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Choose Life That You Might Live

Part 2: Religious Pluralism
It is tragically true that few of those who believe that all spiritual beliefs are valid paths to God seem to have made an in depth study of various religions to see if their claims are based on fact, or fairy dust.

Carol Brooks
Edited by Vicki Narlee

List of Chapters
For a slightly longer description of each chapter, please go to the Main Index

YOU ARE HERE 001orange Part 1: Spiritual not Religious. The question is how do you know that the spiritual path you are on will lead somewhere you want to be? What does it offer you in the long run... beyond this life?
Part 2: Religious Pluralism. It is tragically true that few of those who believe that all spiritual beliefs are valid paths to God seem to have made an in depth study of various religions to see if their claims are based on fact, or fairy dust.
Part 3: Faith and The Bible. Christianity is perhaps the only religion that does not demand 'blind faith' from its followers.
Part 4: God And His Bible. There is far more evidence in favor of the Bible being true, than there is for any of the other 'holy books which usually consist of endless streams of often mind numbing philosophy, with little or no framework or context. The evidence includes the Bible’s humanly impossible authorship, its archaeological and scientific accuracy and  fulfilled prophecy.
Part 5: Alleged Old Testament Discrepancies. The charges are usually careless, overconfident and unsubstantiated.
Part 6: Why Jesus Is Without Equal.  Many so called holy men claim to to be divine or divinely inspired - to have had mystical visions or experiences. So what?
Part 7: The Reliability of The New Testament. Can we at least apply the same standards to the Bible that we do to other ancient literary works.
Part 8: New Testament Differences and Discrepancies. Most alleged 'mistakes' arise from understanding too little about the Bible.
Part 8 b:The Resurrection Accounts.  The so-called contradictions are trotted out without a single reference to the possible solutions that can very plausibly and naturally explain them.
Part 9: The Bible, Then And Now. People commonly reject the Bible because they believe the original text has been changed significantly since it was first written, and therefore, it is a corrupted book. But is there any truth to the charge?
Part 10: Historical Corroboration. Were any of the Gospel accounts substantiated by non-Christian sources?
Part 11: Archaeology and The Bible. Does archaeology confirm, or undermine, the New Testament accounts?
Part 12: Is The Evidence Insufficient or Too Obscure? A far more sensible way to look at it is... the more severe the consequences, the fewer risks we should take.
Part 13: The Message of The Bible. The Heaven Jesus was sent to tell us about is no pie in the sky ethereal place 'somewhere out there. In fact, the Bible's description of the coming kingdom is far more practical than that of our theologians. '
Part 14: The Warning of The Bible. We are all under the death penalty. If dying once sounds terrible to you, how does dying twice sound? -  which is exactly what the Bible says will happen if...
Part 15: Who Is and Isn't a Christian? Since the word originated with the Bible, only the Bible has the right to define what a "Christian" is.
Part 16: Myths and Misconceptions that stem from knowing too little about Biblical Christianity.

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ON THIS PAGE

Religious Tolerance: What It Means and What It Doesn't Mean
I will defend to the death your right to believe as you do, just as much as I will defend to the death my right to try and convince you that you are wrong.

What Is Religious Pluralism?
Occasionally used as a synonym for ecumenism, religious pluralism believes there are many spiritual paths to the same destination.

Three Common Beliefs of Religious Pluralism
1) It Doesn't Matter What You Believe as Long as You're Sincere
2) Every Religion Only Has A Portion Of The Truth
3) All Religions Stem From The Same Source

Contradictory Claims
If in our daily lives we do not believe two contradictory facts at the same time, we must realize that if two religions make truth-claims which contradict each other, they cannot both be right.

Ambiguity... Restricted Solely to Spirituality
Dozens of decisions we make, are based on facts not feelings... except, apparently, when it comes to religion.

Charges Often Leveled at Christians
They are narrow minded, arrogant, bigoted and are only Christians because they were born into a Christian country or family.

The Million Dollar Question
What if all paths do not lead to the same destination?

Judging Religious Claims
It seems to come as quite a surprise to many that similar criteria used to judge whether something is true in the secular world, can be applied to religious claims... criteria that is unrelated to, and undistorted by, thoughts, feelings, emotions, personal bias, tradition etc. The very fact that so many people to day are better educated, have access to all kinds of information, and are thus able to do their own research, makes it even easier to use the same tools to judge religious claims that are used to judge any other non-religious claims.


Religious Tolerance:
"Tolerance" is one of the more recent buzzwords in an increasingly diverse society. A large percentage of the population, cheerfully confusing democracy and truth, has run with the idea that equal tolerance of all religions means that one has to accept all religions as being equally valid paths to God.

Not so!

What It Means
Sadly, the concept of the word "tolerant" has been completely distorted in today's world. Nowadays, if you think someone is wrong, you are called intolerant, regardless of how you treat that person. However, the English word 'tolerate' means to put up with something you may not like, agree with or approve of etc. In fact, one person cannot tolerate someone else unless he, or she, disagrees with that person. For example, we might tolerate or put up with a member of our family who leaves their clothes strewn around; although we might be the most tidy of people and deplore the mess.

In other words, the word "tolerance" does not apply to someone who shares our views or lifestyle.

In a religious context, it simply means that a person of one faith will tolerate, or put up with, other religions, and will not, in any way, discriminate against people because of their religious convictions. 

