Thursday, June 22, 2017

Answering the Religious Pluralism Question

The other day I had a coworker tell me that Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, and all the gurus all taught pretty much the same things and that none of them claimed they were the only way. When I asked her for her source for this information, another co worker, who I have regularity of conversing with on truth matters, jumped into the conversation, and said, "I am always scared when he asks me "How do you know that?" Why is that?
Lately I am having more and more confirmation that people, who are bold enough to pontificate their views on religion and politics, really have not thought things of this subject matter. Their thinking is along the lines of, if something sounds good then go with it. This is no so much in the church, but this pertains to those in the milieux of what I call the "secular city."
 It is scary to see up close and personal how much of our culture today appears to be listening with their eyes, and thinking with their feelings on truth matters. 
But this common idea, of all religions saying the same thing has been around for a long long time. In fact I hear this a lot on  the college campus where I serve, and not just in my work place. Where does this come from?  This idea is common in our culture and it stems from several arenas of thought:  the media, the high school classrooms, the university and college campuses, and anywhere else this idea of religious relativism/pluralism can raise its deceptive head. 
So in this post, I would like to take and answer this question: "do all religions say or teach the same thing?"  
What is Religious Pluralism?
The ideology that is the driving force behind this religious relativism in our culture and in the churches is a mood that is known as pluralization.  Pluralization is the mood in our culture where we have a competing number of worldviews with which to select in culture, and each of those worldviews is seen as equal, and not one of those worldviews is dominant. 
Now take a look at religious pluralism. Religious pluralism is a situation characterized by a number alternative religions and diverse perspectives on religion, with the resulting problem for adherents of each view of what attitude to take toward the other views.
In essence, the mood of pluralization is just one of the engine driving relativism in general and religious relativism in particular. 
This claim is Superficially Correct at Best
The first thing we need to remember is those making the claim, do not understand world religions, and are making this claim out of ignorance on several levels that I will get into shortly. But to their  credit, there are some areas where this claim is superficially correct. 
All religions are superficially in the fact that they all seek to pursue right thinking, right feelings and right actions. The world religion where this is the strongest is in Buddhism, where there are the Four Noble Truths, and the Eightfold Path.
But if we are to assess the world religions, to answer this objection, we would have to start from the point of looking at them from their worldviews.  This will be the first fundamental difference.   
However fundamentally speaking this claim is totally incorrect!
There is a vast difference in saying something that is superficially correct versus dealing with the fundamentals of the claim which is where the rubber meets the road.  It is like that with these claims driving the "relativism bus."
So where is this claim grossly in error?  It is in error in several areas starting with worldviews. Let's look at this one first.
Define the term “worldview.” 
When we are talking about a worldview, we are talking about what lenses we use to view the fundamental questions of life origins, meaning and purpose, morals and eternal destiny. Essentially a worldview is the lens by we view the world around us and reality.  I like James Sire's definition which will, I think, paint the picture clearly, 
“A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart that can be expressed in a story or a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.” (James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door, 17)  
Many people look at world religions from a survey of their teachings, avoiding the fundamental reasons for those teachings. Those fundamental reasons are enveloped in the worldview of the world religion.
When we look at monotheism, which is the worldview that says there is only one God, we see that the major religions are Judaism Christianity Islam. However there is a vast difference between the Judeo Christian religions of Judaism and Christianity and Islam when it comes to the God each of these religions worship.
The difference between the Judeo Christian faiths and Islamic monotheism is the difference between God being knowable or unknowable, loving or unloving, personal or impersonal, interventional or non-interventional  (everything in Islam is by fate or the will of Allah).
The God of the Bible is personal, infinite, holy, loving and just, manifests Himself as Triune (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). God desires His creation to know Him and therefore initiates personal relationships with man. 
This is very much unlike Islamic monotheism Christian theism is not fatalistic, but providential. God has infinite foreknowledge and hence superintends the creation allowing the free man to choose freely to do His will or reject it. And yet God does not forfeit His sovereignty due to man’s actions good or bad.While Allah is one “God”, He is not Triune. 
When we look at pantheism, which is the worldview that says all is "god", we see the major religions embracing this worldview are Hinduism and Buddhism (some there are two schools of thought in Buddhism (Mahayana and Theravada) which are essentially atheistic). When we look at polytheism, the worldview that says there are many gods, we see religions like the pagan religions of Wicca, Hinduism, and even classical Mormonism.  
I will be getting a little deeper into this in this week's podcast, so please be sure to check it out. But to tie this worldview section up there are four major questions that a worldview must answer.  Each of those answers must fall in line with its preceding question. These questions are the questions of origin, meaning, morality and destiny. 
Let me summarize these here and again, I will be sharing more about them on this week's Real Issue Podcast.
Origin - Where do I come from?  Is man created in the image and likeness of God, is man going through the samsaric cycle of karma, is our existence accidental, the questions fly don’t they.

