Religious Stew

Author Greg Koukl Published on 02/26/2013

Religious pluralism is the idea that when it comes to religious issues, all roads lead to Rome. This is an approach to religion that is quite popular now, but it admits of a serious flaw.

Religious pluralism is the idea that when it comes to religious issues, all roads lead to Rome. In other words, it doesn’t really matter what philosophy or religion you follow, as long as you’ve got God in there somewhere and you’re following your religion sincerely. This is an approach to religion that is quite popular now, but it admits of a serious flaw.

Forgive me for stating something so obvious, but there is a difference between choosing an ice cream flavor and choosing a medicine. When choosing ice cream, you choose what you like. When choosing medicine, you have to choose what heals.

Many people think of God like they think of ice cream, not like they think of insulin. In other words, they choose religious views according to their tastes, not according to what is true. The question of truth hardly even comes up in the conversation.

More than that, the question of truth is somewhat of a confusing, almost incoherent issue to them. How can you test something like a religious claim to determine if it’s true or not? Religious truth is what you believe. It’s that leap of faith you take. It has nothing to do with reality, ultimately. It is not anything you can test or measure. It is something you have to believe and hope against hope that it’s true. It becomes a kind of wishful thinking, a religious placebo of sorts.

However, I think you can test religious truth, and I’d like to offer one of those methods to you.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a call from a gentleman who challenged me about Eastern meditation. He accused me of not being open-minded in that I wouldn’t meditate to see if meditation was for me. This reveals something about how people choose religion. They choose what they like, rather than what’s true. I was considered close-minded because I wouldn’t try it to see if I liked it.

But this admonition was misplaced because religion isn’t the kind of thing you choose because you like it. It isn’t a matter of tasting, and sampling, and seeing if it appeals to you.

Unfortunately, not only is this a mistaken way of encouraging somebody to engage a particular religious view when done by Hindu or Buddhist or any religion, it is also a mistaken way for Christians to appeal to non-Christians because ultimately it is not going to do the job.

“Try Jesus, you’ll like Him.” Well, frankly, I’ve been a Christian for 22 years and there are a lot of times I don’t particularly like Jesus. He is not my favorite guy sometimes. He is not the kind of guy you like, in a sense. In other words, the appeal of Christianity is not to preferences but to truth. The real question is this: “Is Jesus God, Lord, and Messiah, or not?” That ought to be the watershed issue regarding Christianity.

The real issue is whether your religious beliefs are true or not, not whether you like them, not whether you try them and find them appealing.

I call this idea religious stew—taking little bits and pieces of different religions and putting them together in one ’pious porridge,’ so to speak—the eclectic view, the religious smorgasbord view, where you go down the line and pick a little here and a little there, and you put it on your plate and call it your religion. When you put things on your plate you put them there for a reason. You put things on the plate in a smorgasbord because they are the things you like, not necessarily things that are good for you. That is the same problem with the religious stew approach.

If you have an eclectic viewpoint and take a little here and a little there, how do you know you haven’t just invented a religious placebo that doesn’t do you much good ultimately, but just satisfies your appetite? It may be spiritual junk food, frankly. It may just be empty religious calories—something that appeals to the palate, but does nothing for genuine spiritual health.

Much of religion in people’s lives is a placebo. It’s like a sugar pill that they take to make them feel better—not a pill that does any medicinal good, but a pill that helps them talk themselves into believing it will do some good. A placebo is given to people who are hypochondriacs and aren’t really sick, but just think they are, so you give them a sugar pill. And they think it does some good and they feel better, but nothing has changed.

If you are looking for a religion that suits you, a religion that fits what you like, it may be that you are simply manufacturing a religious view of your own invention. This, of course, is the attack that some have used against Christianity—people like Freud and Nietzche and Feuerbach. They have accused Christians of inventing God out of psychological reasons. We create God in the image of our own desires.

If I were inclined to invent a religion and a god, the God of the Bible is the very last God I would ever invent. I rather like the pantheistic god myself, the monistic god of eastern religions. Eastern religions are high on individual freedom and low on personal responsibility. I like the notion that god is in all of us and we are god, and we are a law to ourselves. Life would be a lot easier if that were the case.

I certainly would not invent a holy God whose perfect moral character becomes the absolute law of the universe. He is utterly demanding, encroaching on every corner of our life. Who would invent a God like that? That isn’t the kind of God that would make me feel more comfortable. That God makes me feel uncomfortable because His demand is so much greater than my ability to deliver.

So I don’t think Christianity’s God is one that is the result of invention. But I think other people’s gods are. And I think there are things about these other gods and other religions that are seriously problematic.

Some might think this idea of testing a religious truth is unusual, an implausible thing in itself, because in this day of religious stew pluralism, the notion that any one religion is true is somewhat anathema. It is impolite. It is incorrect. It is ludicrous. You just don’t say that anymore. It is simply bad manners to suggest there is only one right way. This is why Christians are persona non grata in many cases.

