Religious Stew

Article ID: DR192 | By: Gregory Koukl

The great philosopher Socrates once counseled, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” The theological parallel is just as valid: The unexamined faith is not worth believing. Sadly, this advice is often ignored.

A letter to the editor of my local paper is a case in point. Responding to a previous letter by a Christian, one woman ended her comments on religious tolerance with this unusual benediction: “May God, Allah, Buddha, Yahweh, Jehovah, Cosmic Consciousness, and ‘All That Is’ bless you.”

Her gesture was genuine and gracious, an example of the tolerance she wanted to promote. No deity need take offense; all were included in the pantheon of possibilities. Yet it was a statement made without thinking. It was an example of an unexamined faith filled with inaccuracies and contradictions.

Buddha was a man who died, and dead men bless no one. Yahweh or Jehovah (both are variations of the same Hebrew word) is the personal name of the Lord God of the Bible, but according to His own statements He is a jealous God, as is Allah, the God of Islam. Neither would give their blessings to those who split loyalties.

Out of courtesy to Eastern religions, the author mentioned cosmic consciousness. Invoking the favor of an impersonal force, however, is much like saying, “May electricity bless you,” or “May gravity smile on you today.” Blind forces cannot act in a benevolent way; only persons can. “All That Is” suffers from the same drawback. If everything is doing the blessing, then what is left to be blessed?

This woman’s confusing theology is characteristic of most who espouse the current form of religious pluralism — the view that no religion is objectively more true than any other. Nevertheless, one point ought to be obvious: Everything can’t be true.

Let me give a parallel example. The political equivalent of this philosophy would be, “May Lenin, Jefferson, Idi Amin, or Yasar Arafat rule.” Each was or is a political leader, but the similarity ends there. Each represents a different ideology. In some cases, they’re polar opposites. One can’t dismiss as inconsequential the differences between these men simply because each is associated with politics.

The religions mentioned above are like oil and water; they can’t mix because they represent opposite and competing concepts. An appeal to their similarities doesn’t help. We would never say aspirin and arsenic are basically the same just because they both come in tablet form. It’s the differences that are critical. That’s true in all areas of life, especially the spiritual.

There are other problems with this woman’s commonly held view. She suggested in her letter that proof of a religion “lies solely with the person who has experienced God’s presences [sic] in his or her life.” But how does she know that what she’s experiencing is actually God? Adolph Hitler was convinced he had a divine appointment with destiny. That was his experience. Does that vindicate the Third Reich? Charles Manson suffered from the same delusion. I’m convinced the writer would recoil, with the rest of us, at Hitler and Manson and fully condemn what they did. She can only justify that rejection, however, by admitting to some absolute truth that stands outside of her experience and judges it right or wrong. The experience itself is not enough.

If God exists, He’s either personal or not personal. He can’t be both. If God is merely a cosmic energy, why ask His blessing? He can’t hear or respond. If He’s a person, then He’s someone, not everyone.

People looking for truth would do well to bear this in mind. In life we must make judgments, separating the wheat from the chaff. We do it a hundred times a day. This kind of judgment is necessary for our very survival.

If we must discern between truth and error in physical life, what makes us think we can change the rules in spiritual life, which has eternal ramifications? Why do we think we can mix everything together into one holy, religious stew in the area of spiritual truth and not suffer the consequences?

Gregory Koukl is president of Stand to Reason, an apologetics organization, training Christians to think more clearly about their faith and values.