Meaning - Why am I here, what is the purpose for our existence?  Depending on which religion one embraces, life can have meaning and purpose when it is glorifying God in a personal relationship or life is relative to what you make it and then there are philosophical dilemmas that can arise trying the fill the void for the next meaningful experience.

Morality - What is the origin of right and wrong, what is the foundational source of an ethical framework? (Christianity, Judaism and Islam say that morals are absolutes rooted in “God.” The only question with the monotheistic religions is which God because the God of the Old and New Testaments is not the same as the God of Islam and the Qur’an.

Destiny - Where do we go when this life is over?  (post mortem survival dogmas). Every religion that holds to the existence of a deity or multiple deities believes that there is an afterlife of some kind, after this life is over with.Do I go to heaven, do  I go to hell, am I reincarnated through moksha or nirvana, or exploding into the impersonal void?  How many karmic cycles does one have to go through in order to make things with "god" right? 

This is the category that refers to post mortem survival dogmas.  Every religion has one.  For Christianity it is Heaven for the righteous and Hell for those who reject Jesus as LORD. Judaism differs in their attempt to keep the Law and the Prophets perfectly.  For Islam it is 
Paradise for the one who does Allah’s will / Hell for the infidel and those who fail to keep Allah’s laws.  For Hinduism we are dealing with the transmigration of the soul toward unity with the impersonal deity, Brahman (moksha). Buddhism was a response to Hinduism where Guatma did not like the Vedas and the caste system.  Buddhism holds to the transmigration of the soul toward exploding into the Impersonal deity (nirvana)
So when it comes to worldviews, we can see that there are a plethora of problems that totally show the claim that all religions say the same thing, totally erroneous.  Not all of the religions answer the worldview questions with the same answer.  Again, the problem falls in the parameters if your worldview is going to be coherent, each answer to those worldview questions (origin, meaning, morality and destiny) must be correspond to each other and the answers must cohere to reality.

Before I wrap this post up, I want to just say a couple of quick things that will help solidify my answer. If all religions say the same things, this claim must be true and reflected in their religious books (the Judaeo Christian source in the Bible, Islam's Qur'an, Hinduism's Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, and Buddhism's Tripitaka. Well, it is a simple fact that they don't say the same thing.

None of the religious books make the same claims as any of the other religions. Let me give you an example illustrating the monotheistic faith of Christianity versus Islam.  While the Bible claims that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and died on a cross to pay for the sins of man, and rose from the dead, the Qur’an denies these claims.  What does this say about two of the most competitive monotheistic religions?

It is clear that the New Testament tells us that Jesus was historically crucified and we have this found in  
Matthew 27:32-61; Mark 15:21-47; Luke 23:26-56, and John 19:28-42. The Qur'an states the total opposite and speaks against the crucifixion of Christ:  
"That they said (in boast):  'We killed Christ Jesus The son of Mary, The Messenger of Allah.'  But they killed him not, Nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not."  (Surah 4:156-159)

What does this say about the claim of all religions saying the same thing.  They don't worldview wise, they do not from the perspective of their source books. The claim is totally false and needs to be  charged as a statement of ignorance.
Let me wrap this up here by asking and answering that if all these religions say the same thing, where are they similar? As we have seen that the world religions seek to pursue in some way, right thinking, right feelings and right actions - keeping a moral law. But not all think the same way, not all interpret feelings the same way, and not all have the same ethical framework for living morally. 
We have also seen that the difference is in the worldviews, source books, and post mortem survival dogmas. We haven't even delved into the ways of how each of the religions teach on how one can be right with their respective deity (salvation dogmas).  I will be writing more on this at a later date.

A closing illustration. . . .
You can take the gurus out of Hinduism and someone else would come along and start the religion.  If Gautama did not come along, someone would have started his own form of Buddhism because of a disagreement with the caste system and the Vedas. 
You see, you can take the starters of all the major world religions but Christianity and someone would come by and start a similar world religion.  Remove the gurus, Gautama, Muhammad from Islam, and you will still have some form of the the religion.  
Christianity is different in that you cannot take Christ out of Christianity and have the same tenets of Christianity started by another person. If you take Christ out of Christian, you have "ian" and "Ian" cannot save you.
Jesus made some claims that no other religious leader ever made about His life, truthfulness and mission on why He came.  Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me." (John 14:6)  If that sounds too narrow, take it up with Jesus.

The apostles (Peter) agreed with Jesus, when he stated before the "religious authorities," "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12).

You see, religion is what man does trying to reach up and satisfy God’s requirements for salvation. The difference is that Christianity is God reaching down to man, doing what man cannot do to satisfy God's requirements.  What you and I cannot do, He did for us. Religion is what man does. Christianity is what God does through His Son Jesus Christ. That’s the difference.  

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