How Could We Possibly Be So Arrogant?

Don’t All Religions Lead to God?
Amy Orr-Ewing

In my experience there are usually two motivations in dismissing the idea that Christ is the only way to God and we need to be able to deal with them both. The first objection is that it is arrogant to say that Jesus is the only way. How could we possibly be so arrogant as to say that all the other religions are wrong and Jesus is the only path to God? Often at this point the parable of the elephant is used to illustrate how arrogant Christians are. It goes something like this: “There is an elephant and there are blind scribes touching different parts of the elephant. One is holding onto the tail and saying ‘this is a rope’ another is holding the front leg of the elephant and saying ‘no this is not a rope – you are wrong, it is a tree trunk’ another person is holding the trunk of the elephant and saying ‘you are both wrong this is neither a rope nor a tree trunk it is a snake!’” The moral of the story is that all of the religions are like those men. They each touch a different part of Ultimate Reality and therefore Christians are arrogant to say that they have the truth.

Let us take a step back and think about what is being said here. Think about the two main differences between the person telling us the story and the people inside the story. The first difference is that the people touching the elephant are blind and the narrator can see. The second difference is one of perspective – the people inside the story are close up to the elephant but the narrator is standing back and has the full picture. Do you see the breathtaking claim that is being made here? Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Moses and Muhammad are all blind, but I can see! They all had a small perspective, but I can see the full picture – I can see that all of those ways actually lead to God. The question now is “Who is arrogant?” It is just as arrogant to say that ‘Buddha, Muhammad and Jesus were wrong in their exclusive claims,’ as it is to say ‘Jesus is the only way’ – the issue then is not about who is arrogant or not but what is actually true and real?

The second motivation or moral force behind this question is about exclusion. How can you exclude all of these religions? Jesus said that he was the way to the Father but I can’t follow him because I do not want to be an intolerant person who excludes others! Again we need to think carefully about this, because the reality is that whatever position we hold we exclude some views. Even the person who believes that all ways lead to God, including Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Stalin and Osama bin Laden excludes the view that only some ways lead to God or only one way leads to God. In the same way the average person in Britain would probably want to exclude some of the extremists like Hitler or Milosovich and would believe that only some ways lead to God – perhaps the 5 main world religions. This excludes the view that all ways lead to God or that one way leads to God. And the Christian who wants to say I follow Jesus and he said that he was the only way to the Father excludes the view that all ways or some ways lead to God. Every view excludes some – so the issue is not who is excluding people but what is actually true and real.

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Jesus Did Not Say

John 21:20-23

[20] Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” [21] When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” [22] Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” [23] So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

Peter has just found out that he’s going to be a martyr.  When he sees his close friend, John, he asks Jesus, “What about him?”  Jesus replies,  “Why does that matter? You follow Me!”

This is absurd.  Peter is going to be crucified and John might never die?!  How does that make any sense?

People try to explain the confusion and suffering of life in different ways.  “God is testing us and making us stronger.”  “It’s punishment for sins.”  “There’s a lesson God is teaching us.”  Even if these things are true, these answers are not very satisfying.

Close friends of mine were pregnant with their first child.  At the doctor’s appointment in which they were supposed to find out the gender of their baby, they were told that their son had a terminal disease and he would likely not survive the pregnancy.  At most, he would live a few weeks after birth.

What could any of us say to them?

Well, here’s what we could not say to them.  We could not say why this was happening.  We could not say why this was happening to their child.  We could not say what exactly God was doing.  We could not talk about any of these things because we did not know.  We could only talk about what we do know.

Because of the word of God, we knew this was not happening because God does not love them or He had forgotten them.  We knew God was not punishing them and also that He was not indifferent.  We knew He was grieving for their son and for their pain.  We knew that God hates death and He sent His only Son to conquer death.  We knew that God would walk with them.  We knew that He would somehow work all things for their good.

Deuteronomy 29:29 reads, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

Praise God, the baby did survive and is a wonderful little boy.  But in this life, things do not always work out the way we hope.  In the midst, all we can hold onto are the things that are certain.

We have all experienced things in the past that have made us ask, “Why?”  The honest answer is we don’t know why.  Many things in the future remain uncertain.  We have many questions.  The honest answer is we don’t know what will happen.  But what we do know is sufficient.  The God we do know is sufficient.  The promises He has revealed in His Word belong to us forever.

Test the Spirits

[1] Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

– 1 John 4:1

False prophets very rarely say, “Hey everyone, I have a message from the devil!” No, they say they have a revelation from the Spirit.

John is warning us that while a spiritual experience is important, it alone is not enough to guarantee that it is from God. Spirits must be tested. If a random guy told a girl, “God said you’re supposed to marry me,” the girl would not immediately believe him. She would be discerning.

Who we marry is important, but who we worship is more important. When people say things about God, we should be discerning. We should test the spirits.

