Tag Archives: Syncretism

J.P. Moreland asks: does truth matter when choosing a religion?

Dr. J.P. Moreland
Dr. J.P. Moreland

This lecture contains Moreland’s famous “Wonmug” illustration. Ah, memories! If you don’t know who Wonmug is, you can find out in this lecture.

The MP3 file is here.

Topics:

  • Is it intolerant to think that one religion is true?
  • Is it more important to be loving and accepting of people regardless of worldview?
  • How should Christians approach the question of religious pluralism?
  • How does a person choose a religion anyway?
  • Who is Wonmug, and would you like to be like Wonmug?
  • Is it enough that a belief “works for you”, or do you want to believe the truth?
  • Can all the religions in the world be true?
  • Is it wise to pick and choose what you like from all the different religions?
  • Is it possible to investigate which religion is true? How?
  • Which religions are testable for being true or false?
  • How you can test Christianity historically (very brief)

This is the most fun lecture to listen to, you should listen to it, if you like fun.

The blind men and the elephant: an argument for religious pluralism?

From Please Convince Me, a post by Aaron outlining 7 problems with the blind man and the elephant story.

Here’s the set up:

Maybe you’ve heard the parable of the six blind men and the elephant. In this parable, six blind men feel a different part of an elephant and come to different conclusions regarding what the elephant is actually like.

One blind man grabs the tusk and says, “An elephant is like a spear!” Another feels the trunk and concludes, “An elephant is like a snake!” The blind man hugging the leg thinks, “An elephant is like a tree!” The one holding the tail claims, “An elephant is like a rope!” Another feeling the ear believes, “An elephant is like a fan!” The last blind man leaning on the elephant’s side exclaims, “An elephant is like a wall!”

This parable is often used to illustrate a view known as religious pluralism. Like the blind men, no religion hasthe truth. Rather, all religions are true in that they accurately describe their personal experience and the spiritual reality they encounter, given various historical and cultural backgrounds.

There are various types of religious pluralism, but one way to define it is as follows: “the view that all religious roads – certainly all major or ethical ones – lead to God or to ultimate reality and salvation.”1 This idea is commonly reflected in such statements as “All religions basically teach the same thing” or “All roads lead to the top of the mountain.”

The elephant parable, while attractive to many, suffers from a number of problems.

And here’s one problem:

Problem #4: The parable commits the self-excepting fallacy.

The religious pluralist who tells this parable claims everyone is blind, except the religious pluralist himself! In other words, there is an objective perspective presented here. However, if all religious views are essentially blind, this would include the religious view of religious pluralism. But the religious pluralist conveniently exempts himself, having somehow escaped the spiritual blindness which has enveloped all other religious views and has come to see the truth of religious pluralism! In so doing, the religious pluralist claims to have the only objective perspective:

In fact, he wouldn’t know that the blind men were wrong unless he had an objective perspective of what was right! So if the person telling the parable can have an objective perspective, why can’t the blind men? They could – if the blind men suddenly could see, they too would realize that they were originally mistaken. That’s really an elephant in front of them and not a wall, fan, or rope. We too can see the truth in religion. Unfortunately, many of us who deny there’s truth in religion are not actually blind but only willfully blind. We may not want to admit that there’s truth in religion because that truth will convict us. But if we open our eyes and stop hiding behind the self-defeating nonsense that truth cannot be known, then we’ll be able to see the truth as well.5

5 Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 49.

Read the whole thing!

UPDATE: Greg West of The Poached Egg tweets an announcement of his post on the same topic.

Why do so many people oppose debating about religion?

Consider this article by Barbara Johnson in the Dallas Morning News. Her title is “Don’t bother debating faith”.

Full article:

Recently Prestonwood Baptist Church invited Christopher Hitchens, a renowned atheist, to debate his views with William Dembski of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. While I applaud Prestonwood for having the courage to expose their young students to views which are so unlike those taught in their very conservative school, I question the idea of debating religious views at all. Debate or argument, while exposing us to the beliefs and convictions of others, can breed animosity, partisanship and an “us against them” mentality, as each side fights to defend a predetermined stance.

Because religious or spiritual views and experiences are deeply personal, I don’t believe they belong in the debate arena at all.

The spectacle of religious thinkers arguing and cutting down one another’s beliefs, practices and spiritual experiences makes little sense and is a detriment to what religion should stand for. Each individual must be allowed to walk his or her spiritual journey without outside pressure and condemnation. When one is pressured to “believe” a certain set of doctrines, or operate within a pre-set paradigm, true expression is suppressed.

