Pluralism: Are there many ways to God?
Major flaws in Multifaith (godism), Interfaith, Religious Diversity and Pluralism
Let’s try and define the salient points of Religious Pluralism (godism), as expressed in the concepts of multifaith, interfaith and religious diversity. The Godist would say “there are many paths to god and no one religion holds all the answers”. Such belief maintains that:
- all religions are legitimate and equally valid ways to God
- different religions teach truth
- the differences between religions are superficial
- a key objective is to engender respect, tolerance, understanding and dialogue between different faiths
To engender respect, tolerance, understanding and dialogue between faiths at first seems very laudable, until we realise that, in order to achieve this it is necessary to take a non-rigid view of some core issues of one’s faith. In aiming for these virtues we end up in a fog of fuzzy thinking. We find core issues have to be compromised in favour of liberal, non-specific views, and that claims of absolute truth become unacceptable. For example, Godists believe that our present life is the result of our past lives (either on earth or on other worlds), but the Bible clearly states that man has only one life on earth:
It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment (Heb 9:27)
Perhaps more fundamentally, Godists do not believe Jesus is equal with God, whereas Jesus claimed:
I and My Father are one … He who has seen Me has seen the Father (John 10:30, 14:9)
Little wonder that the world often regards religion as waffle and meaningless.
The Problem of God
When we talk about ‘ways to God’, which or what God do we mean? How do we define God?
- Is the Hindu ‘Supreme Reality’ (Brahman) the same as the God of the Bible, or the God of Islam?
- Is the ‘Allah’ of Islam the same as the God of the Bible?
- Is the God of Pantheism (New Age) the same as Allah or the God of the Bible?
- And where is the God of Buddhism?
When we consider the broad tenants of these faiths the answer must be emphatically “no” – the major faiths do not have the same understanding of God. In fact, there are major theological differences:
- Hindus are pantheists or polytheists – multiple deities (God is both personal and impersonal)
- Buddhists are atheists or pantheists (there is no absolute God)
- Muslims are theists and Unitarian (God is impersonal and unknowable)
- Pantheists are monists and animists – all is one being, and God is in everything and everyone. (God is impersonal)
- Christians are theists and Trinitarian (God is personal)
How then can there be any form of common or collective ‘worship’?
The Problem of Man
What do the various faiths believe about man?
- Hinduism: man is fundamentally divine, but is trapped in this world due to ignorance and ‘bad karma’
- Buddhism: man is trapped in this world due to selfish desire and deliverance comes from extinguishing desire
- Islam: man is weak but not fundamentally sinful (not born fallen). It is hoped man’s good works earn his salvation from judgement
- Pantheism: man is God, he is divine
- Christianity: man is alienated from God and is under judgement due to rebellion against Him. Salvation comes from believing in the atoning work of Jesus on the cross
Clearly, the major faiths differ not only in their understanding of God, but also in their view of man.
Although yoga has seen a global explosion in popularity, it defies a rigid definition. What we can say is that it is one of six orthodox systems of Indian philosophy traceable back to before Christ. The roots of the word are “yuj” and “Samadhi” which essentially mean “unity or oneness”. This is union with something e.g. union between body, mind and spirit, union with the world around us, union with the universe, or union with god (the divine).
There are many types of yoga (Hatha yoga is common in the west) but the general theme is a mix of physical exercises (specific postures are meant to awake physical “energy centres”) and meditation – a spiritual search for unity with something and a search for the divine meaning of life. For example, the Bhakti yogi lives in a state of constant devotion and praise to god in order to merge with the divine (transcendence).
In 2007 a Church of England vicar banned Yoga classes from his church hall. The principal objection was that “Yoga is inseparable from the Hindu devotional practice”. A Church of England spokesman backed his stand against practices which “do not square with Christian teachings”. Put simply, Christians don’t need yoga since Jesus and the Father promise to come and dwell with them (John 14:23). This is the ultimate unity and the exercise required is prayer, meditation on God’s word, and service to others. In contrast to yoga, there is no striving for unity with God since the Bible claims God has come to us in Jesus Christ! Clearly, the difference between these two approaches to God is not superficial! Are both equally valid ways to God, or is one right and the other wrong?
The Law of Non-Contradiction
It is apparent that Pluralism results in confusion and the loss of truth. It is incoherent and contradictory. For example, the Pantheist or yogi would say to the Christian “your way to God through Jesus is true”, and “my way to God through meditation is true”. The Muslim would say to the Christian “we worship the same God”, but the God of Islam (Allah) is master, not Father, and has revealed his will but not himself – concepts that conflict with Christianity.
Clearly, there is little agreement amongst the main religions on the fundamental issues of the nature of God and man. So how can they ‘worship’ together in any meaningful way in a multifaith or interfaith service? Who are they collectively worshipping?
Testing which faith is True
Assuming one of the faiths is true, which one? Consider the philosophical Law of Non-Contradiction:
It is impossible for multiple, contradictory propositions (as found in Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Pantheism, and Christianity) to all be true at the same time. Only ONE can be true or real
Recall how we define truth (see What is Truth?) :
For a statement to be true it must agree with knowledge (fact or reality), or be logically correct, or both, depending upon the context
Let’s apply this test to the Christian faith. Jesus said:
I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father (God) but through Me (John 14:6)
We can test the truth of this statement, and the truth of the Bible in general, by observing reality – what actually happened and what we observe today:
- Jesus accurately predicted the Roman invasion of Jerusalem in 70 AD
- Jesus accurately predicted His resurrection after three days. He was seen on ten different occasions after His death
- Jesus performed 35 miracles (and probably many more not recorded), so demonstrating His authority to claim to be the way to God
- Jesus predicted end-time events, such as increased lawlessness, wild weather, gospel proclamation and increasing persecution
- Jesus changes lives today to the extent that currently over 200 million Christians are willing to suffer persecution for their faith
And regarding the authority of the Bible:
- More than 300 prophecies were fulfilled by Christ at His first coming. They were proved true by historical fact
- Prophecies about end times (society, the environment, world government, electronic trading, and Israel) are coming true
- Scores of archaeological findings confirm historical statements in the Bible
- Statements in the Bible agree with science e.g. the roundness of the earth (Isa 40:22), the law of increasing entropy (Ps 102:25-27), atmospheric circulation (Ecc. 1:6), constellations of stars (Job 38:31-32), deep water springs (Job 37:16), the suspension of the earth in space (Job 26:7)
Conclusion – Pluralism must be False
Clearly, the evidence for the truth of Christianity is substantial, if not overwhelming. So according to the Law of Non-Contradiction, other ways to God must be false. Pluralism itself must be false; all religions cannot be equally valid ways to God (although they demonstrate a basic awareness of a Creator and can have virtues similar to those of Christianity).
In contrast to Pluralism, Christianity is coherent and consistent. God’s plan of salvation follows a sequence of connected historical events: the Fall, the Flood, Abraham, the Exodus, the formation of the special nation of Israel, the coming of Christ from that nation, and Christ’s death and resurrection. Today this plan continues with the return of Israel to the land promised to them through Abraham, the witness of the Church, the signs of the end of the age and the Second Coming of Christ .
So each of us must decide if Christ’s fundamental claim about Himself is true. He said very clearly that there is now only one way to the one and only living God. Here it is again:
I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me (John 14:6)
As C. S. Lewis famously said:
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would be either a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else he is a madman or something else.