And no one can argue that this not is the right thing to do.

The pages of history are blood soaked by the terrible consequences of man's extreme intolerance of any creed, belief, opinion, or practice that differs from his own. Religious bigotry has led to so called holy wars... the crusades, inquisitions etc., all of which were all morally reprehensible, and makes it extremely important that we do all we can to foster religious freedom. Every man and woman alive has the right to choose whatever religious path they wish.

What It Doesn't Mean
Having said that, I have to point out that religious tolerance does not mean that

    a) A person of one religion agrees with, or endorses some, or any, of the beliefs of another.
    Hundreds of thousands of people who have, apparently, never heard of a dictionary, think 'religious tolerance' means that you are supposed to accept any and all spiritual beliefs as having some truth, regardless of whether you think they contradict facts, or even make a whit of sense.

    b) A person of one faith cannot, or will not, argue or debate the validity of their own religion.
    One outcome of this misuse, of the word 'tolerance' (which I thought was a simple easy-to-understand word in the English language) is that proselytizing, or trying to induce someone to convert to one's own religious point of view, is seen as "intolerant". People who do so are often accused of trying to 'cram their religious views down other's throats'. Unfortunately this is another skewed view of 'tolerance'. People have as much right to argue /discuss/debate the validity of their own religion, as much as any other topic. However, should person two reject any of what is put forth, person one accepts that everyone has the right to believe and practice what they do. 

    I will defend to the death your right to believe as you do, just as much as I will defend to the death my right to try and convince you that you are wrong.

(Note: The same lack of understanding of basic English comes up when Christians are accused of being "homophobic" when they state their belief that homosexuality is wrong. See Footnote I)

The claims made by Christianity are constantly being challenged by other people. In fact, we live in a time when the only prejudice that is tolerated is the prejudice against Christians and Christianity. However, on the precept of 'what's sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander', the truth claims of other religions are also open to challenge.

Also, it is perhaps worthwhile mentioning that advocates of this "tolerance" are, all too often, not in the slightest bit tolerant themselves. They only tolerate those who agree with them, not those who make truth claims. For example, if a Christian were to say Jesus is the only way to God, he, or she, would be accused of being narrow minded, arrogant, intolerant and a host of other, less than complimentary, adjectives. This, by any standard, is not tolerance at all. What the accuser usually forgets is that the very tolerance that they so emphatically espouse, requires them to be tolerant of the Christian who is stating his, or her, beliefs.

Besides which, as the refreshingly quirky Christian author, Grantley Morris so rightly says... "should you talk to any vigorous proponent of the tolerance issue, you would find that when it comes to issues that happen to be close to their hearts .. animal cruelty, racism, rape, environmental vandalism, nuclear warfare, banning abortion etc. (to name a few possibilities) tolerance would take a flying leap out of the window, and what they believe would matter very much". [01]

Additionally, it is equally important that we not confuse tolerance and truth, which I will come to a little further down.


What Is Religious Pluralism?
A very common claim heard today is that no religion is absolutely true (the word "absolute" means unconditional... unlimited by restrictions or exceptions). Religious pluralists, who sometimes call themselves "spiritually eclectic", believe that it doesn't really matter what spiritual path you follow because 1) there is no conclusive evidence in favor of one religion being 'right' and 2) there is at least some validity and truth in almost all religions and philosophies. All that matters is that you are "sincere", and have some version of God in there somewhere.

And this view appears to be more widespread than we realize

In his book Absolute Confusion, George Barna reported that two-thirds of all adults (62%) believe that "it does not matter what religious faith you follow because all faiths teach similar lessons about life. [02] This was substantiated by a major nationwide survey undertaken by the Pew Research Center in 2007. An interview with more than 35,000 adults in the U.S. showed that (Emphasis Added)

    Most Americans agree with the statement that many religions – not just their own – can lead to eternal life. Among those who are affiliated with a religious tradition, seven-in-ten say many religions can lead to eternal life. This view is shared by a majority of adherents in nearly all religious traditions, including more than half of members of evangelical Protestant churches (57%). [03]

Religious pluralists, therefore, do not exclusively follow any one religion, but tend to pick and choose (usually from varied traditional religious beliefs) those doctrines, philosophies and/or practices that resonate with them. What pastor Greg Koukl aptly calls a "Pious Porridge". [04]

The last verse of English music journalist, biographer and poet, Steve Turner's satirical poem, entitled Creed says..

    We believe that each man must find the truth
    that is right for him.
    Reality will adapt accordingly.
    The universe will readjust. History will alter.
    We believe that there is no absolute truth
    excepting the truth that there is no absolute truth.

And, Heaven help the person who has the sheer audacity to think that someone else’s religious views are wrong. In fact, pluralists often accuse Christians of being imperious, overbearing and arrogant because they think they are right, and other spiritual paths/religions are wrong. However, what rarely seems to occur to any one is that these very same pluralists think all non-pluralist beliefs are wrong. In other words they are just as dogmatic as the people they rail against.

What few realize is that Christianity is not the only religion that claims exclusivity (the belief that only one religion is true).