What mystifies people is the suggestion there is even a possibility that one could know whether a religious claim is true or not. After all, religion is what you merely believe. You take a leap of faith and you hope that it is true. It really doesn’t have anything to do with reality. Science measures reality; religion measures this mystical world of faith. We ought not confuse the two such that a test we could use for science can be applied to religion. We must not think we can arrive at something akin to true knowledge in religious areas like we can in scientific areas.

But I actually think that we can. I think that the tools we use to measure reality in other ways can also be used to measure religious truth. I want to talk about one of those tools.

For example, if I told you that out in my car, in my glove box, I have a square circle, how many of you would want to take a peek? I always get a couple of contenders. You are the same people I’d like to talk to about buying beach front property in Montana!

The fact is, there are no beaches in Montana because there are no oceans there, and there are no square circles. There are no square circles because a square circle is a contradiction in terms.

It’s like a person who said, “I met a woman who was ten years younger than her son.” Now, no empirical search is necessary for you to reject this claim. By definition, mothers are older than their children. That is why there can’t be a woman ten years younger than her son. Even if the most brilliant person alive said this to you, you could immediately reject it.

The point I am making is this. There are some particular things you can judge as false without ever leaving the room because a moment’s reflection tells you there is something wrong. Like the mother who wrote to her son in college, “Your sister had a baby this morning. Haven’t heard if it’s a boy or a girl so I don’t know whether you’re an aunt or an uncle.” I think this is the same lady who wrote, “If you don’t get this letter, let me know and I’ll send you another one.”

Listen, there is a problem here. Something is wrong with this and it’s wrong internally. These things can’t be true and so you reject them outright. Why do you reject them? Because they violate a test we call the test of coherence. In other words, it doesn’t make sense; it’s contradictory.

The objection, by the way, to Christianity on the basis of the existence of evil in the world is an objection of this nature. Objectors say Christians believe God is good and that He is powerful. But evil exists in the world, and if God was really all good then He would be willing to deal with the problem of evil, and if He was really powerful He would be capable of dealing with the problem of evil. But evil is still here, so either He is not all good or He is not all powerful. In either case, you have a contradiction, an incoherence in Christianity, and therefore it must be false.

I will tell you that if this objection cannot be answered in the way it was given, then Christianity is refuted, because if a thing can be proven contradictory, it is false. So here is the employment of this test called coherence, or you could just say the test of “does it make sense?” You can apply a test like this to disqualify a religious view.

I think that this question can certainly be answered with regards to Christianity. I have answered it a number of times on the air and I have a talk on the problem of evil where we discuss it. We also have a commentary called “The Strength of God and the Problem of Evil.” It shows that the supposed dilemma offered is not a legitimate dilemma with regards to the Christian view of God. I think it turns out that the presence of evil in the world is one of the best arguments for the existence of God, and not the other way around.

You can see how you can use a test like this called coherence to generally disqualify a view as false, and then it can be rejected. If your belief doesn’t conform to the laws of logic—if it violates coherence, then your view is false. Period.

What about this religious stew view that all religions ultimately lead to God? What it fails to take into consideration is that much of religious truth is actually competing and not complimentary. Religions have contradictory claims. For example, God in the Christian tradition is personal and in the eastern tradition is impersonal. God can’t be personal and not personal at the same time. It’s like turning left and right at the same time. It can’t be done. Christianity teaches that when you die, you will go to heaven or to hell. Eastern religions say you will be reincarnated. Maybe there is some third option. Now you could go to hell or heaven, or be reincarnated, but one thing I know for sure, you are not going to heaven or hell and be reincarnated at the same time. One view must be wrong.

The point is, we can use this test of coherence to disqualify certain views as being false on their face. The religious stew view—the idea that all religions lead to God, that all roads lead to Rome—is false on its face because all religions can’t be true at the same time. The religious stew view must be false according to this test. This is why I reject Hinduism and why I wasn’t at all interested trying it out through meditation. Hinduism teaches that our individual identities are part of a large, divine illusion called Maya. In other words, we don’t really exist as individuals.

Now it strikes me as incoherent that we could know such a thing. How could you know if you were part of a dream? It’s like two characters in your dream asking the question, Do I exist? How would they test such a thing? Everything that they would measure to find out if they were real is not real itself either, only part of the dream. How could they have true knowledge of this?

To put it most simply, does Charlie Brown know he is a cartoon character? Of course not. It is a ludicrous, incoherent kind of concept. That is why in my view Hinduism is disqualified on its face. When somebody say I’m close-minded because I won’t even try it, that’s like a 20-year-old saying to me, you’re so close-minded you won’t even come to my house to meet my ten-year-old mother. It implies that knowing this truth involves an exploration of some kind, and I’m wrong for not taking the effort to find out.

Some things are obviously and irrefutably false. It’s obviously false that a 20-year-old could have a ten-year-old mother. It’s obviously false that individual people can have true knowledge that they don’t really exist and are just an illusion. This is a contradiction and therefore Hinduism must be false. That is why I have no temptation nor feel a rational obligation to even consider Hinduism.

Religious stew has got to be false by its very nature. That is why I reject the notion.