This includes testing ourselves. Our hearts, our emotions, our logic can so easily go astray. Haven’t we done enough foolish things to know that we can’t be trusted implicitly? We are biased and selfish and the first “spirit” that must be tested is within us.

True or Not

Islam in our Backyard
Tony Payne

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.

Religion Exists in the World

Islam in our Backyard
Tony Payne

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.

Tolerance and Relativism

Islam in our Backyard
Tony Payne

As it has been historically expressed, tolerance is the willingness to live side by side with people with whom you disagree, as expressed in the famous saying, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  Relativism, on the other hand, is the removal of the possibility of either agreeing or disagreeing, since there is no ‘truth’ to agree about.  There is just a multitude of personally held views, each of which is as valid as the other.

A tolerant society values discussion, disagreement and persuasion, and allows freely for the possibility of changing one’s position, since the truth is something we can argue about.  Relativist societies often cease to be tolerant, because they outlaw disagreement.  In a relativist society, the statement “You are wrong” is not allowed.  Since rational argument and debate about truth-claims are put to one side, all that is left is prejudice, cultural preference, tribal/family allegiance and political power.  The phenomenon of ‘political correctness,’ although now often joked about, is a manifestation of the intolerance of relativist societies.  There are certain thoughts, ideas or philosophies that are not allowed to be expressed in some contexts, because they are utterly offensive to the ruling group in that context.  To express them, in whatever form, is to risk censure, ridicule, harassment or worse.  It would be a brave lecturer, for example, who sought to mount a critique of feminist thought in a university humanities department.  It’s not that he/she would be bound to lose the argument; they would be bound to lose their job.

The irony of this situation is one of the features of modern Western society – that those who most vehemently deny the concept of absolute truth are the ones who most vehemently suppress open debate and the expression of alternative viewpoints.

A Day in History

[1] Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, [2] just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, [3] it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, [4] that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

– Luke 1:1-4

christopher-columbus-1492-boatTwo thousand years ago, Jesus died on a cross and rose from the dead three days later. In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Most people, whether Christian or not, do not seem to think that these are the same kinds of statements (i.e. statements of historical fact).

The statement regarding Jesus is often spoken of as a belief that will lead to a happier life or a means to cope with problems. If a Christian is asked, “why do you talk so much about this?”, a common answer might be, “because I love you and want the best for you.” Less often we might hear, “because it’s true.”

Luke did not intend to write an allegory, a myth, or an inspirational story but an accurate history. Christianity is unique in that it is an historical faith. It claims that an actual event happened in human history (the death and resurrection of the Son of God). The Christian Scriptures make clear that if this event did not happen, then Christian faith is completely useless (“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” 1 Corinthians 15:17).

There are plenty of other means (religious or otherwise) of obtaining psychological comfort.  To be perfectly honest, many of them are a lot less hassle than Christianity. But the Christian claim is that Jesus actually is the Son of God and He did die and rise from the dead, defeating sin and death. This is either true or it is not. If it’s not, it’s a cruel hoax on those who believe. If it is, then it’s the most important news in human history.

The Ugly Truth Will Set You Free

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

– 1 John 1:8-9

It’s a rare person who is foolish enough to say that they are perfect.  Nearly everyone will admit that we’re all human and we all make mistakes.  Yet at the same time, we all believe that deep down we’re good people.

One thing that makes this believable is that we know how to compare ourselves favorably. My Sunday School boys tell me how good they are at basketball and how they can beat my son. Well my son is three, so I tell them that’s not saying much. Somehow when it comes to our character and faith, we always compare our best to other people’s worst. We proudly say that we’re better than a murderer or a drug dealer and if all else fails we can always compare favorably with Hitler.

Another reason we are tempted to believe in our own goodness is that we are experts at self-deception. Have you ever met an angry person? The last person to know that he’s angry is always the angry person himself. We know how to play this game. We don’t hate anyone but there are people we’d just rather not speak to ever again. We’re not greedy or envious, we just want to be financially secure.

But God is not deceived by any of this. He is light itself and in Him is no darkness at all. His light exposes darkness! So John is pleading with us, don’t be deceived! The lie is tempting. It feels good to think we’re better than others. It’s painful to face what’s really in our hearts. It’s tempting to believe the lie and avoid the pain, but this does not lead to real joy or real life.

It’s only when we acknowledge and confess our sins that we are free! When we downplay our sin before God and others, relationship is impossible because we have to lie. If we claim to have no sin or if we always excuse our sin, we have to try to deceive each other and God. But if we confess our sin – not that we are sinners generally, but that we love specific things more than Jesus, that we are willing to hurt others to get what we want, that today and not just in our former life that we like our sin – then He’ll forgive us! Jesus can wipe away our sin and make us clean, but He comes only for the sick.

To live in lies is tempting but this only leads to slavery. The truth – no matter how ugly – is what sets us free.