Religious Pluralism and the God of 31 Flavors

For my last post in my series on defeater beliefs for Christianity, I want to consider the claim that there is no one true religion. First, a little episode from my past: The little pamphlet read “Come Grill the Christian.” I was the Christian and student group I was with was inviting any students who would come to do the “grilling.” The idea, as we prepared for an afternoon meeting (a few years ago) at the University of Toronto was that everybody likes a good fight, and that Christianity, as the truth, can withstand any attack. There I was, a young philosopher, mixed with a bit of fear, excitement, and faith, waiting for the meeting to begin. As the meeting time drew close, the room began to fill. I realized I would be forced to actually open my mouth and defend Christianity to this eager looking group of students (did I see him lick his lips?). I began the meeting with a very brief description of what it means to be a Christian, and then I opened up the floor and invited anyone to ask a question. At first, the questions were fairly predictable. But, toward the end, as I began to think I was going to make it out of this meeting without my head between my tail, a student began to question the nature of God and the claim that Christianity is the one true religion. He got more and more forceful until he finally concluded (and this was, at rock bottom his reason for not believing in God): “I refuse to believe in that kind of God. God is a God of mercy and love, not a God of judgment and exclusivity.” (That is, God would never allow a good (even religious) person to go to hell just because he didn’t believe in Jesus).

What is most interesting about this student’s view is that he thinks he can pick and choose what God is like—as if God is bound to conform to our desires. And this student is not alone. In our culture, we are often guided more by emotion instead of right thinking—I often find people believing in a god that conforms to their desires, instead of the God that exists in reality. Call this view of God the God of Thirty-one Flavors[1]: “I’ll have a little love and a little mercy, but I’ll pass on all-knowing and just. After all, an all-knowing God knows about my emptiness and my lustful thoughts and my inappropriate and harmful behavior. Further, a just God would hold me accountable when I error. He might even hold me accountable for all of eternity, and I wouldn’t want that.” And so on, goes the internal rationalization.

I wonder if this internal rationalization is going on when it comes to the exclusivity of Christ in the face of all the world religions. This is because popular views such as “all religions lead to God” or “the various religions are just different paths to the same God” are hopelessly flawed and illogical. This religious pluralism is flawed since no adherent of any of the (say) axial world religions would subscribe to it (with the exception of a strand or two of Hinduism). It is a gross distortion of the actual claims of each of these religions to say that what they really endorse is that they are one path among many. And this leads to the second major problem with religious pluralism—it is self-contradictory. For example, Christianity endorses the claim “Jesus is divine,” Islam denies this claim. But the claim is either true or false—either the Christian view is correct (Jesus is divine) or the contrary is true (Jesus is not divine). So, it CAN’T be the case that all religions are equally true—at most, only one religion can be true (or all are false, that is a possibility as well). The law of non-contradiction ensures this result. And this last point moves the issue off of silly ideas like “all religions are equal” to the real issue: what is the evidence for one’s religion? I say, the evidence from nature, history, and human experience is best explained by Christianity.

A final thought. Any conception of God that we form based on our desires (that is, what we want God to be like) will ultimately lead to disappointment. As J.B. Phillips points out, “God will inevitably appear to disappoint the man who is attempting to use Him as a convenience, a prop, or a comfort, for his own plans.”[2]

[1] The slogan “31 Flavors” is from the popular ice-cream chain Baskin-Robbins.

[2] J.B. Phillips, Your God is Too Small (New York: Touchstone, 2002), 49.

9 Responses to Religious Pluralism and the God of 31 Flavors

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