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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « Objection and Reply to "Images of the Savior" | Main | Don't Be Stingy »

    Philosophical & Religious Pluralism

    About every other week, I confront popular pluralist notions that have become a large part of the way Americans think. For example, pluralists contend that no one religion can know the fullness of spiritual truth, therefore all religions are valid. But while it is good to acknowledge our limitations, this statement is itself a strong assertion about the nature of spiritual truth. A common analogy is often cited to get the point across which I am sure you have heard — several blind men trying to describe an elephant. One feels the tail and reports that an elephant is thin like a snake. Another feels a leg and claims it is thick like a tree. Another touches its side and reports the elephant is a wall. This is supposed to represent how the various religions only understand part of God, while no one can truly see the whole picture. To claim full knowledge of God, pluralists contend, is arrogance. When I occasionally describe this parable, and I can almost see the people nodding their heads in agreement.

    But then I remind the hearers that the only way this parable makes any sense, however, is if the person telling the story has seen the whole elephant. Therefore, the minute one says, 'All religions only see part of the truth,' you are claiming the very knowledge you say no one else has. And they are demonstrating the same spiritual arrogance they so often accuse Christians of. In other words, to say all is relative, is itself a truth statement but dangerous because it uses smoke and mirrors to make itself sound more tolerant than the rest. Most folks who hold this view think they are more enlightened than those who hold to absolutes when in fact they are really just as strong in their belief system as everyone else. I do not think most of these folks are purposefully using trickery or bad motives. This is because they seem to have even convinced themselves of the "truth" of their position, even though they claim "truth" does not exist or at least can't be known. Ironic isn't it? The position is intellectually inconsistent.

    In its pure form Pluralism is a fact. It's not an opinion or a belief or a religion. In other words, not every one believes the same things. We live in a society that's very diverse, not just ethnically, but also religiously. But when pluralism starts to become a philosophy, when it starts to become a religious dogma, then it becomes a different animal. And that's what I want to call relativism -- or religious relativism, philosophical pluralism. It goes by different names but that is the dogmatic religious assertion that all religions are basically the same, that no one knows the truth about God. And no one can know the ultimate truth about God in a way that invalidates other peoples' religious opinions and the belief that it's arrogant to say that you have the truth religiously and it is arrogant to try to persuade other people to believe what you believe religiously. That's relativism, philosophical pluralism. And I would say that's the default belief of most people you run into in our city.-- whether they're religious or not, most people think about religion that way.

    Here is what I want to urge on you and try to unpack in several ways. And that is that relativism is itself a religious belief. It is a dogma. Relativism is. It has affirmations and denials and a missionary force. One of the affirmations of relativism is that God is ultimately unknowable. No one can know the truth about God. But how do one know that to be true? This assumes an ultimate understanding of spiritual reality. All religions are ultimately the same. All religions are following a path to God. It doesn't matter how you believe, it matters how you live. Do you see this? Those are religious statements. Those are matters of religious beliefs, dogma. Doctrines! If people say, "No, I'm not religious. I'm saying you can't know. I'm saying, Nobody can know the truth about God. I’m not claiming that I've got a corner on it." But if you look at it closely, the statements of religious relativism are every bit as dogmatic as the statements of the Koran or the Bible. It's a religious dogma.

    It has denials. Religious relativism denies with certainty that there is one God who is holy and just, who has taken on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, who is our creator and judge. Who can only be appeased and known through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and faith in him. Relativism says that is false. It makes a religious assertion: we deny this, creedally, that that is not true. It's a dogmatic assertion that relativism makes. And -- relativism seeks to persuade those who do not believe it to believe it.

    Somehow, the relativist has come to understand that he alone sees the full reality. He alone is in the airplane. He alone is the king who is not blind telling the parable of the elephant. Only relativism is timelessly and objectively true. Relativistic belief is accepted so it can be taught as public fact in America today even though we have seperation of church and state. I hear nonsensical statements like it is because of religion that all war starts - of course it is because of religion, but religion is an inescapable part of the human condition. Relativism also zealously fights to make sure no one believes in any absolutes while they must use their own absolute to establish this idea.

    Now Christians have been known to be proud ....plenty of us. There are lots of arrogant Christians. But if you read the Bible, you see that Christians ought not to be arrogant. Arrogant Christians are betraying Christianity. And when we're arrogant, we're not believing the gospel. We're not being Biblical. But, ultimately, to hold a relativistic point of view, you have to turn the question back on yourself and doubt your own doubts and say, "Why aren't the relativists' religious beliefs arrogant? Why isn't it arrogant to say that you're the one in the airplane? Why isn't it arrogant to say you're the king who's not blind and can see the whole elephant?" Ultimately, if you judge your doubts the same way you judge other peoples' religion, then you find yourself hoisted on your own petard. Right? Yes. It's just as arrogant to claim relativism, as it is to claim religious truth.

    The Christian is not better in any way than a pagan. There are probably many pagans who have lived more moral lives than the Christian. In fact the Christian believes Himself not morally fit for God - a person who's so desperately broken that unless Jesus Christ dies under the wrath of God in my place, I can never be reconciled to God and have fellowship with Him." There are lots of people wiser than us, lots of people who are more moral than we are, people who are more devoted to their religion than we are. If a person claims anything different, he is missing the gospel. It's why we ought to be teachable. When we talk to friends who don't know Christ, we ought to be learning, instead of just talking.