Psychologist Carl Jung notes that “many of our institutions throw obstacles in the way of the individual’s self-discovery” and that through the institution of the church “people are effectively defended and shielded against immediate religious experience,” an experience I feel cannot be imposed upon anyone through argument or even reasoning.

The vast majority of the world’s population understandably practices the religious traditions of their own childhood. Having grown up Christian in the largest Muslim country in the world, surrounded by its good people, I have the privilege of a broad world view. Consequently, I feel that the all-too-prevalent idea that one entire group is misguided and needs to be enlightened with the ideas and dogmas of another group possessing a monopoly on truth is off the mark.

I don’t have the answer to the mystery and purpose of life, and I am convinced that no one else on earth does either. I like to heed Václav Havel’s advice: “Keep the company of those who seek the truth – run from those who have found it.” All people of the world must be free to practice their culture and religion as they please or to define their own individual spirituality through the wisdom they accumulate with life experience. Too much time, energy and focus is spent by many “religious” folks trying to figure out who is right and who is wrong; who is saved and who is doomed; who should be included and who should be excluded from their institutions.

If they are honestly seeking a personal relationship with the divine, they are wrestling with the wrong angel. True spirituality will never be achieved this way. More time should be spent searching for and recognizing the glimpses of God that are available each and every day in such things as expressions of love, acts of kindness and beautiful moments in nature.

As Henri Nouwen so perfectly puts it, “My highest vocation is to be a witness to the glimpses of God I have been allowed to catch.” I so admire the Zen Buddhists who don’t expend energy defending dogmas or condemning those with varying practices or beliefs. They concentrate on inclusiveness, peaceful meditation, private introspection, acceptance, and respect for people and environment. They see glimpses of the divine in the simple miracles around them every day. How can anyone argue with that?

Here’s a short bio of the woman who wrote the article:

Barbara B. Johnson is a life coach living and working in Dallas. She is also a Community Voices volunteer columnist.

I think that people with expertise in philosophy, a science, history or even engineering are more likely to disagree with her. But I think that her view is shared by many leaders in the church, and by many parents of children who attend church (H/T Tory Ninja).

Refuting her view is simple, it takes only one line. If she is saying that debating with people to persuade them of your view is wrong, then she should not be debating with we narrow-minded believers in truth to persuade us that she is right and we are wrong, that her view is… true, and that our view is… false. But maybe being good at recognizing self-refuting statements is not a prerequisite for being a “life coach”. Certainly a developed ability to reason logically is not a prerequisite for being published in the Dallas Morning News. One the one hand, she is telling us to accept her view, and on the other hand, she claims not to know anything.

And the worst thing is that it is people like this who protest apologetic debates, lectures and book studies who have marginalized the church from the public square. It is because the church is populated by people like Barbara, and because the pastors cater to the Barbaras in the church, that I struggle enormously with church attendance. I see her attitude everywhere in the church. In fact there is an entire movement called the emergent church, which is dedicated to reinventing Christianity based on Barbara’s view of religion.

Instead of reading books like “The Case for Christ”, “The Case for a Creator” and “The Case for Faith”, we have a generation of church people reading “The Shack”, “Conversations With God”, “Blue Like Jazz”, “Left Behind”, “The Da Vinci Code”, “Twilight” and other nonsense.

By the way, if you want to here someone like Barbara in a debate with a Christian Philosopher, check out this debate.

Responding to religious pluralism

Recently, I had posted a debate from the Unbelievable radio show, which is broadcast in the UK. The topic of the debate was whether India should pass an anti-conversion law to prevent Christians from trying to convert people to Christianity. Basically, many Hindus in India want Christians to adopt the Hindu notions of polytheism and religious pluralism. They want Christians to accept that Jesus is one incarnation of the divine among many, and they want to outlaw the Christian practice of using speech to convince people to become Christians.

You can listen to the debate here in my original post.

But I wanted to highlight another debate that occurred in the comments of this blog, between me and a Hindu reader, who challenged me for being intolerant because I said that Hinduism was false. (Just briefly, understand that half my family is Muslim, and the other half is 90% Hindu – I am a visible minority, and my parents are first generation immigrants who started out with nothing).

His initial comment is here.

Guys, all religions teach the same things. Its how each religion is interpreted that makes it different. If you follow any religion persistently, it will lead you to a peaceful and happy life.

[…]If one feels happy following Christian rituals, he may follow Christianity; if he feels happy following Hindu rituals, he is good to a Hindu. It all depends on what makes sense to the person. Enforcing or luring someone to another religion is wrong…It should be a personal choice. And no one should oppose a conversion made by personal choice.

[…]To say that someone’s God or method of worship is false or not real is absolute rubbish according to me.

