One Way or Many
Reflections on the Revolution in France (J. Dodsley: 1790) pp. 15-6.
It is somewhat remarkable that this reverend divine should be so earnest for setting up new churches, and so perfectly indifferent concerning the doctrine which may be taught in them. His zeal is of a curious character. It is not for the propagation of his own opinions, but of any opinions. It is not for the diffusion of truth, but for the spreading of contradiction. Let the noble teachers but dissent, it is no matter from whom or from what.
Nathan Jacobson » Making the Most of Our Disagreements
The great variety of contradictory religious views is for many reason enough to conclude that there is no truth to be had in such matters, that no one religion is at all likely to be closest to the truth. For example, in his debate with Dinesh D'Souza, John Loftus makes the gravamen of his case against the Christian God these inter-religious and intra-religious disagreements, arguing that in effect they cancel each other out in virtue of the mutually exclusive nature of their claims.1 He does not see, apparently, that by such reasoning, the ageless debate between naturalists and theists is also cancelled, each position nullified. Indeed, every point of view falls prey to such a criterion. When we look within naturalism, we also find denominations and sects, a cacophony of diverse and contradictory positions on fundamental questions. It turns out, the problem of pluralism is an equal opportunity employer. Worldviews are like personalities. Each one is unique. Though there are types of personalities, just as there are broad worldview categories, none is identical. Whatever our worldview, that view must countenance the fact that many others think it mistaken. This is the problem of pluralism. The implication of this reality, however, need not be the defeat of any particular set of beliefs. Rather, the proper response is epistemological. It begs modesty, a profound intellectual humility about our take on reality. And second, it should serve as a call to personal responsibility for our beliefs, and therefore to the epistemic virtues, for there is no consensus on ultimate questions that we can simply adopt by proxy.
The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (Dutton: Feb 2008), pp. xvi-xvii.
A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person's faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection. ¶ Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts — not only their own but their friends' and neighbors'. It is no longer sufficient to hold beliefs just because you inherited them. Only if you struggle long and hard with objections to your faith will you be able to provide the grounds for your beliefs to skeptics, including yourself, that are plausible rather than ridiculous or offensive. And, just as important for our current situation, such a process will lead you, even after you come to a position of strong faith, to respect and understand those who doubt.
The Incarnation: Collected Essays in Christology (Cambridge University Press: 1987), pp. 1-2, 3, 6-8.
There can be no doubt that the doctrine of the Incarnation has been taken during the bulk of Christian history to constitute the very heart of Christianity. Hammered out over five centuries of passionate debate, enshrined in the classical Christian creeds, explored and articulated in the great systematic theologies, the doctrine expresses, so far as human words permit, the central belief of Christians that God himself, without ceasing to be God, has come amongst us, not just in but as a particular man, at a particular time and place. The human life lived and the death died have been held quite literally to be the human life and death of God himself in one of the modes of his own eternal being. Jesus Christ, it has been firmly held, was truly God as well as being truly man. As we have seen, this belief is not only expressed in the doctrine of the Incarnation, but also in countless hymns and devotional rites that belong to the very stuff of living Christianity, not to mention the art and sculpture which it has inspired down the centuries.
Gerald R. McDermott (InterVarsity: Mar 2007), 192 pages.
In the providence of God, why are there other religions? Was the God of the Bible wise in allowing for them? Can they serve any purpose? Gerald R. McDermott explores teaching from the Old and New Testaments and reflections from a number of key theologians from the early church to suggest an answer to this intriguing but perplexing question. In the end McDermott provides considerable insight into the troubling clash of the world religions and offers a helpful Christian response. "Dr. McDermott has written extensively on the world religions from the orthodox Christian perspective. God's Rivals sets forth to answer the questions of whether or not there are other gods, and more importantly Why? Past that the questions really flow, and I personally love his style of giving enough facts from the Bible and historical writings to let the reader begin to form his or her own opinion. The "continuous red thread" is a helpful concept guiding this reader through a difficult forest." ~ William A. Fintel at Amazon.com
Kwame Anthony Appiah (W.W. Norton & Company: Feb 17, 2007), 224 pages.
AAppiah, a Princeton philosophy professor, articulates a precise yet flexible ethical manifesto for a world characterized by heretofore unthinkable interconnection but riven by escalating fractiousness. Drawing on his Ghanaian roots and on examples from philosophy and literature, he attempts to steer a course between the extremes of liberal universalism, with its tendency to impose our values on others, and cultural relativism, with its implicit conviction that gulfs in understanding cannot be bridged. Cosmopolitanism, in Appiah’s formulation, balances our “obligations to others” with the "value not just of human life but of particular human lives" — what he calls “universality plus difference.” Appiah remains skeptical of simple maxims for ethical behavior — like the Golden Rule, whose failings as a moral precept he swiftly demonstrates — and argues that cosmopolitanism is the name not "of the solution but of the challenge." ~ The New Yorker
The Soul of Science (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), p. 154-5.