    Islam claims theological and linguistic exclusivity.... Muslims believe that the sole and consummate miracle of Islam is the Qur’an, and that only in Arabic (any translation is believed to de-sanctify it). The Qur’an itself says "And whoever desires other than Islam as religion - never will it be accepted from him, and he, in the Hereafter, will be among the losers. (Imran 3:85. Sahih International).

    Hinduism, while claiming to be a religion that 'accepts all religions to be true', is absolutely uncompromising on the authority on the Vedas (Hindu scripture), the law of karma (the law of moral cause and effect) and reincarnation. Indian philosopher Swami Vivekananda said "The path of the Upanishads is the pure path" through which "truth becomes clear" [05]

Additionally, while pluralistic beliefs may sound very tolerant and enlightened, they do not hold up under, even the slightest, scrutiny. Let's examine the more common ones.


Three Common Beliefs of Religious Pluralism
1) It Doesn’t Matter What You Believe as Long as You're Sincere
But, as Grantley Morris asks, "what if you believe . . .

     All you need for skydiving is a good umbrella

     Plumbers have better cures for constipation than doctors

     Red traffic lights mean 'go'."

And, as he goes on to say, "In the physical world, what you believe is critical. And the same God made the spiritual realm. Try telling a victim of Hinduism that it doesn't matter what you believe. Especially before Christian influence gained momentum in India, millions of Hindus sincerely believed that:

     Baby girls should be drowned in the Ganges so they can be reincarnated as boys

     Surviving widows should be cremated alive with their deceased husbands

     The gross discrimination and prejudice of the Hindu caste system should be enforced

     It is better not to relieve human suffering because that would be interfering with people’s karma" [06]

In this regard, the late Dave hunt tells an amusing, but very telling story. He says he was in hospital for surgery and, during his stay, enjoyed talking to the doctors and nurses "about what really matters". He goes on to say that he was shocked at how many nurses declared they could believe what they wanted. Dave's response was to tell the medical staff to remove the I.V. and let him out of there. This, obviously, met with some consternation until he explained to them that he was not willing to be treated in a hospital where nurses and doctors could believe whatever they want. The staff then explained that they were talking only about religion, and he had no need to worry since here were definite medical procedures for treating patients.

In other words, there are rules for caring for the body but, when it comes to ones eternal soul, anything goes. As Dave went on to say...

    "Such is the irrational thinking engaged in by the majority of people today. They can be very sensible and careful about things in this life, but when it comes to eternity they literally throw reason to the winds. [07]


2) Every Religion Only Has A Portion Of The Truth
A common analogy often used to illustrate the point that every religion only has a portion of the truth is the story of the blind men who are trying to describe an elephant by touching the elephant's body. The blind man who only feels a leg claims the elephant resembles a pillar; the one who feels the tail thinks the elephant is more like a rope; the one who touches the trunk says the elephant is like the branch of a tree, and the one who touches the elephant's side believes the elephant is much like a wall, and so on...

In other words, the parable claims to show that no one religion or individual has the whole picture (truth), and to claim to do so is unmitigated arrogance.

What is truly amazing is how many people nod their heads very wisely at this parable without thinking it through.

The only way this parable makes any sense at all is, if the person relating the story, has seen the entire elephant, which means they are claiming to have knowledge that they say none of the religions have. Or to put it another way. One can only claim that each religion only has a portion of the truth if one knows exactly what the whole truth is.

Unless you have seen the whole elephant.... unless you know what the absolute truth is, your belief that no religion has this truth is nothing but a personal opinion.


3) All Religions Stem From The Same Source

It is sometimes argued that the one omniscient deity created all religions in order to reach people from various cultures and backgrounds, in a way that most appeals to them. Therefore, although their customs and practices may be different, all religions stem from the same source. Advocates of this position often appeal to the common factors between religions, most especially the fact that many of them have a similar moral code and often produce positive moral changes in their followers.

A comment made by "bhinkson41' on an article in Time magazine entitled Viewpoint: The Limitations of Being ‘Spiritual but Not Religious’ by Rabbi David Wolpe, serves to illustrate what seems to be a very common viewpoint...

    All religions have a common moral code and are based on living a moral, positive life.... The difference between a muslim, a catholic, any other religious person and a SBNR is really just specific customs, holidays and traditions, not what is being taught or advocated in each sect. [08]

However, although this theory may, on the surface, sound quite enticing, it has a fatal flaw. We should, for a start, note that not only were several religions founded in opposition to ones existing at the time...

    Buddhism in India blossomed as a result of people seeking freedom from an extremely oppressive, caste-ridden society, which stipulated strict norms of ritualistic worship, and granted special status to just a handful of the "privileged class" of society, while looking down upon the rest of the population. [09] Gautama Buddha rejected the ultimate authority of the Vedas and the caste system creating a new emphasis on renunciation and transcendental knowledge. [10]

    Sikhism came as a challenge to both Hinduism and Islam. Guru Nanak’s disciples rebelled against the established social order and created a whole new identity for themselves. After a vision, the founder, Guru Nanak, said since God was neither Hindu nor Mussulman, the path he would follow would be God's path. [11].