[…]If one says that other’s God or religion is false, he/she is not tolerating the other’s beliefs. And its immoral. Such things lead to religious conflicts.

[…]I believe in Jesus and so in my religion which is Hinduism.

[…]Why convert when a human being’s main aim is to be happy? Every religion has scriptures that tell how to become happy and attain heaven/liberation.

[…]Everyone loves his/her religion. They would not want to hear anything bad about it.

And I replied:

Our view as Christians is that the purpose of religion is not to live a happy life and to be “good”. Our view is that we want to believe what is true and to know God as God really is. We believe that God is a person, with a real personality – likes and dislikes.

What you’re proposing is a Hindu approach to religion, except with Christian symbols and rituals. But Christians don’t care about symbols and rituals much. We are more interested in history, science and propositional logic. We treat religion like… any other area of knowledge. First we discover the truth, then we act on it.

Additionally, you have a Hindu approach to conversion, and you are trying to force that on Christians. You can keep your Hindu approach to yourself, and tolerate the fact that we have a different approach to conversion.

[…]You’re not in a position to know what Christianity teaches, or what Jesus believes, since you haven’t looked into these things at all. You know Hinduism. And you are projecting Hinduism onto other religions. But Hinduism is totally different than Christianity. They conflict in many areas, like cosmology and history. We believe that the universe had a beginning, you think it’s eternal. And science can arbitrate that claim. We are willing to change our beliefs to be in line with what we can test in the external world, using the laws of logic, and the study of science and history.

[…]You write “To say that someone’s God or method of worship is false or not real is absolute rubbish according to me.”, yet you think that Christianity is false, and not real. But I am actually not offended by that at all. You are welcome to think I am wrong. I don’t mind, this is the way that the game plays. Only one of us can be right, and if you were right, I would have to switch over to your view and that would be fine with me.

[…]You write “Everyone loves his/her religion. They would not want to hear anything bad about it.” No that’s your view. You identify Hindusim with India and patriotism and your people and culture. I don’t identify Christianity with anything except truth. I like it because it’s true. And that the only reason I like it.

[…]When I say that Hinduism is false, I am not “talking bad about your religion” any more than I am talking bad about the view that 2 + 2 = 5, when I say that 2 + 2 = 4. It’s not talking bad about an idea to say it is false.

And then he replied:

Do you believe that people who worship idols are devilish or all religions except Christianity are false? If yes then explain me with proper scientific reasoning and provide me a proof in the recent decades that logically explains the above two statements. You need to prove me that what you believe is experimented by scientists and proven by technology.

[…]I believe in all Gods no matter what religion because God is One. For me and this generation of educated Indians, we believe in tolerance and respect for all religions. We believe in co-operating with each other and not pointing flaws in others beliefs until its proven scientifically and attested by scientific authority. And we believe that people’s belief be respected!

Then I replied:

The current best theory of the origin of the universe is called the big bang theory. It states that all the matter, energy, as well as time and space and time, came into being from nothing. It is backed by experimental data from red-shift measurements, cosmic microwave background radiation measurements, and light element abundance measurements, etc. The theory states that the universe began 14.7 billion years ago. Additionally, the universe will not recollapse because measurements of mass density from Maxima and Boomerang show that the universe will expand forever.

The big 3 monotheistic religions agree with the universe coming into being from nothing. Unfortunately, other religions think that the universe is eternal, such as Mormonism and Hinduism. On that basis, I reject Hinduism, which requires that the universe be eternal.

“I believe in all Gods no matter what religion because God is One.” That view (pantheism/polytheism) is called Hinduism. You are a Hindu. Christianity (monotheism) is mutually exclusive with Hinduism, because the teachings are in conflict, (as with the example of cosmology). As a Hindu, you therefore think that Christianity is false. On your definition, you don’t “tolerate” Christianity – you think it’s false. You don’t “respect” Christianity, because you want to force your view (Hinduism) and your view of conversion (don’t tell other people their religion is false) on Christians.

[…]Note: I am ok with you saying that I am wrong and that Christianity is false.

And then we sort of wound things down from there.

Anyway, the point of this exchange is most people in most religions think that the point of religion is to be happy, to have a sense of community and to get along with everyone by never talking about whether religious claims about the external world are true or false. But that view of the purpose of religion is not the Christian view. On the Christian view, the goal is to seek the truth. And part of Christian practice is to defend Christianity in public, and trying to convince other people that Christianity is true.

