Monday, October 22, 2007

One truth or many truths?

Tuesday's Viewpoint page includes a column ("Find peace within for a nonviolent world") by the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists who was recently awarded the U.S. Congress' highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal. The exiled religious leader makes a passionate plea for freedom, peaceful resolution of conflict and what he calls "inner disarmament" -- the hard work of examining and setting aside our suspicion, hatred and hostility toward others. He then issues an intriguing challenge to all believers:

"A scientist from Chile once told me that it is inappropriate for a scientist to be attached to his particular field of study, because that would undermine his objectivity. I am a Buddhist practitioner, but if I mix up my devotion for Buddhism with an attachment to it, my mind will be biased toward it. A biased mind never sees the complete picture, and any action that results will not be in tune with reality.

"If religious practitioners can refrain from being attached to their own faith traditions, it could prevent the growth of fundamentalism. It also could enable such followers to genuinely respect faith traditions other than their own. While one can adhere to the principle of 'one truth, one religion' at the level of one’s personal faith, we should embrace at the same time the principle of 'many truths, many religions' in the context of wider society. I see no contradiction between these two."

Neither do I. A believer can be utterly convinced that the religion he follows holds the true revelation of God and yet refrain from insisting that everyone else share that view. Better still, the believer can be a devoted follower of one path but admit the possibility that God's love and grace are expansive enough to bless other paths.

At the very least, even the truest of true believers can choose to support a multicultural, multifaith society where freedom of worship is honored. Coercion and conformity lead to the worst excesses of any religion.

And surely we must acknowledge that the fullness of God is beyond human understanding.

"Today, more than ever," the Dalai Lama writes, "we need to make this fundamental recognition of the basic oneness of humanity the foundation of our perspective on the world and its challenges."

This oneness does not mean uniformity of belief. It doesn't mean beating different faiths into a bland ecumenical mush. It means recognizing our common humanity, respecting one another's beliefs and working together in love. Inner disarmament.

What do you think: Can fervent devotion and radical tolerance coexist?

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

Unitary truth is self-obvious. Denial of it is denial of reality.

The better question is how to respond to people you believe are wrong. With kindness and compassion, obviously. Open-mindedness, realizing that while there is one truth, you're human and it may be the other person who has a better grasp on it than you. Tolerance but not necessarily acceptance, allowing others to make up their own minds and face the consequences of their decisions.

Matt Privett said...

What is faith if it is not attached to something? It is faith in faith. A Christian's faith is in an object, the Person of Jesus Christ, and is grounded in God's revelation of Himself in the Bible. The great misunderstanding on the part on those who label such beliefs as intolerant is that we are intolerant of the people themselves. While no Christian is perfect and certainly there is plenty of guilt to go around, a Christian need not respect a differing belief with regards to its truthfulness in order to respect a person's right to that belief.

Someone like myself is seen as intolerant because I'm willing to say that there is absolute truth and it is the Word of God, found in the Bible. But is that intolerance?

Tolerance is not recognizes all faith systems as equivalent. Tolerance is not a recognition of a vague oneness of humanity.

True tolerance is recognizing the right of all to believe as they wish, without detaching oneself from the fundamentals of one's faith.

Fundamentalism is not a dirty word; and the Dalai Lama's road to oneness is a one way trip to the bland ecumenical mush many seem to talk around. But then again the Dalai Lama would probably deny the law of non-contradiction and the existence of absolute truths, so that is not surprising.
I am not disrespecting him when I say he is wrong. All beliefs are not created equal.

Anonymous said...

Matt, short of having no more evidence of your "truth" vs. "truth" of those who ran the planes into WTC on 9/11 what do you think who had more faith in their beliefs? You or those who committed crimes of 9/11? My bet is on the later.

See, you are all atheists when it comes to hundreds of other gods in human history, what makes your god any different? What makes you being right considering there are more people in the world that disagree with you then agree with you?

What I am saying? I am not disrespecting you when I say you are all wrong.