    Bahai: While Baha'ullah considered that "Qur'an held pride of place among the sacred writings of the world", he "did not accept a traditional account of Islam. He rejected polygamy, slavery, and the concept of holy war (jihad). Much of the Qur'anic teaching was modified or explained in an allegorical or metaphorical sense. Thus belief in angels and evil spirits was dropped. Heaven and hell were treated symbolically. In these and other ways the monotheism of Muhammad was liberated from the particular thoughtforms and regulations natural at the time of the Prophet, and were given a new look." [12]

If all religions stem from one source, they have to possess similar truths, at least on the major issues, and this is certainly not the case. A second verse of English journalist, Steve Turner's satirical poem, entitled Creed says..

    We believe that all religions are basically the same,
    at least the one that we read was.
    They all believe in love and goodness.
    They only differ on matters of
    creation sin heaven hell God and salvation. 

And he was certainly right. All the major religions contradict each other on the most vital of issues.


Contradictory Claims
Anyone who insists that all religions are equally true, or at least, there is validity to be found in all religions is ignoring the fact that claims made by one, often flatly contradict claims made by some of the others. In fact they do not agree on the most crucial of all questions... whether or not there is only one God and, if there is only one, who He is, how we relate to Him, what happens to us after we die etc.  For example...

    The Bible says that there is only one God, which Muslims and Jews agree with. In Hinduism, Brahman is often seen as an impersonal absolute reality which permeates all things. However, most Hindus believe in a pantheon of Gods, although some hold that deities like Shiva, Vishnu and Krishna are simply manifestations of Brahman. Buddhism does not believe in God at all. In Shintoism, the indigenous religion of Japan, Kami are the central objects of worship, defined in English as "god", "spirit", "spiritual essence" of nature, as well as spirits of the deceased who eventually becomes a part of a collective ancestral spirit.

    In the Christian tradition, God can be known, while most eastern traditions believe God to be impersonal and unknowable.

    Christianity teaches that when we die, we will go to either heaven or hell. (And no, the Bible neither teaches that hell is an everlasting fiery furnace, nor that heaven is some ethereal place somewhere 'out there'. (See Indepth Articles on Heaven and Hell), while Hindus claim that we are all reincarnated depending on our 'karma'. Shintoism says there is no afterlife, just the here and now -  so make the most of it. Buddhists seek Nirvana, the complete absence of desire.

    Islam denies the crucifixion of Christ, and Judaism denies He was the Messiah... two doctrines that are at the very heart of Christianity.

    In nearly all religions, salvation (if, in many cases, it can even be called that) is attained through human effort.. good works, alms giving etc.. Only in Christianity does salvation come solely as a gift from God  - it cannot be earned through human effort.

In our daily lives we do not believe two contradictory facts at the same time. For example, either the Seattle Seahawks won the 2014 super bowl, or they did not... both cannot possibly be true. Similarly, when it comes to religion...

    Either God exists, or He does not.
    Either there is one God, or there is more than one.
    Either God is knowable, or He is not
    Either Christ is the Messiah, or He is not.

There are no other choices, and no in-between view.

And when it comes to the afterlife, either we are reincarnated, transmuted into Divinity, achieve some kind of mystical supernatural state or, as Christianity teaches, we die once, after which comes the judgment.

If two religions make truth-claims which contradict each other, they cannot both be right. When one religion says there is only one God and another says there are many gods... someone doesn't have their facts straight. God can either be either knowable (Christianity) or unknowable (Eastern religions) ... He cannot be both. When Muslims and Christians claim that each person lives only once, then faces judgment, and Hindus claim that each person is reincarnated many times, one of the two parties is wrong... one cannot 'go to heaven' and be reincarnated at the same time.

Does the fact that your spiritual path may not be any think other than a dangerous delusion not make you even slightly uneasy?


Ambiguity... Restricted Solely to Spirituality
Some people choose their religious beliefs like they choose their food at a buffet...

At a buffet you, like most people, probably take a little of this and a little of that, helping yourself to food that appeals to you and tastes good. But you may very well be adding things to your plate that are not going to do your body any good. In fact, some of your choices might actually do you harm. Think about it for a moment, your selection would probably be very different if you were piling onto your plate only food that was good for you, which would only happen if you had done, at least, some research on basic nutrition.

Similarly, when a people pick and choose from a variety of different spiritual beliefs and practices, they tend to choose what appeals to the palate. The spiritually eclectic might be happy with a spiritual path of their own invention but, sadly, they have never investigated whether their choices are spiritual junk food that, in the end, is going to harm them. They haven't done any study of basic spiritual nutrition and, therefore, have no idea whether what they have is, at best, devoid of any nutritional value or, at worst, carcinogenic.

Just as the pleasant afterglow of a delicious meal does not mean what you ate was good for you, a  sense of emotional and physical well being does not necessarily mean that your spiritual path is wise in the long run, much less that it leads to Deity.

When it comes to the most important issues of life - What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? What happens when I die? Does how I have lived my life matter? Will I be called to account by the Judge of the universe, if such a Being exists? - it is assumed that either we cannot know, or it doesn't matter. Figuring out a belief or practice that "works for me" seems to be as far as many people are willing to take it.

Yet, oddly enough, those who claim that there is no such thing as absolute truth make scores of decisions every day on the basis that they believe some things are true and others are false.

Why?

Simply because whether we realize it or not, or whether we admit it or not, we happen to live in world of absolutes, also called facts.


