Posted by: 15shekels | August 8, 2009

Religion a la Carte- the story of a binder

elephant-with-blind-menThree years ago this summer, I began a quest for a religious/spiritual worldview. A product of modern relativistic culture, I decided that the path to discovery should involve studying each of the world religions, and then choosing my favorite. This evolved even further to a liberating decision that I could pick and choose my favorite parts of each. I bought a large three-ring binder, labeled the tabs with the following names- Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Secular, Misc. I bought the following books- Kushner’s “Honey from the Rock, an Introduction to Jewish mysticism”, Krishnamurti’s “On Love and Loneliness”, “Buddhist Texts through the Ages” and, of course, Charlotte Kasl’s “If the Buddha Dated.” I then enrolled in a summer course at my university – Eastern Religion, of course. As I read about Hinduism (in Shankara’s “Crest Jewel of Discrimination” and “the Bhagavad Gita”), Zen Buddhism (in Dogen’s “Shobogenzo” essays) and Daoism, I underlined pieces of philosophy and morality that I found intriguing or appealing. I became an avid pluralist: all of the world faiths are saying the same thing! I loved the elephant metaphor- we are all just blind men knocking into different parts of a huge elephant. If we could see, if we had perspective, we would realize there is one reality!

Pluralism presents the idea that differences in faith are products of differences in culture. The Lord Krishna says it beautifully in the Bhagavad Gita: “However men approach me, even so do I accept them: for, on all sides, whatever path they may choose is mine.”

Culturally, we have slipped past pluralism into relativism- that truth itself is subjective. Joseph Runzo, a supporter of relativism, puts it like this:

“The religious relativist minimally holds the general epistemic view, which I shall designate as “conceptual relativism,” that first-order truth-claims about reality- e.g., that persons or that subatomic particles or that God exists- are relative to the worldview of a particular society…truth itself is relative and plural.” (Runzo, “God, Commitment, and Other Faiths: Pluralism versus Relativism”)

Pluralism and Relativism are both comfortable because they are politically correct. And yet over the following year, as I explored further, the problems with both views became glaring.

Pluralism denies any faith its integrity because in order to find what is common, it strips each one of defining features. We are left unable to say much at all about God without making him too “Christ-like” or “Allah-like” or “Brahman-like.” What we are left with has little power or influence on our lives at all.

And relativism has taken tolerance to a ridiculous extreme. Yes, we should absolutely respect other faiths and beliefs. But is it really necessary to actually say and mean, “What is true for you is true for you, what is true for me is true for me”? When really explored, this is absurd. Either God exists or he doesn’t. If He exists only in our minds and experience and not ultimately, then He doesn’t exist. If He is actually eternal, all-powerful, and before and after all things, then HE EXISTS. Relativism presents the idea that

p = true
not p = true
Therefore, p and not p.

For example
p (God exists) = true
not p (God doesn’t exist) = true
Therefore, God exists and he doesn’t exist.

This is incoherent. If p and not p are both true, then our language and logic breaks down. This can also be applied to
p = there is one God
q (not p) = there are many Gods

And on and on.

Relativism allows for contradictory statements to be true.

We have become so concerned with political correctness and tolerance that we choose either pluralism- thus stripping our faith of any defining features, or relativism- thus stripping our faith (and our thinking) of any logic or coherence.

Put differently, I made that binder because I wanted God and faith to fit to my needs and desires. And yet I was even blinder than those blind men crashing into that elephant. Because if an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omniscient God exists, then perhaps as a tiny finite being I should be asking what I can do for Him, and not the other way around.


  1. […] so I improvised. I made my ¬†religion a la carte binder, and I tried to custom-design a religion that contained the most comfortable, unthreatening, and […]

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