Anonymous, no unitary truth is not self-obvious apparently. Otherwise we would see a different world, perhaps one where reason is considered bigger value then faith.

Kindness and compassion? Where do you get that? I certainly can't find it in Abrahamic religions. Penalty for apostasy in Islam is death (Hadith prescribes it), penalty for not submitting to will of Jesus is eternal damnation in hell (we had to wait for the Jesus meek and mild to get this "just" and proportionate punishment as it certainly wasn't in the OT), penalty for disobedient children, cheating wifes, not being virgin when getting married to a husband etc... in the OT is stoning to death. Compassion? I think not. Love? If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children,and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. - Luke 14:26

The truth is out there, but it is not found in man made gods and religions but in science.

The important thing however is that our founding fathers were right, especially Jefferson when they felt the need to build that wall. It enables our society here to somewhat peacefully discuss this. In many other countries or few centuries back at least one of us or all of us would be either compelled to be quiet fearing our lives, being stoned to death or burnt at the stake. Until then I guess it is all fun and games. So thanks to our founding fathers to grant us this separation that allows us to prosper and move forward. A liberty we enjoy as civilized people despite religion.

Sincerely,
Iztok

D.J. said...

This ought to be a fun one... :)

The short answer to "one truth or many truths" is one truth. As one whose faith is based on a belief that God has perfectly revealed himself through Scripture and the person of Jesus Christ, I must reject the truth claims of Islam (Jesus just a prophet, never actually was crucified), Hinduism (a pantheon of gods), Buddhism (no real deity to speak of, just more of a pantheistic life-force) and others. If the Scriptures are true (and I could not be more convinced that they are), then these other faiths are in error in their understanding of God. That is not intolerance, it is intellectual honesty.

Should we be tolerant of one another? Certainly. Though we must remember that tolerance does not equal acceptance. I champion the right of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and athiests to live freely and believe whatever they want. That does not mean that I accept their beliefs as true. In fact, I will seek to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ with every breath, both with my words and my actions. My faith in God and a love for those around me compels me to proclaim Christ. Others can take or leave that message, but what kind of man am I if I truly believe that the gospel is true yet keep it to myself? Tolerance and evangelism (yes, I said the dreaded "E" word) are not mutually exclusive.

I agree with Matt, the Dalai Lama's brand of "tolerance" will create the very ecumenical mush we've talked about. It sacrifices truth on the altar of false unity.

Iztok is right about one thing in his post - the just penalty of sin is eternal punishment in hell. That is a penalty of which I am deserving. Yet God in his free grace and mercy has given me life through the sacrifice of Christ, and so I now preach, in the words of Richard Baxter, "as a dying man to dying men."

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

Iztok, your belief in science is no less faith. While there may be unitary truth, even the brightest among us only comprehends a fraction of a fraction of it. Instead, we take most of it on faith - faith in men we judge to be experts in their fields.

Most things in life are matters of faith: physics, biology, economics, history, and so on. For example, if you ask your average person on the street if they believe in gravity, they'll say yes. Ask them to prove why, and odds are they won't know where to start. This doesn't mean gravity is invalid, only that we all have limitations and are willing to accept the word of someone else we judge to be knowledgeable in the field.

Faith is life. It's just a matter of who your faith is in and how honest you are about admitting it.

Rod said...

Iztok, you've gone too far this time. I'll not stand by quietly and let you hold up the murdering terrorists of 9/11 as examples of holy faith!!

They are murderers, plain and simple. The lowest of the low. To call them the scum of the earth does a great injustice to the word "scum". They were psychotic killers unable to make any positive contribution to the world in which they lived, so they chose to leave it in a ghastly spectacle guaranteed to get them their headlines and few minutes of posthumous fame.

Such contemptible criminals have no place in a discussion of religious faith.

Anonymous said...