Dozens of Decisions We Make Every Day, Are Based on Facts not Feelings...
Our world today, especially with the advent of the internet and television, can be extremely complicated, if not downright confusing. We are constantly barraged with, often conflicting, news reports and advertising etc. It is quite obvious that if we have even an iota of common sense, we cannot accept everything that comes down the pike. And, luckily, most people make at least some effort to find out if the claims or statements are true.

In fact, whether we realize it or not, we literally make dozens of decisions every day, based on evidence, not feelings. As Anglican Clergyman, Dick Tripp, so rightly says...

    I will not turn on a light without believing in the reality of electricity, or drive a car without believing in the effectiveness of the combustion engine. No one flying in a cloud through mountainous terrain would want to be directed by a navigator who did not believe in the truth of his instruments. No one undergoing brain surgery would want to be operated on by a surgeon who did not believe that some things about the brain were true and some not true. [13]

Society as a whole, works exactly the same way. For example

    Our entire justice system is founded on the process of finding out whether a person is innocent or guilty of some crime. Evidence is presented, alibis are checked, witnesses are interviewed, with every effort made to determine whether they are telling the truth.  Why do we do this? Simply because there is one truth out there - either the person committed the crime or he didn't. And it is imperative we find out which.

    Similarly, the scene of an accident, especially one that involves several vehicles, can be pure chaos in terms of multiple versions of what exactly happened. One person will usually blame the other, passers by will relate what they saw, or think they saw, and so on and so forth. It often takes a huge amount of sifting through evidence before the truth can be arrived at.

    And, I am willing to bet not too many of us are reaching for our check books to support The Flat Earth Society dedicated to demonstrating that "the earth is flat and that Round Earth doctrine is little more than an elaborate hoax". [14] And why not? Simply because the evidence for a round earth is overwhelming.

There is no question that our feelings or gut instincts do, on occasion, come into play and can even be very useful. For example, we may have a 'feeling' that a particular person cannot be trusted.

However, feelings and facts are not synonymous, simply because feelings can, and are, caused by all manner of things... from how we physically feel that day, what we might have eaten, or what our current circumstances are. Most people can probably recount far more instances when they were wrong about something... when their feelings led them astray. In fact, the high divorce rate in modern society provides irrefutable testimony to the fact that feeling cannot always be trusted. Most people, having met a person they are very attracted to, become convinced that he, or she, is "the one" at least partially based on immensely powerful feelings. They feel very happy, more energetic, need less sleep etc. etc. etc. Yet, how many wind up in the divorce court, fighting often bitter custody and property battles.

On the other hand, facts are always true, and completely unrelated to what people think or believe. For example, believing 2+2=4 is a mathematical fact, regardless of whether anyone believes it, or not.

You are perfectly entitled to hold your own opinion. However, you cannot make up your own truth... not in mathematics, not in science, and not in religion.

The truth does not become 'more truthful' if it accepted by scholars, theologians, experts in various fields, or by the general population. Conversely, the truth does not become 'less truthful' even if no one on earth accepts it. The truth remains the truth... regardless.


...Except, Apparently, When it Comes to Religion
But, for some reason I cannot possibly fathom, the one major exception to logical analysis, is religious belief.

What would any of the spiritually eclectic people say to the doctor who refuses to recommend a definite line of treatment, but suggests that the patient can choose any medicine out there...  any one, or combination, of which should have the desired result depending, of course, on how the patient feels while they are taking it, and whether he, or she, believes it will help. And what shall we say to the insurance agent who tells us that one policy should achieve the same results as all the others. I would be willing to bet good money that the unwell patient would not waste very much time finding another doctor, and the person looking for the best insurance policy has long slung the agent out of his, or her, house.

So, when we refuse to accept ambiguity in virtually every arena of our lives, why are we so willing to accept it in our spiritual lives... the arena that could have the most far reaching consequences of all.

Sadly, precious few who make claims such as 'all spiritual beliefs are valid paths to God" seem to have made an in depth study of various religions to see if their claims are based on fact, or fairy dust. It is usually sufficient that the beliefs and practices they adopt sound, and feel, "spiritual". However, the open acceptance of many spiritual paths, even those that flatly contradict each other on some crucial issues, would be sheer lunacy in any other context.  In fact, we would find ourselves in deep trouble on quite a regular basis, if important decisions were based on how we emotionally relate to something, instead of collecting known facts/weighing all the evidence.

The question now becomes.. are we simply going to delude, or continue deluding, ourselves into believing that two or more contradictory statements can all be true. Or are we going to, like the legendary detective, Hercule Poirot, repeatedly said, stir the little grey cells.

In short, the real issue is not whether you find your spiritual beliefs appealing and whether they seem to work for you, but whether they are true. As Keith Johnson says

    Claiming that it is intolerant to say that "all paths do not lead to the same destination" misses the point. The important issue is the truth or falsity of this assertion. [15]


Charges Often Leveled at Christians...
Christianity claims to be the one and only true path to God, which conflicts with the very popular belief that all religious belief is relative, and all claims to truth are equally valid. This has led to various criticisms, few of which hold water simply because they are aimed at the wrong target.

Accusations Based on The Person, Not His Belief
Among other charges often hurled at Christians are; they are narrow minded and/or bigoted, myopic, need a crutch, are biased, or are Christians merely because they were born into a Christian country or family.

