|Carbon River, with Mount|
Rainier in the background.
Anyway, it was a pretty good article (also hike, see photo above), making the case that pure reason is not enough, that we must also show why faith in God is desirable, indeed why God is desirable. This should be no great shock to followers of one J. Christ, who defined the ethical tradition of his people in terms of "love God, and love your neighbor as yourself," breaking the former down as follows:
With all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.
This seems like a good balance. It also fits empirical studies in the sociology of religion, that show that people seldom convert to a new religion unless someone they care about deeply belongs to that religion. This is what sociologist Rodney Stark calls "social capital," which is intrinsically linked to "spiritual capital." We are homo sapiens, so faith should be reasonable. We are also social creatures, so loving God is inherently related to loving others, with the causation flowing from both forms of love to the other.
Anyway, a visitor calling himself (herself?) Rupaul challenged Cook on pluralistic grounds: not that "all religions are equally false," but that they are, if not equally true, more-or-less equally useful. He (she?) expressed ideas one often meets in a thoughtful tone.
I responded briefly on that site, but would like to go into more detail, here.
I don’t have a crystal ball either. But people are aware there are lots of world religions with rich traditions, and it’s not clear that one particular religion has the answers. Metaphysically, they can’t all be right, of course. But most people, not the least Christians, aren’t looking for metaphysics, they are looking for ways to live their life, or to make sense of the suffering in their life.
Notice, first, the words "people are aware there are lots of world religions." This comment may reflect the common pluralist notion, popularized by philososopher John Hick, that world religions are a new challenge to Christian theology. The metaphor Hick uses is the Copernican Revolution. Once upon a time, everyone thought the sun and planets circled the Earth. But then Copernicus discovered that Earth is nothing special, and all the planets really circle the sun. In the same way, Voyages of Discovery showed the West that our tradition is nothing special, that there is a world "out there" of profound truths and deep insight, the world of "pagan" religions. One religion is no better than another, Hick (and other pluralists) conclude: all are reflections of The Real, of whom the Christian God is just one image.
To a large extent, Hick's Copernican Revolution is falsified by one simple fact: early Christians of the Alexandria School were aware, not only of Greco-Roman polytheism, and all the cults that jostled for attention in late Antiquity, of Egyptian or Mesopotamian gods, or even of the theistic schools of Greek philosophy. They also refer to Hindus and Buddhist beliefs. Augustine also responds in City of God to a vast sweep of human thought. He defends the Gospel as the true revelation of God, but also fits truths from other schools into the Christian system, dialoguing with Plato, Epicurus, Varro, Plotinus and Porphyry.
I would agree with Rupaul that there is a lot in other religions about "how to live one's life" that is worth adopting. Clearly, early Christians thought so, too, because they adopted quite a bit of Platonic and Stoic ethics. Mateo Ricci wrote a book called On Friendship that went through many editions in China 400 years ago. The book was mostly composed of quotations from ancient Greek and Roman pagan philosophers. Great modern Christian apologists like GK Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and the Chinese evangelist Yuan Zhiming, also gladly accept moral truth from non-Christian sources -- often fruitfully. "All truth is God's truth," or as Augustine put it, “[a] true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord, wherever it is found . . . ”
I think most people ARE looking for truth (whether or not you want to reduce that to "metaphysics), or should be looking for truth, however inchoatly we may seek it. For example, one reads the Gospels and recognize the "power" of Jesus words -- which means one recognizes that they not only fit the reality of what we are as humans, and explain it more deeply, but help us lead our lives in light of what we now recognize as truth. As CS Lewis put it (I paraphrase), "I believe the sun has risen, not because I see it, but because by it I see all things."
Christianity does have answers for that (multiple answers, since the pluralism outside Christianity is matched by the diversity inside Christianity).
Matched, perhaps, in number of denominations. as the number of branches on a large spreading western maple may match the number of bushes on the hillside around it. But churches that are truly Christian, like the branches on that tree, take nourishment from the same source, and are founded on the same ("genetic") truth, and therefore share more in common than flora growing from other roots.
But the argument from diversity is more like arguing about which the “best” language. The one you grow up in is going to seem natural and obvious, but as you grow up and learn about others you realize that they all seem that way to people who grow up speaking them. This is really the challenge for orthodox Christianity; people “learn to speak” other religious forms. This started in the US with the transcendentalist movement, after Indian scriptures began to be translated into English.
I've read some Indian Scriptures, both Hindu and Buddhist, and find them not so much speaking a different language, as often saying different things. But the funny thing is, when we read the Indian Scripture from a Christian point of view, I believe we can make better sense of them, and even "save" more of them, than we can from either a Hindu or an atheist perspective.
For instance, the most ancient Indian Scriptures talk incessantly about sacrifice. Mohandas Gandhi was repulsed by this, and vehemently rejected blood sacrifice. (Even while feeling that he, himself, might act as a sacrifice for the butchered animals, and also for India.)
The complex set of traditions called "Hinduism" seems to often be in conflict with itself, over sacrifice, and other things.
