Truth and Religious PluralismWe live in a world that is much more complicated than it was 100 years ago. There are many more choices to be made and much more information to search through. The students in my high school physics classes always were amazed to see the "majors sheet" from Indiana University that I had saved from my enrollment in that institution in September, 1955. At a cost of $7.00 per credit hour, I could enroll in this major state university, and I had roughly 40 majors I could choose from and hopefully get a degree in. My students graduating in the year 2000 had over 600 majors they could choose from.
This increase in options is also true in matters of religious choice. In my high school class, I was an anomaly, being perhaps the only kid who wrote "none" on the enrollment card where it said "religious preference." In fact, I made one of my many trips to the discipline dean because you had to be a methodist, a catholic, or something--you could not be a "none." Even in Bloomington, Indiana, there were no Moslems, Buddhists, or Hindus in my graduating class of 1955.
Today American teenagers not only find themselves sitting next to Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, and a variety of other faiths in their classrooms, but they can sit in the privacy of their own bedrooms and study with a Buddhist monk or a Moslem cleric over the web. The open hostility to religion demonstrated in the media and in many college and high school classrooms also raises many challenges that were not faced by students 50 years ago.
For many people, the solution to this situation is to take an universalist position. "All religions have something good to say" is a popular clichš. Another position is to relegate all beliefs in a supreme being to the realm of fantasy. Psychologists may suggest that people need a place to escape to, a fantasy they can retreat into so the pressures of life do not become overpowering.
These views ignore the mountain of evidence that shows us that God does exist. A belief in God based on evidence is not fantasy any more than a scientific belief based on evidence is fantasy. You can argue about the interpretation of the evidence, but you cannot relegate it to fantasy.
We would suggest that evidence also has to be considered when one is looking at the questions brought by religious pluralism. All religions cannot be equally valid because they contradict each other. Either Jesus was the Son of God or He was a fraud. Either Joseph Smith was a prophet or he was a fraud. Either Mohammed was God's messenger, or he was a fraud. The choices go for as long as you have religious claims--BahaUllah, Urantia, Sun Myung Moon, etc.
When a statement like the previous paragraph is made, someone is going to jump up and shout, "Well, you are just intolerant." Tolerance does not mean agreeing with everything someone says or does. Someone has said, "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to my death your right to say it," We are not proposing that anyone should be forcibly stopped from believing or teaching whatever they wish. The point remains, however, that when there is a conflict in claims, someone is wrong or at least misunderstands. The purpose of the Does God Exist? program is to help people of all persuasions see what the nature of God is and what evidence is available for the validity of the Christian system. People of other faiths also need to provide such evidence, allowing all of us to be able to make the correct choices. Books like No Other Name? by Paul Kitter or The Myth of Christian Uniqueness by John Hick attempt to sell the idea no one religion is absolute or normative. Religious pluralism proponents claim that all religions are true. We would suggest that this statement cannot be true since contradictions exist between religious claims.
We would suggest that there are logical and practical answers to
the problem of religious pluralism. For Christians to try to continue to
ignore this issue is to invite a continued isolation of Christianity and
a continual growth of religious confusion. We would like to suggest some
concepts that can be useful in evaluating religious claims.
God is Fair and
His Work on Earth is Perfect
That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked; and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? (Genesis 18:25).
He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he (Deuteronomy 32:4).
Therefore harken unto me, ye men of understanding: far be it from God that he should do wickedness; and from the Almighty, that he should commit iniquity (Job 34:10).
The just Lord is in the midst thereof; he will not do iniquity: every morning doth he bring his judgment to light, he faileth not; but the unjust knoweth no shame (Zephaniah 3:5).
In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began (Titus 1:2).
Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man (James 1:13).
Any religious system that has errors or flaws in the system (not in its adherents) cannot be true. This means that all things taught as Truth by the system must work! Religious systems that spread disease, denigrate humans, destroy the earth, create poverty, produce hunger, cause ignorance, waste resources, fail to provide moral guidelines that work, or fail to bring solutions to real problems in life cannot be true.
We would also suggest that questions about how God will judge humans who
misunderstand or follow a false religion have to be answered in the same framework.
It is not our job to do God's judging for Him. God is fair and just, and
we need to be glad that judging is God's problem and not ours.
Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not (Job 42:3).
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).
Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! (Romans 11:33).
There is a difference between recognizing that fallible human beings may fail to follow a religious system and having a system in which man is the agent that must provide the strength to reach salvation. All religions (including atheism) have had humans who claimed to be a part of the religious system and yet did things that the system would not endorse. No thinking human would condemn the entire state of Colorado because one of its citizens shot the president of the United States.
On the other hand, there are religious systems that teach that man must do, achieve, or develop something that makes man worthy of salvation. In such a system, the strength lies in man and not in God. What such a belief system does is to reduce God to an anthropomorphic being that demands that man do physical things to prove himself or herself worthy. Whatever purpose one's religious belief holds as the cause of man's existence, it has to be a purpose that is not physical in nature.
There Must be Recognition
that All of the Evidence
Supports the Belief System
The bottom line in this discussion is that faith cannot be blind. If a person's faith is a blind faith, then he or she is either trusting his or her emotions or has been indoctrinated in his or her belief system by parents, culture, political environment, or a combination of these. It should be obvious that this kind of indoctrination cannot be trusted. The tragedy of the past is that a lot of people are what they are religiously because that is the indoctrination they were given as a child. When challenges are made to the beliefs of this system, they will not have any idea of an answer to the challenge even though there may be one.
It is interesting how many times the question "How do you know it is true?" brings blank stares when it is asked of a religious person. In many discussions on e-mail, I have had Moslem young people either sign off of the discussion or resort to threats. In discussions with American teens, I frequently find them saying, "Well, maybe it isn't true."
Those who suggest that all religious systems are true simply are not looking at the evidence. All fields of human endeavor become relevant when one starts looking at the validity of a belief system--science, history, medicine, psychology, sociology, philosophy, literature, ethics, etc.
For 35 years, we have been saying that the battle of the twenty-first century would not be over questions of baptism, worship practices, or translations, but that it would be over the existence of God and the validity of the Christian system. The twenty-first century is here, and that prediction is more true than I would have ever imagined.
--John N. Clayton
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