degenerates that deserved whatever fate God had in store for them. However, with increasing globalization and exposure to people unlike ourselves, many people were forced to face hard truths about their beliefs and neighbors they had come to know and love.
Can we stomach the idea that the old Buddhist couple next door is going to burn in hell for eternity? Or the old Jewish lady that comes over for drinks every week? What about the atheist family that watches your kids when you go out for the night who – it just so happens – is far more pleasant to be around than many fellow believers? Are they all doomed to an eternity of fire and judgment and torment because they don’t believe the right thing? I don’t mean to suggest that these are not hard questions, but I do believe that it is erroneous to pick and choose what we want to believe in order to avoid unpleasant conclusions.
Again, I am no sociologist or historian and I may be entirely mistaken about the origins of this idea. In the end, I don’t think it matters. The important question is not where it came from, but what we do with it now that it’s here.
I believe that the entire concept of religious pluralism fails for multiple reasons. The first of which, is that it ultimately rewards evil.
Many people come to an adherence of pluralism because they have a friend, neighbor or family member who holds to a different faith system than themselves. When a pastor or evangelist, for example, claims that you must be a follower of Jesus in order to avoid hell, they are confronted with a claim that they find unsettling and uncomfortable.
They can’t stomach the idea that God might send the sweet Hindu girl in their yoga class to hell forever simply for believing the wrong thing when they led an otherwise good, moral life. There’s a lot to be said here because I think there are a lot of deeply flawed assumptions at play, but we’ll save those for another time.
The point I want to make now, though, is that while we can make ourselves more comfortable by believing that anyone can go to heaven regardless of their belief system, it commits what has come to be called the Taxi-cab Fallacy.
The Taxi-Cab Fallacy is this: One cannot stop an idea when you’ve reached your intended destination and get out as though you’re getting a ride in a cab. The idea must be taken to its logical conclusion.
If the sweet Hindu girl gets a pass for being “moral and sincere” despite adhering to a different faith system, then what exactly does it mean to be moral? There have been civilizations where it was considered “moral” – out of a desire to exemplify their gods – to commit adultery, incest, bestiality and child sacrifice. Do those people also receive a pass for acting in accordance with their own belief systems to the best of their ability? Do the worshippers of Molech who burned their children alive in service to their god also get a pass for doing what they considered to be moral?
Surely not, right? Surely those types of people will get their just desserts for their depraved acts and horrible, wicked behavior.
Well, why not?
Hitler did not kill six million Jews because he was half-hearted about his beliefs. He truly believed that what he was doing was right and good for the world. Yet we instinctively recoil from the idea that evil people like him (particularly those that evade human justice) will be ushered up into heaven when they die. Quite the opposite, we take comfort in the idea that darkness and evil will eventually be overthrown and defeated for good. The idea of a Joseph Stalin or a Mao Tse Tung or a Jim Jones going to a place of eternal joy and pleasure after a lifetime of atrocities flies in the face of everything we understand about justice.
Alright, the pluralist may say, those people will definitely not go to heaven but they’re the exception. In general, “good people” go to heaven.
But who decides where that line is? Who gets to decide who is good enough and who is not?
I don’t quote George Carlin often, but he once made an observation that I find relevant. To paraphrase, everyone driving faster than you on the freeway is a madman, but everyone driving slower than you is an idiot. We tend to make ourselves the benchmark for our own moral judgments and standards. We look up to people we deem more “moral” than ourselves while vilifying those who do things we don’t agree with. If one is to be a consistent pluralist, one must allow for the possibility that not only will the Buddhist neighbor or the New Age Pilates instructor find their way to “god”, but the monsters of human history as well. I do not see how this can be avoided.
In contrast, according to Christianity, the uncomfortable fact is not that God is condemning to hell people that do not deserve it, but rather that we all deserve it (Psalm 14:2-3; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Mark 10:18; Romans 3:10-12). The standard for heaven or hell is not an arbitrary one where some people get in and some people don’t. It is a bar set so high by the nature of God’s holiness and perfection that no human could ever hope to achieve it, especially since our attempts to do so would be tainted with sin (Isaiah 64:6). And that is why we need Jesus. To do for us what we could not do for ourselves.
 For more on this, I recommend Clay Jones’s essay “We don’t Hate Sin So We Don’t Understand What Happened to the Canaanites”, Philosophia Christi, Vol. 11, 2009
Writer, artist, lay theologian, student of comparative religion.