The Gospel makes sense of both sacrifice, which Jesus fulfilled on the cross, and the disgust over sacrifice, which it helped end in much of the world. That is because Jesus was seen as the fulfillment of sacrifice. The perfect having come, the reality which sacrifice symbolized, it was no longer necessary to sacrifice animals, and those customs were discontinued.
I could give other examples from Indian tradition, and have. Indian tradition as a whole, seems for some to make best sense in light of the Gospel of Jesus, which both critiques and fulfills, challenging error and injustice, and bringing to consumation. This is why J. N. Farquhar called Jesus the "Crown of Hinduism." This is how Clement of Alexandria came to understand the multi-cultural "Greco-Roman" world, which as he pointed out, was really constituted from the contributions of dozens of different cultures. Christ, he believed, lent the various schools of the philosophers new unity.
My only point maybe is that most people “outside” traditional religion, at least in North America, are likely to find debates about philosophy irrelevant, but that they would find messages about Christ’s love inspiring. So far I would agree with you about that, I just wouldn’t expect that to lead them to traditional Christian “belief”.
Yet one of the most insistent messages of the New Atheists, and one with which I and most other Christians fully agree, is that "truth matters." God gave us minds because He wants us to think, and the desire to rationally understand the world is, in fact, a noble and inescapable human need. We make suppress this desire, but it is with us from childhood, which is why we ask our parents so many questions, and why some of us become scientists and scholars. But the thirst for truth is in not limitted to those few, nor is it even always strongest among them.
“Love God and love your neighbor” is all God wants anyway, does it matter if a person also believes in, say, reincarnation? (Sikhs are monotheists but believe in reincarnation, and their tradition/metaphysics is every bit as sophisticated as Christian beliefs. They feed the poor, also.)
But Jesus said "love God with all your mind" as well as "all your strength, soul, and spirit." So even looking just at this verse, "kindness" in the general sense is not ALL God wants of us. He also wants us to seek truth.
And I have argued that the Gospel has uniquely blessed the world, as God promised to Abraham at Mount Moriah.
Or if the God they love looks plural? (Wiccans, some Hindus, Shinto. Why shouldn’t God appear plural, if She can also appear as a Trinity in some religions? If She can incarnate as a person, why shouldn’t she incarnate in nature also?)
Arguing for the particular Christian combination of dogmas just looks like arguing for English as the “best” language. That is where the challenge of pluralism lies.
Truth matters, not only in the sense that God gave us minds, and wants us to use them. It also matters, in the sense that what we believe, affects how we live. For instance, the Aztecs were wonderful polytheists. Only they believed that the gods required human blood to renew the universe, which is why they built pyramids and captured tens of thousands of enemy soldiers. (War was convenient for both, since their enemies and neighbors shared similiar ideas, from the Andes to St. Louis.)
So I do care that reincarnation is false. I also care that after the idea arose in Indian civilization, so did the idea of karma, and with it, caste and gender discrimination as horrendous as anywhere in the world. And it is an objective historical fact that those practices were first challenged by Christian missionaries, like William Carey, and quasi-Hindu followers of Jesus, like Ram Mohan Roy.
"Love" means, among other things, seeking and then teaching the truth. There is much truth in all the world's great traditions, I admit gladly. But I believe Jesus is the incarnation of the divine Logos, and the redeeming, often challenging truth, who calls on us to "repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand," not just to trot off to the right building on Sunday and sing orthodox praise hymns. He wants to remake us, and to remake our world, into something better.
One of the things I believe we can learn from other religions, or rather relearn, is the Taoist concept of wuwei, "lacking force," "without striving."
Ancient Christianity fused with the Emperor Cult of Rome, then borrowed liberally (too liberally) from Greco-Roman, Germanic, and Islamic traditions. As a result, we often tried to force people to believe correctly. Charlemagne forced the Saxons to convert, Inquisitors forced Jews to believe in orthodoxy, Conquistadors imported the idea of jihad to the New World. (Not that the mesoAmericans didn't have their own ideas on the subject.)
Much of this was a terrible perversion of the Gospel. Already Augustine justified abuse of the Donatists, who themselves seemed to have overlooked what Jesus said about forgiveness.
The Chinese evangelist and philosopher, Yuan Zhiming, argues that God raised up Lao Zi as a prophet to the Chinese people, to bring them to Christ. He also believes the concept of wuwei, as exemplified by Jesus, is exactly what China now needs, in seeking reform.
Over the past several hundred years, thanks to Christian thinkers like Las Casas, Milton, William Penn, John Locke, and others -- and yes, some Enlightenment thinkers have contributed -- we have begun I think to understand politics with more of the respect for free choice that Jesus himself exemplified. It does Truth no dishonor to admit pagans sometimes see it more quickly than we Christians. After all, the hero in the story Jesus told after telling us to "love God, and love people" was a Samaritan, who "loved his neighbor as himself," while the Pharisee and the Levite passed by on the other side.