However, if you are paying attention, you might have noticed that, without exception, every one of these criticisms is about the believer, not his belief. The accusations are focused on a fault/failing, or circumstance of the Christian himself. What is being attacked are the Christian's mindset, his character flaws, his emotional needs, his feelings, his biases, his culture, etc.... none of which tells you one single thing about the truth or falseness of his beliefs. None of the objections focus on whether there is good reason for the Christian to believe as he does.... whether what he believes is true.

However much you might disagree with, or even deride, a Christian's reasons for belief, it does not mean that belief is not justified. To learn whether or not the Christian's beliefs are well placed, you have to focus on the beliefs themselves.


You Are Only A Christian Because you Were Born into a Christian Country or Family
Religious pluralists often claim that religious beliefs are relative to geography and culture, not the rationality or truth of the religion itself.

For example, people are Christians merely because they were born into a Christian country, or family. A person who happens to be born into a Hindu family in India... is very likely to be a Hindu. If born into a Muslim family in Saudi Arabia... Muslim. In Tibet... a Buddhist. And had you been born and raised in pre-war Germany, you might have been a Nazi.

So what?

Let's start with the fact that, as Jason Dulle points out, this argument is a double-edged sword. The pluralist can only make these claims because he was born in the 20th century in a western country. Had the religious pluralist himself been born in Saudi Arabia, he would have been a Muslim, and the vast majority of Muslims are exclusively dedicated to Islam. [16]

In any case, geographical/cultural factors are completely unrelated to the truth or falsity of a religion. As pastor Greg Koukl once said (I, unfortunately, cannot find the article in which he said it)

    Consider two men, one a pediatrician in New York and another a pygmy in the Congo. Each describe the cause of sickness in different ways. The pediatrician faults germs, the pygmy, spirits. The doctor invokes medicine for healing, the pygmy, magic. Each believes exactly what his culture has taught him and lives as if it were so. Here is my question: Who is correct, the doctor or the pygmy?

In other words, you can neither validate, nor invalidate, a religion based on how a person came to follow that religion. Just because a person is a Muslim because he, or she, lives in a predominantly Muslim country does not mean their beliefs are true. And it works both ways... Just because a person is a Christian because he, or she, lives in a predominantly Christian country, does not mean their beliefs are false.

Greg Koukl also goes on to point out that Christians are often guilty of the same error. As he says,

    I've frequently heard the content of modern psychology dismissed as bogus simply because it came from irreligious people who hated God. Would these same ideas magically morph into truth when tumbling from the mouth of a Christian? A prominent Christian talk show host dismissed the work of homosexual scientist Simon LeVay in search of a "gay gene" with the remark, " But he's gay." Just because a person may have a motive to deceive, though, doesn't mean his research is deceptive.

It does not logically follow that you have to accept the religion of your family or culture. It doesn't make a whit of sense to assume that just because your parents/family/countrymen believe one way, they are necessarily right. They may very well have done exactly the same thing... unquestioningly followed the belief system of their parents, who might have unquestioningly followed.... ad infinitum. You may begin your life accepting the belief system around you, but once you reach the age of reason, you have the freedom and, may I say it, the responsibility, to examine and evaluate the evidence and claims of your religious beliefs.

Unfortunately, while it may seem evident that most people are capable of discerning simple truth, this may be slightly harder than it appears. Some studies actually corroborate the fact that feelings often outweigh facts. David Haury, associate professor of education at Ohio State University, conducted a study on how people make decisions. He says

    "Research in neuroscience has shown that when there's a conflict between facts and feeling in the brain, feeling wins". [17]

While this study was concerned only with why people do, or do not, accept evolution, there is every reason to believe that gut feeling triumphs facts when it comes to accepting other theories as well. Besides which, the phenomenon known as "cognitive dissonance" shows that once we believe in something, we will try to explain away anything that conflicts with it. [18]

I would, however, like to particularly address two of the charges... that is that Christians are narrow minded and arrogant to think that they're right and other spiritual paths/religions are wrong. There is a huge difference between being narrow minded and empty headed.


Narrow-Minded?

I am sure there is little question that, just like every other group in the world, some Christians are narrow minded. However, we usually consider people "narrow minded" when they refuse to even consider the pros and cons of any opinion, or belief, that does not agree with their own convictions. As said by Glen Miller of The Christian Thinktank... (Bold added, capitals in original)

    "... when a college professor spends 40 years studying all sides of an issue, and TAKES A POSITION on that issue, we rarely accuse her of being 'narrow-minded' even though the position may be the same one held by a narrow-minded type. So you see, just holding strongly to a belief that something is true is NOT necessarily being 'narrow minded'. But, beyond this, the REAL question is more an issue of "is this position TRUE?" than it is of "are they holding it in a narrow-minded fashion?"

    And, practically speaking, we KNOW that wisdom and experience teaches us to trust some options over others. For example, when our doctor prescribes a medication to help us get well, it is not narrow-minded to accept their advice, even though we know there are psychic healers and tribal witch doctors who would urge a different approach. The question is, who has credentials we can trust?