A priest, a minister and a rabbi walk into a bar … and they are all correct. :o)
First, anyone who claims that there is a single true religion is making the basic mistake of projecting his/her humanness on God. God is not bound by our limitations. God can be Christian, Jew, Moslem, Buddhist, Taoist and more all at the same time. It’s blasphemous to force your restrictions on God. He (She? It? They?) can have as many manifestations as he wants and it’s foolish to say that God is limited to less just because we are limited. God is God and does not have human limits.
Christians, of all people, should understand of this multiplicity of “correct” religions. The Christian Bible encompasses the scripture of an entire other religion. Without the Old Testament and Judaism there is no Christianity – so how can any Christian deny the validity of Judaism? In the transfiguration Jesus brought in guest stars Elijah and Moses, strengthening his ties to Judaism as a launching pad for Christianity, another facet of a multi-faceted God. Can any Christian honestly say that Judaism is not a true faith?
Perhaps the root of this conflict among God’s many religions is in the basic human behavior of the practitioners. I reinforce my faith by denigrating yours (although the two are really unrelated). And institutional churches (as opposed to spiritual religion) gather power and wealth by promoting their own beliefs while damning others (who might otherwise get that power and wealth).

Anonymous said...

I think we'd all agree that the people who perpetrated the attacks on 9/11 were scum. No argument there. Of course when compiling a list of adjectives to describe these people, "religious zealot" certainly has to make the list. Remember they're Islamo-Fascists, we can't drop the "Islamo" part any time we see fit.

Right or wrong (and I think everyone would say wrong), THEY thought they were right, and that's the scary part. Some people can get so wound up in their delusional orthodoxy that they commit horrendous acts like these. It's a slippery slope, one day you're denying birth control to 3rd world nations, the next....

I guess my point here is that extremism of any kind is a liability.

Oh, this should not be taken as some sort of defense of Iztok, who is more than capable of speaking for himself. I really wanted to address the idea that just because an act is disgusting, it can't be linked in some way to misguided religious beliefs.

Paul

D.J. said...

Anon, loved the opening line, but I've got to disagree with the rest of the post.

In John 14:6, Jesus said "I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me." This in but one of many examples of exclusive truth claims made by Christian Scripture. Similar claims are made by the Qu'ran, and by other religious traditions. If God is Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Jewish at the same time, then he has lied to us as each. The claims of these manuals are mutually exclusive - they cannot all be true. To assert that all the world's religions can be true at the same time ignores what those religions actually say about themselves.

The parallel that you draw between Christianity and Judaism is misleading - Christians view our faith as the fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures. In other words, the Old Testament is incomplete when not viewed through the lens of Christ, because it acts primarily to forshadow and point to Christ. How can a Christian deny the validity of Judaism? Because Judaism as it exists today rejects Christ as "the image of the invisible God." Thus, though they use the OT as Scripture, their interpretation of it is incomplete. True Judaism, as practiced by those in the OT, looked forward to Christ. See the book of Hebrews for a detailed explaination of this idea.

Frankly, to say that all religions are true is akin to saying that 2+2 can equal 3,4,9, or 847. It denies reality.

Soli Deo Gloria

D.J. said...

By the way...

In my first paragraph, rather than saying "these manuals are mutually exclusive," it should read, "these religions are mutually exclusive." I'm a tech writer writing this on a break at work, and that was some sort of bizarre Freudian slip. :)

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

D.J. – step back and look at what you are saying. In your first example you are doing just what I said we shouldn’t do: you are putting human restraints on God. Jesus said that you reach the Father though him – not through him the man, but through him the God. Who are we to limit God to one manifestation and say that He does not also exist in other ways in other religions?

Your second point illustrates my second point: Institutional Christianity projects its interpretation – a rather circular interpretation, I would point out – on Judaism to devalue Judaism as a less worthy (false?) religion. Again, who are men to tell God who are his children and who are not?

And while I am not saying that 2+2 equals 847, I am saying that 10+10 equals 20 (decimal), 32 (octal) 10100 (binary), 14 (hexadecimal), etc. It all depends on your notation. ;o)

Anonymous said...