Throughout the academic world, non-Euclidean geometry was invoked to support a positivistic, anti-metaphysical temper of thought. A culture was assumed to be analogous to a geometry. Both were built on a few postulates chosen from an indefinite number of possibilities; both consisted of internally consistent, interrelated wholes; and both were immune to judgements about their truth or falsity in any ultimate sense. Just as different geometries could all be logically valid, it was argued, so any number of different cultural and ethical systems could all be logically valid. Thus non-Euclideanism became a metaphor for the rejection of all traditional deductive systems — particularly the moral and religious tradition of Christianity. This is not to say that non-Euclideanism is intrinsically anti-Christian or anti-religious. Yet it was invoked as a symbol to deny that Christianity has any claim to a superior or exclusive truth.
Ravi Zacharias (Thomas Nelson : February 2002), 208 pages.
In a world with so many religions—why Jesus? In his most important work to date, apologetics scholar and popular speaker Ravi Zacharias shows how the blueprint for life and death itself is found in a true understanding of Jesus. With a simple yet penetrating style, Zacharias uses rich illustrations to celebrate the power of Jesus Christ to transform lives.Jesus Among Other Gods contrasts the truth of Jesus with founders of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, strengthening believers and compelling them to share their faith with our post-modern world.
Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion (Oxford University Press: 1996), p. 178.
'But if oxen (and horses) and lions.... could draw with hands and create works of art like those made by men, horses would draw pictures of gods like horses, and oxen of gods like oxen.... Aethiopians have gods with snub noses and black hair, Thracians have gods with grey eyes and red hair.' Like many later critics of anthropomorphism, Xenophanes evidently did not question the gods themselves but only their human attributes. Later Western writers think the Greek gods especially anthropomorphic, but gods in many other religions are equally so.
Lesslie Newbigin (Eerdmans: Dec 1989), 255 pages.
How does the gospel relate to a pluralist society? What is the Christian message in a society marked by religious pluralism, ethnic diversity, and cultural relativism? Should Christians encountering today’s pluralist society concentrate on evangelism or on dialogue? How does the prevailing climate of opinion affect, perhaps infect, Christians’ faith? These kinds of questions are addressed in this noteworthy book by Lesslie Newbigin. A highly respected Christian leader and ecumenical figure, Newbigin provides a brilliant analysis of contemporary (secular, humanist, pluralist) culture and suggests how Christians can more confidently affirm their faith in such a context. While drawing from scholars such as Michael Polanyi, Alasdair MacIntyre, Hendrikus Berkhof, Walter Wink, and Robert Wuthnow, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society is suited not only to an academic readership. This heartfelt work by a missionary pastor and preacher also offers to Christian leaders and laypeople some thoughtful, helpful, and provocative reflections.
The Natural History of Religion (1757), Part XV.
The universal propensity to believe in invisible, intelligent power, if not an original instinct, being at least a general attendant of human nature, may be considered as a kind of mark or stamp, which the divine workman has set upon his work; and nothing surely can more dignify mankind, than to be thus selected from all other parts of the creation, and to bear the image or impression of the universal Creator. But consult this image, as it appears in the popular religions of the world. How is the deity disfigured in our representations of him! What caprice, absurdity, and immorality are attributed to him! How much is he degraded even below the character, which we should naturally, in common life, ascribe to a man of sense and virtue!
Dave Hume on Religion said...
The Natural History or Religion (1757), Introduction.
As every enquiry, which regards religion, is of the utmost importance, there are two questions in particular, which challenge our attention, to wit, that concerning its foundation in reason, and that concerning its origin in human nature. Happily, the first question, which is the most important, admits of the most obvious, at least, the clearest, solution. The whole frame of nature bespeaks an intelligent author; and no rational enquirer can, after serious reflection, suspend his belief a moment with regard to the primary principles of genuine Theism and Religion. But the other question, concerning the origin of religion in human nature, is exposed to some more difficulty. The belief of invisible, intelligent power has been very generally diffused over the human race, in all places and in all ages; but it has neither perhaps been so universal as to admit of no exception, nor has it been, in any degree, uniform in the ideas, which it has suggested. Some nations have been discovered, who entertained no sentiments of Religion, if travellers and historians may be credited; and no two nations, and scarce any two men, have ever agreed precisely in the same sentiments.
C.S. Lewis on Pagan Parallels said...
God in the Dock (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1970)
And I still think that the agnostic argument from similarities between Christianity and paganism works only if you know the answer. If you start by knowing on other grounds that Christianity is false, then the pagan stories may be another nail in its coffin: just as if you started by knowing that there were no crocodiles then the various stories about dragons might be helpful to confirm your disbelief. But if the truth or falsehood of Christianity is the very question you are discussing, then the argument from anthropology is surely a petitio.