    And, looking at this from another angle, if it were simply one human opinion versus another, we might not be entitled to hold our viewpoints so strongly. But if we become convinced that God has broken into history with a factual message, then it's not narrow-minded to believe HIS statements--its a matter of trusting a credible source of information. (Presumably, He knows the REAL facts.) [19]

An extremely good point brought up by pastor Greg Koukl, and one we need to bear in mind, is the fact that 99.9 % of everything we know comes from someone else, not from our own research. For example, all our knowledge about the universe, the microscopic world, distant lands, and history, comes from one authority or another. The key issue being the reliability and credibility of the source. [20]

Being open-minded does not mean we accept every belief that is out there, but that we do not close our minds off to the possibility that something is true. Only someone who is open-minded will recognize truth when they see it. On the other hand, someone who is narrow minded will not even entertain the possibility that ideas or beliefs, other than the ones they already hold, can be true. Narrow minded people are thus apt to miss the truth.


Arrogance and Bigotry?
‘Bigotry’ is the intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one's own.

The charge is often made that Christians are arrogant and bigoted to think they are the only ones with all the answers, have the only way to God, and that their attitude is nothing more than a version of western colonialism. However, this is little more than name calling by those who have no idea of the premise that Christianity is based on, which is to save people's lives. Lets see if I can, with a very simple analogy, rectify the completely erroneous impression that Christians try to stuff their opinions down other people's throats.... remembering, of course, that most analogies are less than perfect.

When flu season rolls around you are constantly reminded to take your flu shot, especially if you are elderly. This may actually be sound advice since the flu is often a killer (The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 killed over 20 million people). So we are constantly urged to get the shot by the medical profession, the media etc. since it is one way to be pretty sure of avoiding the virus.

However, how many people have you heard loudly protesting that the doctors, nurses and other members of the medical profession are narrow minded fundamentalists, trying to force their views down other people throats. Why aren't we telling these people that they are intolerant and hateful for trying to fob their views off on us? After all isn't it narrow minded to insist that THEIR WAY is the only way to avoid getting sick?

    Even if you happen not to want a flu shot, or do not believe that it helps, you accept that the medical profession is trying to save your precious life.

    And whether you agree with them or not, whether you believe them or not, Christians are trying to do the same thing... warning you that Jesus is your flu shot... the only way to salvation. Not because we said so but because HE did.

Christians do not think they are better than you (smarter maybe) for getting the 'flu shot', because by doing so they are actually admitting they are sinful and in need of forgiveness... that nothing they can do is good enough to get them into "heaven". We are not in God's favor because of our good works, the exemplary lives we have led, or because we are better than everyone else. Much to the contrary, in many instances, I am sure that there are non believers who lead more moral lives then many of us. But for the grace of God, we would be lost.

If you believe that arsenic and sugar are interchangeable, but all the evidence points to arsenic being a deadly poison, would it be intolerant and arrogant of me not to try and convince you to reconsider spooning arsenic into your coffee? Or would it be inhuman of me not to do so?

In the final analysis, the decision to take, or not take, the flu shot is yours, as are the consequences of that decision. However, making that decision without really exploring it, is not good sense.


The Million Dollar Question
The question has to be asked.... what if all paths do not lead to the same destination? When various religious traditions such as Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity offer such radically different views of God, the destiny of the soul, and even the world, then it would seem that each person must make an informed choice.

Anyone who goes through life on an unhealthy diet, choosing only foods that taste good to them, has to accept that there are often severe consequences to these decisions, including increased risk for hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and osteoporosis, among others.

Similarly, someone who goes through life picking and choosing those spiritual beliefs that appeal to them, and appear to do good in the here and now, also has to consider the possibility that there may be even more serious consequences.

But, considering the widely differing claims of the various religions, how does one go about making an informed decision?


Judging Religious Claims
It is indisputable that adherents of most religions, including Christianity, tend to reject most other religions simply because they do not agree with the tenets and teaching of their own faith. For example, a Muslim will reject Jesus as the Son of God because the Qur'an says He is only a prophet. Similarly, Buddhists will reject the idea of a factual 'heaven' since it does not square with Buddha's teachings.

However, it does not follow that there is no objective criteria by which we can evaluate different religious traditions. That there are no standards we can use that are unrelated to, and undistorted by, thoughts, feelings, emotions, personal bias, tradition etc. 

In a June 2010 article by John Blake entitled Are there dangers in being 'spiritual but not religious'? on the CNN web site, someone called "misirlou" made the following comment...

    Being "spiritual, but not religious" is definitely a modern trend, but I don't think it reflects the Burger King-ization of religion. I think it reflects a far more educated and inquisitive society than existed in the past who look at the world around them and realize that religion makes no sense and science provides far better answers to our questions about the nature of life and the universe. Religion has only persisted so long because the general populace lacked access to information and education. Now that anyone can go to college and take science courses, book a trip to another country with a foreign culture, or get on the Internet and do their own research, there are fa. r fewer people willing to be spoonfed a bunch of B.S. and accept it without question.  [21]

Which is as far from the truth as it gets.

Much to the contrary, the very fact that so many people to day are better educated, have access to all kinds of information, and are thus able to do their own research, makes it much easier to use the same tools to judge religious claims that are used to judge any other non-religious claims. In fact, it seems to come as quite a surprise to many that similar criteria used to judge whether something is true in the secular world, can be applied to religious claims.

However, what one cannot do is apply one set of standards, or tests, to secular literature and another to the Bible.

Evidence is neither relative, nor based upon feelings. While you can accuse the Christian's viewpoint as being 'their opinion' or 'their beliefs', you cannot say the evidence is 'their evidence'. Evidence is evidence, whichever way you look at it.