Rod,

I went too far? Hey I never claimed faith was a good thing! You can't deny that those who committed 9/11 weren't doing this because of their faith. Can you? Just because someone took the same faith to another level I am not taking it too far, you are. Faith is leading religious people to commit terrible crimes. I am one of the few here in this discussion claiming that faith is bad because it leads to things like that (because of faith not instead of faith!).

You can't put a different definition to avoid such things. Sorry.

Sincerely,
Iztok

Anonymous said...

anon,

I do NOT have belief in science and I certainly don't have faith in it. Faith by definition is unexamined, while science by definition is examined.

You brought up a good example of gravity. Gravity is a fact and there is nothing to believe in. It is observable fact. What you were eluding to (and correct me if I am wrong) is gravitational theory. See these are two different things. Gravitational theory (similar to Evolution Theory with Natural Selection) just describes fact of gravity (or evolution in case of evolution theory). Even if the theory is wrong it doesn't change the fact that gravity (evolution) exists, it just means we need to find a better explanation.

In science the mechanism for improving is built in. (Just look at the progress we've made in last couple of hundred of years in science!) In religion is the other way around. Science has a built in negative feedback mechanism (don't be fooled with term "negative" as it does have a positive connotation here) while religion seems to have a positive feedback mechanism. Science self adjusts through the process as theories are evaluated in order to get out the best possible result in time, while in religion/dogma due to faith (unexamined by definition) we get terrible bloodsheds as a result of "too much faith". (Something we can't really observe from "too much science".)

No, for the last time, science is not belief and faith. We don't believe in science the way you believe your religious texts. We ask for evidence.

Sincerely,
Iztok

Anonymous said...

DJ,

"If the Scriptures are true (and I could not be more convinced that they are)"

Wow, is there something I am missing here? Did they discover evidence of 40 years of roaming on Sinai peninsula? Last time I've checked no such evidence exists.

Sincerely,
Iztok

Anonymous said...

DJ,

God lied? Oh no! :)

Just look at the Genesis. The serpent was right, wasn't it?

Genesis 3:3 "But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die."

Genesis 3:5: "For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil."

Genesis 3:22: "And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:"

So if we recap it, Adam and Eve would not die if gods wouldn't kick them out of the garden or if they had a chance to eat from the second tree (of life) which wasn't forbidden at the first place! In essence the result of eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil wasn't death as God said but knowledge. Death followed only because gods kicked Adam and Eve out of the garden before they had a chance to eat from the tree of life (which wasn't on the list of "not to eat"!).

Something sticks in the Garden of Eden here.

Who told the truth? Serpent or God? The answer is obvious.

For other examples of deception by God (by proxy?) see: 1 Kings 22:23, 2 Chronicles 18:22, Jeremiah 4:10, Jeremiah 20:7, Ezekiel 14:9, 2 Thessalonians 2:11.

Sincerely,
Iztok

D.J. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
D.J. said...

Anon (10/23/07, 4:30 PM)

"Jesus said that you reach the Father though him – not through him the man, but through him the God."

What is your textual basis for this interpretation? If this is what Jesus is saying, think of the silliness of his statement (No man comes to God but through God). It ignores the context of John 14. Jesus is telling his disciples that he will go to be with the Father and prepare a place for them. They ask how they will find the way, since they do not know where he is going. He says "I am the way." He is claiming that he, the person of Jesus Christ, is the only way to God. If that's too ambiguous, look at Acts 4:11-12...

"This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

How much clearer could Scripture be? If you are going to say that Christ didn't claim to be the only way to peace with God, you must blatantly disregard the teachings of Scripture. I am putting no restraints on God - I am simply believing what he has told us about himself in Scripture, that he is not thousands of competing deities (Hinduism), he is not an impersonal force (Buddhism), he is not a glorified man with a physical body (Mormonism), he is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons eternally coexistent as one being.

On your concerns with Christianity and Judaism, I would further encourage you to read the book of Hebrews. The whole of the OT points to and foreshadows Christ. Look at Isaiah 53 for a beautiful example. What is "circular" about the way that the New Testament interprets the Old? Christianity and Judaism are not the same religion, since modern Judaism divorces the OT from Christ. They thus teach very different things about how one finds peace with God.

