“All major religious traditions carry basically the same message: that is love, compassion and forgiveness the important thing is they should be part of our daily lives.1” – Dalai Lama XIV
“There are as many paths to God as there are people.2” -Spiritual Science Research Foundation
“I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me.”-Jesus of Nazareth (John 14:6)
Which of these three quotes doesn’t seem to fit? Of course! The one from Jesus of Nazareth! Jesus makes an exclusivist claim here, that there is only one path to God, namely through Him. What I would like to offer in what follows is that some things that seem controversial shouldn’t be controversial once we survey the landscape of truth. In doing so, I will use the example of Jesus being the only path to God and try to show that much of the controversy is unrelated to the evidence but is attributed to other factors. I am talking about controversy in relation to the evidence, as there are many other factors involved such as emotional and moral, etc. However, truth should inform our emotions and not the other way around. I would like to start with an ideology known as religious pluralism, namely that there are many paths to God. This is extremely popular in the media and on university campuses around the country, as well as used to undergird policies of big businesses. Upon further reflection however, this thought process just simply is not rationally justifiable for two reasons:
1. Most religions, while having superficial commonalities, have deep irreconcilable contradictions. For instance, the God of Islam loves only conditionally whereas the God of Christianity loves unconditionally. If one believes we can affirm logically incompatible things then we can live in a world where a married bachelor exists, and 2 + 2 = 5. That is the epitome of absurdity, and so should be rejected outright.
2. Religious pluralism is self-defeating. This means that it is necessarily false, no different than defending 2 + 2 = 5. To see what I mean think about this. Most of the religious people on the planet are exclusivists, whether Jew, Muslim or Christian. What makes one an exclusivist is believing that your way is the exclusive way. To try and demonstrate that they are right, the pluralist has to argue that his/her way is exclusively true and at the same time exclude all exclusivists! This is textbook self-defeating, no different than if I make the claim “there is no such thing as objective truth.” For me to be right, what I said has to be objectively true, but I claimed that there is no objective truth!
So what is actually happening with the three quotes I gave at the opening of the article is that all three are making exclusivist claims rather than just the one from Jesus of Nazareth. This is why it is so critical for us all to train in discerning truth claims. This way we won’t be deceived and hold to self-defeating claims that lead us to serious error on important matters. Why then, if this is so evidently false do so many people hold to it? This leads me to my second point, God and justice.
God and Justice
If there is only one way to God those who reject Him are then responsible to Him for straying from His moral standard and would justly be punished if not reconciled to Him. This would mean, according to the pluralist, that the vast majority of people would miss out and God would be unjust. We all value justice instinctively. We even demand that justice be served when someone (whether us or someone else) has been wronged in some way. Far from this being a mark against God being just, justice can only exist if it is grounded in God’s very nature. In other words, if God does not exist, then justice does not exist. Remember that I have argued elsewhere that if God does not exist then there is no such thing as moral rights or wrongs, or moral goodness or evil3. If that is the case then certainly justice would not exist because justice assumes that there exists evil and good in an objective sense and that if one has violated an objective moral principle then there must be punishment for the violation.
If naturalism is true then there is no such thing as justice in an objective sense, and people who commit atrocities like say Hitler or Stalin get away with what they inflicted on others. If God exists however, justice will be served to wrong doers. No naturalistic mechanism can dish out justice, as the executer of justice must be personal, distinguishing with no partiality between right vs. wrong. So if God does not exist then justice is simply a subjective, privatized illusion to human consciousness because no naturalistic mechanism can deal out reward and punishment.
What I mean by justice is the penalty paid for wrongdoing. For example, say that I get pulled over for speeding (we will assume for the sake of this example that I am driving a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat!). The officer can give me a ticket because I broke the law and there is a penalty to be paid. He could also show mercy and forgive me by letting me go. What I want you to see here is that when he gives me the ticket justice has been served, but he then has to forego mercy and forgiveness. If he shows mercy and forgives me by letting me go, justice was not served. He cannot do both, only one or the other.
The Divine Dilemma
This leads me to what I call the Divine Dilemma. When we commit a moral wrong by straying from God’s moral standard, His justice demands a penalty be paid, but His mercy requires Him to forgive us. God as a maximally great being must be both just as well as merciful. What is God to do? How can He avoid this seeming dilemma? This is where I offer that the God of Christianity alone can solve the Divine Dilemma. Any conception of God that has one divine being (one God) who is one person (Unitarian in personhood) is in the same boat as the police officer, namely he could only forgive OR be just, not both, in which case that conception of God would fail because he would not be maximally great. Christianity on the other hand conceives of God as one being who is so complete in His being that He has three complete sets of rational and cognitive faculties each of which constitute personhood. So we have one God who exists in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is classically known as the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity4, where God is tri-personal in nature as opposed to Unitarian.
Jesus as the Answer to the Divine Dilemma
The answer to the dilemma is Jesus of Nazareth. The second person of the Trinity took on a human nature in addition to His eternal divine nature (two natures in one person) and lived a sinless life, fulfilling God’s moral standard that none of us could keep. He was put to death on a cross and on top of that the wrath of God the Father was poured out on Jesus and God’s justice was satisfied. Now, if we trust in Him as a person and submit to His Lordship we can have the payment of our sin debt credited to our account and therefore be forgiven of our wrongdoing. So only the Christian conception of God seems to be rationally plausible and Jesus is therefore the only way to God.
I hope this helps you understand that some things that seem controversial shouldn’t be controversial once we survey the landscape of truth. Even though I used Jesus as the only way to God as an example, I hope you see the value in what we have done here. We want to examine the underlying assumptions when we deal with controversy and be as objective as possible. We all have biases and presuppositions that we bring to examining any subject, no matter what our worldview may be. The way we deal with these biases is by not letting them affect the results of our analysis. William Lane Craig sums it up nicely when he describes our biases as a chemical catalyst in a reaction.
“Like a chemical catalyst, it guides the research but does not itself become a part of the argumentation in support of the hypothesis5.”
In closing I hope to have offered support for understanding the value of examining foundational assumptions (such as with the religious pluralism examples) by challenging them and surveying the landscape of our subject for truth, whatever that subject may happen to be. Truth is our primary aim and goal, not letting our emotions or unchallenged assumptions rule the day on matters of worldview, no matter how controversial they may seem.