So, I think that Christians need to be a bit tougher, and recognize when someone who is not a Christian is trying to get them to accept that the purpose of religion is not to seek the truth. That’s their view. That’s not our view. It doesn’t make any sense for someone to say that I am evil for thinking they are wrong, when they are thinking that I am wrong. I think a better way forward is to allow other people to disagree with you, but to keep the disagreement focused on arguments and evidence.

And just because you disagree with someone else, it doesn’t mean you have to be mean to them. In my office, I am friends with Hindus, Muslims, atheists and Jews. We try to outdo one another in good deeds to make our religions look good! And when we debate which religion is true, we use arguments and evidence to attack and defend. What I’ve found is that you get a much stronger friendship when you are comfortable being yourself. I keep telling my co-workers – it’s OK to disagree.

Related posts

Mentoring

Apologetics advocacy

Debate on Hinduism and religious pluralism

A very interesting debate that shows how intolerant pluralistic religions like Hinduism can be – so intolerant that they are willing to ban free speech that is supportive of Christianity. In the pluralist East, you can ban the public practice of Christianity, but in the exclusivist West, we have free speech and freedom of religion for Hindus. Is it possible that the view that “all religions are equally true” is far less tolerant than the view that “only one religion is true?”. What if the one religion that thinks it is true also believes that it is a moral good to tolerate free speech and open debate about which religion is true?

Here is the MP3 file. (64 minutes)

Details:

Unbelievable? 24 Oct 2009 – Christian conversion of Hindus – 24 October 2009

In light of Premier’s Faith Without Fear campaign, this discussion between Anil Bhanot and Sunil Raheja addresses the tensions that exist when Christians seek to evangelise Hindus in India.

What is acceptable? Is the response of some Hindus justified? Is it wrong for Christians to state that Jesus is the “only” way to God?

To sign the petition for Justice for Christians in Orissa State, India go to www.faithwithoutfear.org

Below you can find my play-by-play summary of this debate.

What does the Bible say about evangelism?

The relevant passage from the Bible in which Jesus commands Christians to share their beliefs with non-Christians is found in Matthew 28:16-20. This is the part that the Hindu scholars disagree with.

16Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.

17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

18Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

What does the Bible say about salvation being exclusive of other other religions?

A few verses from the that teach the exclusivity of salvation.

John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Acts 4:12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Acts 16:30-31 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”

1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,

1 John 5:11-12 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Luke 12:8-9 I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God.

John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.

So Christians are required to preach to non-Christians, and they are required to preach what Jesus said about himself – that trust in Jesus’ claim to be God stepping into history is the only way to be rightly related to God, the Creator of the universe.

Are Hindus tolerant of the public practice of authentic Christianity in countries where Hinduism dominates?

Summary of the debate

My snarky comments are in italics.

—-
Hindu_Anil:
– explains Hinduism: impersonal unknowable Brahma, incarnations
– all religions are paths to the impersonal divine (pantheism with polytheistic elements)

Christian_Sunil:
– former Hindu, convert because of lack of meaning and purpose, describes conversion
– changed from works-based salvation to salvation by grace
– there is a capacity for grace in Hinduism, not just works based
– Christian campus groups do a better job of explaining their religion than Hindus

Christian_Sunil:
– well for me, I did it on my own dealing directly with God, no assistance from Christians

Hindu_Anil:
– I object to Christians going out to convert others to your religion

Christian_Sunil:
– i don’t like the turn or burn style of evangelism
– but asking people the big questions, that’s good evangelism

Hindu_Anil:
– we Hindus don’t evangelize
– we think of Jesus as another deity (an incarnation of Brahma)
– i oppose Christians for saying in public that I am wrong and they are right
– Christians are wrong, and I (a Hindu) am right!

Christian_Sunil:
– but persuasion and conversion is everywhere in the marketplace

Hindu_Anil:
– Christians are mean and they go out plundering countries and killing other people
– converting people to Christianity is the stealing of souls from other countries
– Christianity is an evil religion and Christians are evil people
– I know better what Jesus would do than Christians do, Jesus would not proselytize

Christian_Sunil:
– I am against the use of coercion in evangelism

Hindu_Anil:
– sharing your faith in Jesus as your favorite incarnation among many incarnations is fine (polytheism – the Hindu view)
– but missionaries say that only Christ is the true God and they have no right to say things that are incompatible with Hinduism
– Christians have no right to say that Christ is the true God, that is incompatible with Hinduism
– you need to keep your exclusive views to yourself, but I will force Hinduism on you in public
– you should be prevented by law from expressing your exclusive Christian view in public
– Hindus like me are very very tolerant of other views, so you should agree with Hinduism, not Christianity

Hindu_Jagdish:
– Christianity teaches that Jesus is a son of God, not God himself
– Christians are wrong about the doctrine of the Trinity
– efforts to convert should not involve any good works like giving food or medical treatment

Christian_Sunil:
– Mother Teresa met peoples needs for food and medical care, but she did it as a public Christian
– but this would break your rule about conversion using good works and charity
– so is Mother Teresa a bad person for doing good works as a public Christian?