The Criteria

One of the most important factors in any kind of investigation, is the testimony of witnesses, who tell us what they saw, heard and/or experienced.

When a witness testifies in a court case, whether they are believed, and to what extent, largely depends on their credibility. In technical matters, much depends on the witnesses' knowledge, training, and experience. However, in non technical matters, the emphasis is largely on the witnesses' known personal character, lifestyle, and appearance of honesty and forthrightness. A person shown to have lied about other matters, even non-related ones, is far less likely to be believed than one whose character appears to be exemplary. While we might have some sympathy for the boy who cried wolf, we certainly can understand the villagers who ignored him when, at the last, he raised an alarm and this time, there really was a wolf who, if memory serves me right... ate him.

Quite obviously, in the case of events that took place many hundreds of years ago, we have to rely on written accounts, or historical documents. Corroboration of key facts by other witnesses makes the event more credible, especially when it comes from someone who could be viewed as "hostile".

Conformity or agreement with other known historical or scientific facts also helps substantiate the document's accuracy and reliability. In other words, it has to be consistent with other fields of knowledge such as science and archaeology. For example, archaeology can help validate, or repudiate, the historical accuracy which often forms the background to the story. While historical accuracy does not "prove" spiritual authority, it does enhance its credibility in non-historic areas.

Additionally, it should give us considerable pause for thought if a document, known to be several thousand years old, displays accurate scientific knowledge, light years ahead of the periods in which it was written. 


Continue on to Part 3: Faith and The Bible
What most people do not seem to realize is that Christianity is perhaps the only religion that does not demand 'blind faith' from it's followers. CLICK HERE
 


Footnote I
Christians are often accused of being "homophobic" when they state their belief that homosexuality is wrong. However, a "phobic" is a person who has a "phobia", which is a persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear of a specific thing or situation that compels one to avoid it, despite the awareness and reassurance that it is not dangerous. in fact, I know of no case where the suffix phobia does not mean "irrational fear of."

So, 'homophobic' cannot possibly be applied to anyone who opposes homosexuality on moral grounds... And someone who opposes homosexuality on moral grounds does not necessarily mean they hate, discriminate against, or are prejudiced against homosexuals.

Besides which, the term "homophobic" is usually used in a derogatory fashion. So, how is it acceptable for you to call me a less than polite name, but it's not okay for to me to think homosexuality is morally wrong. How is your attitude more 'loving' and 'tolerant' than mine? [PLACE IN TEXT]


Endnotes
[01] Grantley Morris. All Religions Are The Same. http://www.net-burst.net/google.htm

[02] George Barna. Absolute Confusion: The Barna Report. Regal Books, 1994. Pgs. 73 and 80

[03] U.S. Religious Landscape Survey: Religious Beliefs and Practices: Diverse and Politically Relevant, June 2008;
http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report2-religious-landscape-study-full.pdf

[04] Greg Koukl. Religious Stew. http://www.str.org/articles/religious-stew#.U86DNtLn8Vs

[05] Thoughts on the Vedas and the Upanishads. http://www.vivekananda.net/ByTopic/ThoughtsOnVedas.html

[06] Grantley Morris. All Religions Are The Same. http://www.net-burst.net/hot/same.htm#mny

[07] Dave Hunt. An Appeal To Reason. http://www.thebereancall.org/content/appeal-reason

[08] Rabbi David Wolpe. The Limitations of Being ‘Spiritual but Not Religious’ 
http://ideas.time.com/2013/03/21/viewpoint-the-problem-with-being-spiritual-but-not-religious/

[09] Hinduism vs Buddhism - Complementary or Contrary? http://www.dollsofindia.com/library/hinduism-buddhism/

[10] The foundations of Buddhism. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/83184/Buddhism/68648/The-foundations-of-Buddhism
The Gurdwara Sahib. http://neworleansreligion.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-gurdwara-sahib.html

[11] The Gurdwara Sahib. http://neworleansreligion.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-gurdwara-sahib.html

[12] Ninian Smart. The Bahá'ís. published in Religious Experience of Mankind, pages 417-418. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969. As quoted in the Bahai online library. http://bahai-library.com/smart_religious_experience_mankind

[13] Dick Tripp. What is truth and does it matter? http://www.christianity.co.nz/truth1.htm

[14] http://www.theflatearthsociety.org/tiki/tiki-index.php

[15] Keith Johnson. Do All Paths Lead to the Same Destination? http://www.leaderu.com/wri/articles/paths.html

[16] Jason Dulle. You’re only a Christian because you were born in America.
http://theosophical.wordpress.com/2009/10/08/youre-only-a-christian-because-you-were-born-in-america/

[17] When It Comes To Accepting Evolution, Gut Feelings Trump Facts. Research and Innovation Communications. © 2012. The Ohio State University. http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/evolutiongut.htm

[18] http://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/spirituality

[19] Glenn Miller. http://www.christianthinktank.com/thumbs.html. Emphasis Added

[20] Greg Koukl. Testing Religious Truth Claims. http://www.str.org/articles/testing-religious-truth-claims#.U86ErdLn8Vs

[21] John Blake Are there dangers in being 'spiritual but not religious'?
http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/personal/06/03/spiritual.but.not.religious/index.html

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