Friday, September 30, 2011

Mr. Spock and World Religions

The following article is from the October church newsletter at Redeemer, HB. As I mention at the end, this will be followed up by another article in next month's newsletter picking up where this one leaves off, continuing an apologetics series for the newsletter. While there are many places to begin defending the faith, it seemed good to take up the myth of religious harmony once again. As always, thanks for reading.
It’s time to talk about something inappropriate. No, not politics. Only one forbidden topic at a time please. Let’s get to the real, nitty-gritty taboo of all polite conversations: religion. If you think about it, why don’t we talk this way more often? Maybe it’s not your lead off question on a first date.  But if it’s important as people claim it is, then it’s really a matter of life and death. Not to mention, mankind has a “hardwired” curiosity, a constant quest for truth.
Since we’re talking about uncivilized things, out with the truth: everyone is religious. That’s right; everyone is religious because religions are worldviews. They make certain claims about who we are, where we came from, what happens when we die and so on down the list. A worldview is how we explain and look at reality around us. Everyone who has walked the face of the earth makes religious assertions, or claims, no matter what their worldview is.
Everyone from the First Lady to Lady Gaga has an opinion when it comes to religion (however that may be defined). Religious claims are  a dime a dozen. Here are just a few examples:
·         I believe in God the Father Almighty make of heaven and earth.
·         There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet.
·         There is no god; we are just pieces of insignificant matter in a giant cosmic game of chance.
·         God is an unknowable, unnameable he/she/it.
·         I am not sure if there is a god.
·         Life is meaningless: we came from nothing and when we die we return to nothing.
·         It’s all relative, you have your truth and I have mine.
·         All that exists is what I see and touch, the material and natural world.
·         My faith is true because it makes me feel good and works for me.
Where do you start? How do you spoon through the religious alphabet soup? That’s the problem. It’s overwhelming. Conduct a simple man-on-the-street interview and you’ll find as many religious views as you do people. Again, religions are worldviews. Everyone has a worldview. Everyone is religious.
When it comes to religion there are three basic perceptions:
1.       All Religion is evil and is the source of problems the world over (proponents often cite the events of September 11, 2001 as a clear example).
2.      Religion is a private matter, a preference or taste of each person like your favorite flavor of ice cream: “You can have faith in God but I’ll put my trust in science.”
3.      And lastly, all religions are essentially the same thing; there’s no real, ultimate consequence or significant difference as to which spiritual road you follow.
For now, let’s look at the third point a bit closer. Today’s religious trend resembles a cafeteria style religion: a small order of Muslim discipline, a side of Mormon family values and a heaping portion of purpose driven living from Jesus. There you have it, your fast-food deity: have it your way! Even if one were to work through the religious buffet line in alphabetical order, there would be hundreds of choices before they arrived at Christianity: The Association for Research and Enlightenment, Bahai, Branch Davidians (now there’s a winner), Buddhism, Christadelphianism, Christian Science (which is neither Christian nor scientific) just to name a few.
Huntington Beach alone has at least 65 religious groups or “faith traditions” as they are called these days. You can participate in everything from the blessing of the waves (no, I’m not making that up) to the parade of light under the veneer of religious unity, faith, fellowship and harmony. More importantly, can you imagine the emotional, physical and spiritual toll such an exploration would take on a person making their way through such a list before they made their way to Christianity?

How do we sort out which religion, if any, is true amidst the cacophony of voices clamoring to be heard? First, we must dispel the myth that all religions are essentially the same.
At first glance, the appearance of similar ceremonies, rules, etc. among the world religions has led many to conclude that they essentially teach the same thing. However, this is often the result of people cutting certain phrases or teachings out of context in order to fit their particular worldview. One reason the myth that “all roads lead to the same mountain” is perpetuated is because people want them all to agree. In other words, people want all religions to be the same because they desire religious diversity to give way to a more tolerant, open-minded unity between the world religions. Perhaps you’ve seen the “coexist” bumper stickers. “The desire for religious unity, though not logically justifiable, is eminently understandable” (Tractatus Logico Theologicus). Of course, respect and tolerance are good, but tolerance does not mean acceptance or a denial of true and false.  Moreover, simply wanting all world religions to say the same thing does not in fact mean that they do say the same thing.
In the words of Mr. Spock, “Captain, that is most illogical.” While it is entirely possible that all world religions are false, it is impossible for all world religions to be true. This is basic critical thinking. Though we cannot use our reason to leap through the gates of heaven, Jesus never called us to check our brains at the door. The Bible clearly teaches that the natural mind cannot understand the things of God; God never said we cannot understand simple facts.
Merely focusing on outward similarities only glosses over the underlying differences between each world religion, revealing a fundamental misunderstanding of what each world religion teaches in the first place. Simply put, the world religions are fundamentally incompatible when it comes to their views about who God is, humanity, evil, the history of the world, the source of authority, even ethics and morality, and above all, salvation.
Notice we haven’t said anything specific about Christianity yet. These are simple tools to use in your discussions with friends, neighbors and co-workers. Logic - whether we follow Spock’s advice or not – is common to all people.
Facts are stubborn things. And so are claims to truth. Every world religion (and person) makes them. Therefore, we must ask two basic questions about every claim to truth (religious or otherwise): Is it true and what evidence do you have to support your claim? In other words, how can we know which of the world religions, if any, is true?
Stay tuned for next month’s newsletter when we’ll address several simple ways of answering that question.
For now, at least, we are prepared to hear what Jesus has to say about the current religious chaos. Christianity, following Jesus’ own teaching, makes some radical claims that rule out all other claims to religious truth:
·         Concerning Jesus: “There is salvation in no one else, there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” – Acts 4:12.
·         Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life: no one comes to the Father except through me” – John 14:6.
Christianity rests on these kinds of exclusive claims to truth. Once we have addressed the myth that all religions are the same, we are able to more clearly proclaim the exclusive message of Christianity, the Gospel: Jesus Christ crucified for the sins of the world. His cross is the way, His Word is truth and His death is our life.


  1. Dr. Spock was a pediatrician. MR. Spock is who you are thinking of.

  2. quite right...this is what sleep deprivation does to you.