July 9, 2012

Counterfeit Religions II: Why Compare and Study Other Religions?

There is an immense importance for studying other religions in a comparative manner. The first of which is to show the shortcomings of false religions. The second is so Christian believers do not argue from ignorance against someone else's faith. The is especially true when an adherent of another faith knows Christianity better than we do and still chose another religion as superior. What kind of impression does this leave when we attempt to evangelize others. We look like buffoons. Hardly the people to attract a following. I've heard it said, "I don't need to understand other people's religions, I know a counterfeit when I see it." This is just plain foolish and naive. A strong faith is an educated faith that knows the weaknesses of other faiths and how to exploit those weaknesses. Why would we not learn this if it helps our evangelism? How do we ascertain for certain whether something is wrong if we do not first have a measure of truth (absolute) based in determining which worldview/religion best explains things like the existance of the universe and the universal nature of human suffering and death?

The next thing that should be noted from a Christian’s point of view about the importance of comparative religions focuses in on the apologetics aspect. As Christians, we are obligated to give a ready defense of our faith. Part of that ready apologia is the ability to defend it against other claims to truth, so-called religions and other false gods. Part of the ability to do that as a Christian is to understand the other religions well enough to find points of commonality through which to gain an edge into the thinking of that religion’s adherent. IF we blind grope and attack them with poor information and then resort to nothing better than ad hominem attacks, we are being hypocritical to our own faith…and that just isn’t Christian.

Another important reason for studying comparative religion is that it also teaches people about their own religion.  In an honest attempt to ascertain the differences between someone’s faith and another’s faith one needs to come to grips with what they themselves believe or are willing to believe. It is often the case that Christians know less about their own religion, beliefs or worldview than agnostics, atheists or adherents of other faiths. This is a sad state of affairs in The Church-at-large and I have seen it in my own.

The one thing in particular that I will note from John Hicks is that we now live in an age of religious pluralism (i.e.: de facto inclusivism or vice versa). By doing comparative religion we can ascertain through philosophical and logical means the best truth claims about the complex reality and the world/universe around us. What best describes suffering and evil? By fully understanding the similarities and the differences in religions we can see clearly how one would better describe and explain the human condition. Not all religions can corner the market or hedge in absolute truth. If we follow the laws of logic, only one can have a claim on absolute truth about God. If we can intelligently explain through reasoned argument why certain tenants of certain religions describe reality better and hold up better under scrutiny we have a better chance of showing why internally the only true internally consistent religion is Christianity and why it is a better choice morally, ethically and logically.

The issue of intolerance always rears its head in the debate over religion and often rightfully so. Many attack other religions in an uneducated, blindly ignorant and high-handed manner [I’m referring to Christians here]. If we do this and do not treat people with respect due all human beings, how can we ever expect people from different faiths to do the same for us? In the end though…tolerance is not the question or the issue here, truth is. If we deal honestly with other faiths and show how Christianity is similar we have avenues to try and draw people to the faith of Christianity and expose them to the truth. Once within the faith it is easier to teach the truths contained therein.

Conversely, the postmodern world believes that even after you have arrived at a truth claim you should continue to be open minded or “keep your mind open” to other truths. If you have already determined what is true why would you continue to look for the truth you have already found? This becomes an unreasonable expectation/proposition. Why would an observer maintain open-mindedness to a second alternative view when truth can only be one of them and the observer has already determined which is true? It is then the one who disbelieves Christianity in the face of the best truth argument then becomes… intolerant. To continue to stay open-minded in the face of this truth then becomes foolishness. I will be posting a small series soon on postmodernism called The Death of Truth to explain this. 

To borrow a phrase from Highlander, there can only be one (truth). Truth (absolute or objective) in and of itself is exclusive, otherwise it cannot be truth.

Truth is not dependent on a viewer or viewpoint. Real truth is absolute regardless of whether you or I exist or not. That truth is Christ. Just because someone else’s map to the truth is wrong doesn’t mean the truth itself is wrong. In an age or rampant pluralism, now more than ever we need the truth of Christ to survive not only physically but spiritually also.

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