Hindu_Jagdish:
– Hindus believe that there are many ways to achieve union with God
– they are all equal, you can follow the path you like to be united with God
– we Hindus are very very inclusive, every other path is a right path to God

Hindu_Anil:
– the right to freedom of religion does not allow you to say that Christianity is correct
– Jesus did not say that you go and condemn people of other religions

Christian_Sunil:
– but I convert people by my love and self-sacrifice, not through coercion

Hindu_Anil:
– it’s ok to be a Christian if you keep it to yourself and don’t tell anyone else that their religion is wrong

Christian_Sunil:
– are you trying to force your view of religion on me? in public?

Hindu_Anil:
– to say that my religion is false is to breach my human right to exist
– it’s coercive to offer people food and then try to evangelize them

Hindu_Jagdish:
– how do you define secularism?

Christian_Sunil:
– living as though this life were all there is, that religious meanings don’t matter in public life

Hindu_Jagdish:
– Hindus have no problem with that view, it’s in the Vedas

Christian_Sunil:
– India is becoming secular as it grows into part of the global economy
– secularism has the goal of being happy in this life without any accountability to God

Hindu_Anil:
– in opposition to secularism, all faiths should unite on the Hindu concept of the impersonal divine

Christian_Sunil:
– the solution to secularism is found by a personal encounter with God

Hindu_Anil:
– I became a Hindu as a result of performing Hindu rituals as I grew up in a Hindu background

Christian_Sunil:
– a person’s decision to become a Christian is a result of their own inquiry and free decision

Hindu_Anil:
– the purpose of Hinduism is to make people happy and to achieve achieve world peace
– Hindus believe that God is indescribable and unknowable (pantheism)
– everyone has to choose the Incarnation they like to make themselves happy (polytheism)
– Christianity is one incarnation of the Hindu doctrine of impersonal divine (pantheism)
– so all religions are valid because everyone chooses the incarnation they like, we have billions and billions to choose from
– that’s how we will get world peace, by having everyone agree with my view of religion (pantheism and polytheism)
– isn’t it terrible that Christians can tell Hindus that they will go to Hell without Christ
– Jesus said himself that it’s wrong to judge others, although I’m judging you right now!

Christian_Sunil:
– well we should certainly try to be gentle and respectful

Hindu_Anil:
– you can’t say that I am wrong about my religious views, freedom of speech doesn’t cover that speech
– everything that is in the Bible is in the Hindu Scriptures, and the Hindu Scriptures has even more
– anything in the Bible that contradicts Hinduism was invented much later by deluded people
– the Bible doesn’t teach that Jesus is the only true path to God, if you throw out the non-Hindu parts

Christian_Manjula:
– i was once a Jain but now I’m a Christian, and Christianity makes my life meaningful

Hindu_Anil:
– a person can be a Christian, so long as they accept that Christianity is actually Hinduism

Christian_Manjula:
– actually, Christians believe that people are sinful and that Jesus’ death atones for that sin

Hindu_Anil:
– oh Hindus don’t believe that!
– in the Bible, the jews are trying to stone Jesus, and Jesus says that they are all Gods (this is not in the Bible unless he means what Satan says)
– that’s consistent with Hinduism

Christian_Sunil:
– am I allowed to say that I disagree with your beliefs?
– the discovery that washing hands reduces deaths during child birth was ridiculed, but it’s true
– my understanding of Christ is different from what Hindus believe about Christ
– these questions are matters of life and death
– if my research is correct, then this world is in a terrible state without Christ
– because I love other people, I need to do what I can to share Christ with others
– I need to be able to discuss and disagree about it in public

Hindu_Anil:
– well, you can’t say that my religion is false – that’s going too far, but I can say your religion is false

Christian_Sunil:
– i’m not saying that I am better than you, just that my view is true, based on the evidence

Hindu_Anil:
– no you don’t have the truth, that is just your personal preference FOR YOU
– i have a personal preference, and my personal preference is true FOR ME
– you can’t say that you have the truth to me, and laws should prevent you from saying that

Hindu_Anil:
– Jesus said nothing contrary to Hinduism
– it’s only much much later that people added Christian doctrines to the Bible
– everything Jesus taught is consistent with Hinduism, even if the Bible doesn’t say that