    But, someone will say, you only believe this because you were raised where you were raised, right? You say you know the truth but really its just provincialism. You're a product of your culture. So, how can you say it's the only truth?" But if you're raised here, you're raised in a relativistic culture. Right? And so you believe -- that all religions are one. You're a relativist. That's just because of your mom and dad -- and because you grew up in LA or the like. If you were born in Indonesia, you would not be a relativist. So, therefore, relativism couldn't be true. It's just a cultural construct. Right? You only believe it because of where you were raised so don't make any dogmatic assertions about all religions being equal. That's just what your little culture believes. Once you get out and about in the world and are a little more cosmopolitan, you'll realize that that's just one view among many. The criticism has to apply to relativism if it has to apply to other religions, doesn't it?

    So -- if relativism is your default mode, if that's what you've booted up with, because of where you were raised, let me appeal to you this way. At least look at it, doubt it, the way you doubt religion. Look at your own beliefs with the same critical apparatus you use to look at other people's beliefs. See that it's a religious dogma like others and see if it holds water as a religious dogma. Is it true? Is relativism true? Ask yourself this important question.

    Various notes in sermons from Tim Keller and Charles Garland

    Posted by John on August 8, 2006 09:26 PM

    Comments

    I think these words are useful in our days.

    If you are interested in some new ideas on religious pluralism in relation to the Trinity, please check out my website at www.religiouspluralism.ca, and give me your thoughts on improving content and presentation.

    My thesis is that an abstract version of the Trinity could be Christianity’s answer to the world need for a framework of pluralistic theology.

    In a constructive worldview: east, west, and far-east religions present a threefold understanding of One God manifest primarily in Muslim and Hebrew intuition of the Deity Absolute, Christian and Krishnan Hindu conception of the Universe Absolute Supreme Being; and Shaivite Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist apprehension of the Destroyer (meaning also Consummator), Unconditioned Absolute, or Spirit of All That Is and is not. Together with their variations and combinations in other major religions, these religious ideas reflect and express our collective understanding of God, in an expanded concept of the Holy Trinity.

    The Trinity Absolute is portrayed in the logic of world religions, as follows:

    1. Muslims and Jews may be said to worship only the first person of the Trinity, i.e. the existential Deity Absolute Creator, known as Allah or Yhwh, Abba or Father (as Jesus called him), Brahma, and other names; represented by Gabriel (Executive Archangel), Muhammad and Moses (mighty messenger prophets), and others.

    2. Christians and Krishnan Hindus may be said to worship the first person through a second person, i.e. the experiential Universe or "Universal” Absolute Supreme Being (Allsoul or Supersoul), called Son/Christ or Vishnu/Krishna; represented by Michael (Supreme Archangel), Jesus (teacher and savior of souls), and others. The Allsoul is that gestalt of personal human consciousness, which we expect will be the "body of Christ" (Mahdi, Messiah, Kalki or Maitreya) in the second coming – personified in history by Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu), and others.

    3. Shaivite Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucian-Taoists seem to venerate the synthesis of the first and second persons in a third person or appearance, ie. the Destiny Consummator of ultimate reality – unqualified Nirvana consciousness – associative Tao of All That Is – the absonite* Unconditioned Absolute Spirit “Synthesis of Source and Synthesis,”** who/which is logically expected to be Allah/Abba/Brahma glorified in and by union with the Supreme Being – represented in religions by Gabriel, Michael, and other Archangels, Mahadevas, Spiritpersons, etc., who may be included within the mysterious Holy Ghost.

    Other strains of religion seem to be psychological variations on the third person, or possibly combinations and permutations of the members of the Trinity – all just different personality perspectives on the Same God. Taken together, the world’s major religions give us at least two insights into the first person of this thrice-personal One God, two perceptions of the second person, and at least three glimpses of the third.

    * The ever-mysterious Holy Ghost or Unconditioned Spirit is neither absolutely infinite, nor absolutely finite, but absonite; meaning neither existential nor experiential, but their ultimate consummation; neither fully ideal nor totally real, but a middle path and grand synthesis of the superconscious and the conscious, in consciousness of the unconscious.

    ** This conception is so strong because somewhat as the Absonite Spirit is a synthesis of the spirit of the Absolute and the spirit of the Supreme, so it would seem that the evolving Supreme Being may himself also be a synthesis or “gestalt” of humanity with itself, in an Almighty Universe Allperson or Supersoul. Thus ultimately, the Absonite is their Unconditioned Absolute Coordinate Identity – the Spirit Synthesis of Source and Synthesis – the metaphysical Destiny Consummator of All That Is.

    After the Hindu and Buddhist conceptions, perhaps the most subtle expression and comprehensive symbol of the 3rd person of the Trinity is the Tao; involving the harmonization of “yin and yang” (great opposing ideas indentified in positive and negative, or otherwise contrasting terms). In the Taoist icon of yin and yang, the s-shaped line separating the black and white spaces may be interpreted as the Unconditioned “Middle Path” between condition and conditioned opposites, while the circle that encompasses them both suggests their synthesis in the Spirit of the “Great Way” or Tao of All That Is.

    If the small black and white circles or “eyes” are taken to represent a nucleus of truth in both yin and yang, then the metaphysics of this symbolism fits nicely with the paradoxical mystery of the Christian Holy Ghost; who is neither the spirit of the one nor the spirit of the other, but the Glorified Spirit proceeding from both, taken altogether – as one entity – personally distinct from his co-equal, co-eternal and fully coordinate co-sponsors, who differentiate from him, as well as mingle and meld in him.

    For more details, please see: www.religiouspluralism.ca

    Samuel Stuart Maynes

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