Your number illustration is clever, but we're not talking about a difference in naming or terminology. We're talking about religions that make contradictory claims of truth. Should we put human limits on God? No. Should we listen when God says, "This is what I am like, and this is what I am not like?" Yes. If you want to claim that all religions believe in the same God, you must throw out the beliefs of each of those religions, resulting in "ecumenical mush" as its been called here.

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

DJ:

Matthew 7:21. Not everyone that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.

My skepticism of a religious institutions is enhanced by Matthew 15:1-9, where Jesus warned his followers to discern between the teaching of God (two simple, great commandments: love God, love your neighbor) and the teachings of man: “BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN."

Your comment that Christianity and Judaism “teach very different things about how one finds peace with God” is valid. But just because one way is correct (for you), that doesn’t mean that all other ways are automatically incorrect (for others). Just as there are uncounted ways to get from uptown to SouthPark, there are uncounted ways to find peace with our Heavenly Father.

Anonymous said...

"Just as there are uncounted ways to get from uptown to SouthPark, there are uncounted ways to find peace with our Heavenly Father."

You mean like crashing a plane into a building full of people? Or blowing yourself up inside a crowded marketplace?

Anonymous said...

No, like being a good Christian, a good Jew, a good Muslim, a good Buddhist.

Christianity doesn't have sole rights to the pathway of Love your God, love your neighbor ... do the will of the father to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

The errant Muslim fails just as errant Christians and Jews have failed throughout history. Don't condemn the faith of a billion people because of the horrible acts of a few. Do that and you'll ultimately condemn all religions.

D.J. said...

There are so many "anons" here that consistent dialogue is difficult, but this is a response to the anon of 10/24/07, 10:41 AM.

If you want to understand Jesus' statement in Matthew 7:21, you must look at the context (as with any attempt to determine the meaning of anybody's words). Look at verses 15-20. Jesus is warning his followers about those who put on the guise of religiosity, but really have no love for God. He uses the analogy of fruit to explain that if one has true faith in God, certain things WILL happen, such as a love for those around you. Thus, reflecting on that truth, he states in verse 21 that there will be many who claim faith but really do not have it. As James says in James 2, "Faith without works is dead." Matthew 7:21 is not an admission that there are multiple pathways to God, but a warning that simply paying lip service to God does not equal faith. The same thing is being addressed in Matthew 15 (as those who are familiar with the abuses of the Pharisaical order Jesus is speaking to will recognize).

"Your comment that Christianity and Judaism “teach very different things about how one finds peace with God” is valid. But just because one way is correct (for you), that doesn’t mean that all other ways are automatically incorrect (for others)."

Yet, if the way I follow is true (peace with God is only possible by faith and trust in the atoning death of Jesus Christ - this is what Scripture teaches), then yes, all other ways are automatically incorrect. As I've said, the exclusivity of the gospel is not cause for me to become brash, arrogant, or self-righteous (far from it), but for met to reach out with the grace and mercy extended to me and proclaim the good news of Christ "as a dying man to dying men."

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

DJ,

"Yet, if the way I follow is true (peace with God is only possible by faith and trust in the atoning death of Jesus Christ - this is what Scripture teaches)"

Is this so? I don't know about your Bible but mine does (contradict) that salvation is not by faith alone.

Just few examples that salvation is not by faith alone:

Matthew 16:27, James 2:14, James 2:17, Revelation 22:14

Sincerely,
Iztok

D.J. said...

Iztok,

You are completely disregarding context with the verses you pull out. Though I know it won't matter to you, here's a brief treatment for any others who may be confused.

In Matthew 16 Jesus says he will repay everyone according to what they have done. That is true - God is perfectly just. However, read that verse in the light of Romans 3. All of us sin, we all fall far short of God's standard. Thus, Christ will repay us all according to our deeds - and that repayment will be judgment for everyone. The only hope we have is in trusting in Christ, in which case Scripture teaches we recieve HIS perfect righteousness (Philippians 3:7-11).

