24. The State of Pluralism

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Andy is in the process of turning his book, Contradict – They Can’t All Be True, into an audio edition.  This episode is a sampling of the work in progress as he reads the first chapter.  The influence of Hinduism in the West with its connections to religious pluralism is addressed, which leads perfectly into next week’s episode asking the question, “Is it OK for Christians to do yoga?”

True for You, But Not True for Me (Or is it?)

 

Truth is not opinion

When speaking with famous atheist, Richard Dawkins, on his Fox News program, The O’Reilley Factor, Bill O’Reilley told Dawkins, “I can’t prove to you that Jesus is God, so that truth is mine and mine alone. But you can’t prove to me that Jesus is not God, so you have to stay in your little belief system.” O’Reilley’s statement fits into a view of truth called relativism. It is common to hear relativistic expressions within and without the Christian community. Relativism holds that truth is relative to each person’s experiences, culture, and needs. Since such guideposts for truth are not universal, truth is subjected to individual determination.  Approaching all truth claims from a relativistic approach fails in three specific ways: failure to distinguish between subjective and objective claims, denies basic laws of logic, and is an inherently self-contradictory worldview.

First, relativism fails to distinguish between objective and subjective truth claims. Subjective truth claims are relative to each individual, because these claims deal in preference and personal opinion, often based on experience and feelings. For example, the best seats at a movie theater are the front rows. There are less people there to bother you, you don’t have anyone sitting in front of you to block your view, you always have a middle seat, and the screen encompasses the totality of your vision. I think the majority of the population would disagree with my claim, judging from my experiences of sitting by my lonesome in the front few rows of movie theaters. Others claim that the middle rows are the best. Others assert the back rows are superior. “The front rows are the best” is a true statement for me, but it might not be true for you, because determining the best row in a movie theater is based on subjective values.

Objective claims on the other hand lie outside of one’s individual partiality and experience for determining their truthfulness. They are unbiased claims that are determined to be true based on external realities that can be verified or tested.   Objective claims pertain to facts, not opinions. Sticking with movie examples, the Best Picture of 2013 according to the Academy Awards was 12 Years a Slave. That is an objective claim. It can be factually verified to be true or false. If it were simply stated that 12 Years a Slave was the best movie of 2013, it would be a subjective claim, because everyone has a different opinion on the matter, but the specific Oscar winner of the 2013 Best Picture award is not a matter of opinion. A movie either won or did not win the Oscars for Best Picture. Relativism fails to realize this distinction by handling objective claims as if they were subjective, which is what Bill O’Reilly failed to do, when saying that “Jesus is God” is his truth, but not Richard Dawkins’ truth.

A second failure of relativism is its denial of basic laws of logic. When relativists state that all religions are true, they reject the Law of Non-Contradiction. The Law of Non-Contradiction states that “A” cannot equal “Non-A”. This means a statement cannot be true and not true at the same time in the same respect. Plugging statements into this equation, “Jesus is God” (Christianity) cannot equal “Jesus is not God” (Judaism and Islam). Already, the Law of Non-Contradiction has disproven the notion that all religions can be true, however the Law of Excluded Middle and the Law of Identity further demonstrate relativism’s denial of reason. The Law of Excluded Middle states that “A” is either “A” or “Non-A”. This means an objective claim is either true or not true.  Jesus is either God or he is Not-God. Finally, the Law of Identity dictates that “A” is “A”; a thing is what it is. Therefore, if “Jesus is God” is a true statement, Jesus must be God.

A third failure of relativism is that it is a self-contradictory worldview. Relativists declare, “All truth is relative.” Yet, in their rejection of the existence of absolute truth, relativists are making an absolute truth claim themselves. If a relativist says, “There are no absolutes,” ask him, “Are you absolutely certain?” If a relativist says, “All truth is relative,” ask him, “Is that relative?” Such simple questions in response to relativism reveal the self-contradictions within such a worldview.

To answer this question directly, objective truth is not a matter of opinion. Jesus is God or Jesus is not God. We cannot have it both ways.   The truthfulness of these two positions is not contingent upon our subjective experiences. This means that it is intolerant to claim that all religions are true, because it would require the erasure, or change, of all exclusive teachings within all of the world’s diverse religious faiths to make them one. If relativism is not intolerance in action, then it must be ignorance that fails to distinguish between subjective and objective claims, denies basic laws of logic, and embraces an inherently self-contradicting worldview.

Consider ordering my book Contradict – They Can’t All Be True! 

 

The Heart Behind Pluralism

The 60s Counter-Culture movement that questioned absolute truth and morality and the objectivity for measuring such standards did so because they saw that people were being killed over differences that weren’t directly affecting them in their personal freedoms.  Different forms of government cause war, cultural clashes lead to hatred, racial differences bring oppression, the physically stronger sex suppresses the weaker sex, and religions… well, I think we know the problems that arise from the interaction of diverse faiths vying for the ultimate authority on the most important questions of life, death, and the after-life.

Crying amidst these clashes over politics, race, sex, and religion, the Youngbloods sang, “Come on people now smile on your brother.  Everybody get together. Try to love one another right now.”  The Beatles sang over and over, “All you need is love.  Love is all you need.”  And after the Beatles broke up, John Lennon sang against fussing over all the different “isms” in the world, when all we really need to do is “give peace a chance.”  The slogan that sums up the Counter-Culture movement was “Make love not war,” and this is the heart behind modern day pluralism, love.

Those who imply pluralism when they use the words tolerance and co-existence are doing so from a right heart position.  From their standpoint, the often times hateful reaction that intolerance offers in response to diversity is the root of our self inflicted pain and suffering upon each other.  If we could only love one another, we could heal the world.  If we could just get to that point that we recognize that we are all brothers and sisters; we could make the world a better place for you, and for me.

Love covers a multitude of sins.  Love trumps all ideologies, philosophies, and religions, and if some refuse to hop aboard the love (pluralism) train because they are still elevating their beliefs over and above love, then all we have to do is convince them that the world’s competing truth claims are actually at their core, the same.  If differences are only aesthetic, then all religions can all be boiled down to one common denominator.  That one common denominator is love thy neighbor as yourself; love is all we need, and that is the heart behind pluralism.

But is it true? Can religions really be reduced to a common denominator?