Islam in our Backyard
This categorization of faith and religion in one box, and facts and truth in another, has a long history which we have already touched upon. It is a distinction, however, that ultimately doesn’t hold up, because the claims of religion and ethical systems cannot be partitioned off from the real world. They exist in the world. They make claims, and assert certain things to be true about the world – and indeed, about the God (or gods) who made the world, and may have some present influence over the world. These claims are either valid or not; that is, they are true or they are not. Either there really is an all-just, all-merciful Allah, who rules all events in this world, or there is not. We may disagree and argue about whether it is true, but it is either true or not. It’s nonsensical to say that Allah is God of all the world in one breath, and then to allow that he is not in the next.
On what basis, then, can we assess whether a religious system, or any system of thought, is true? There are endless philosophical debates about questions such as this, but put simply, there are two basic tests that we can apply.
Firstly, we can assess whether a system of belief or philosophy is internally consistent; that is, we can check to see if there are contradictions or internal conflicts bound up within the system itself that render it unlikely to be true…
This brings us to the second test. The most basic way in which humans have always established or tested the truth of a claim is to compare it (and its consequences) with the world outside the system – that is, to ‘check it against the world and see.’ To the extent that a religion or system of thought makes claims about the world, and events in the world, we can try to see if these claims are externally verifiable, if they can be attested by other sources, and if they give a good account of human experience…
Things are true or they’re not. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether they are or not – that is, it’s hard to get enough evidence to tell one way or the other – but at least you can try, and in principle get there.
Lectures on Calvinism
Here four mutually dependent fundamental questions arise:
- Does Religion exist for the sake of God, or for Man?
- Must it operate directly or mediately?
- Can it remain partial in its operations or has it to embrace the whole of our personal being and existence?
- Can it bear a normal, or must it reveal an abnormal, i.e., a soteriological character?
To these four questions Calvinism answers:
- Man’s religion ought to be not egotistical, and for man, but ideal, for the sake of God.
- It has to operate not mediately, by human interposition, but directly from the heart.
- It may not remain partial, as running alongside of life, but must lay hold upon our whole existence.
- Its character should be soteriological, i.e., it should spring, not from our fallen nature, but from the new man, restored by palingenesis to his original standard.
Under the Unpredictable Plant
 So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron.  And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”  When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.”  And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.
– Exodus 32:3-6
Self is sovereign. The catechetical instruction we grow up with has most of the questions couched in the first person: “How can I make it? How can I maximize my potential? How can I develop my gifts? How can I overcome my handicaps? How can I cut my losses? How can I increase my longevity and live happily ever after, preferably all the way into eternity?” Most of the answers to these questions include the suggestion that a little religion along the way wouldn’t be a bad idea.
There are a thousand ways of being religious without submitting to Christ’s lordship, and people are practiced in most of them. We live in golden calf country. Religious feeling runs high but in ways far removed from what was said on Sinai and done on Calvary. While everyone has a hunger for God, deep and insatiable, none of us has any great desire for him. What we really want is to be our own gods and to have whatever other gods that are around to help us in this work.