As for James 2, James is responding to a false understanding of what faith is. He is telling his readers that if we have true faith in Christ, it WILL cause us to live lives characterized by the love of Christ. The people James wrote to had the mistaken assumption that faith was but an intellectual pursuit divorced from the real world. James points out that true faith will produces certain things in a person, namely, a character consistent with the object of that faith - Christ. See Jesus' remarks in Luke 6:43-45.

In Revelation 22, what it meant by washing one's robes? Once again, see Philippians 3:7-11.

I've said many times before, friend, to understand the Bible we must do the hard work of searching the entire Scriptures for answers, looking at things in context. Picking verses and throwing them out without any attempt to understand them in context does not a contradiction make. Scripture teaches without reservation that salvation comes "sola fide" - by faith alone. And praise God for that!

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

DJ,

I think you are grasping for straws here. If you search for context outside of the book then you can reach to whatever conclusion you would like. So lets focus on Matthew 16 only. Did or didn't Jesus say that works will be taken into the account? How can you deny what he said?

Matthew 16:24-28 is clear. He will take works into account not just faith. Or are you saying that Jesus will not judge by works? 'coz this is not what he says!

Plus can you show me a single person who has listened to this statement that is still alive? I would love to shake his hand if you can't point out to the person (alive and kicking!) then someone had to tell a fib in Matthew 16:28, right?

Sincerely,
Iztok

D.J. said...

Iztok,

"I think you are grasping for straws here. If you search for context outside of the book then you can reach to whatever conclusion you would like. So lets focus on Matthew 16 only. Did or didn't Jesus say that works will be taken into the account? How can you deny what he said?"

All of Scripture is inspired by the same God, thus to understand Scripture in context we must search and study the whole canon of Scripture, not just practice proof-texting. Works are a natural indicator of faith, as Jesus himself illustrated in Matthew 7:15-20 (also, see James 2, which you seemed to ignore here). But we also must take into account what Romans 3 teaches. Yes, Jesus WILL judge all men by works. Yet none of us is just before his sight. The only ones found acceptable are those who have trusted in Christ by faith and are thus given his righteousness - HIS works. As I said, see Philippians 3:7-11.

"If you search for context outside of the book then you can reach to whatever conclusion you would like."

Actually, the way to reach whatever conclusion you like is to pull out verses devoid of context without evaluating them in light of other parts of Scripture that more fully explain the topic.

Soli Deo Gloria

D.J. said...

BTW,

Jesus came into his kingdom with his resurrection from the dead. See Philippians 2:4-10, Acts 2:29-33, and Acts 28:30-31. Christ's kingdom HAS come, but as he himself said, "My Kingdom is not of this world."

Context, context, context!

Soli Deo Gloria

Nick said...

Jane. All truth by definition is exclusive. Buddhism claims that when I die, my goal is the void. Hinduism claims it's Nirvana. Christianity claims it's Heaven. Atheism claims it's non-existence. Now it could be all of them are wrong, or it could be just one of us is right, but I can be sure it can't be that all of us are right!

Now you talk about bias. I will grant you that I am biased in favor of Christ. What does that mean? It means that I'm going to make sure that everything I say about him is true. You know who makes the most accurate holocaust museums? It's the Jews. Do you think they're biased?

The misconception is that bias automatically leads to a lack of truth. It doesn't. There is negative bias and positive bias. You might as well say we shouldn't have a prosecutor or a defense attorney in a courtroom. Both of them are biased!

Now are there great truths in each of the religions of the world. No doubt. However, does that come through special revelation or general revelation? I believe the answer is the latter as Paul told us in the Acts 17 speech that he is not far from each of us.

If all religions are equally true, then it seems God doesn't care about truth or know it for he can't get his story straight. Jane. If you want to know if all religions are different, there is a simple way to discover that. Read them.

I urge you to do so.