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Are There Many Ways to God?

James Hammond Elephant Pluralism

We live in a society that embraces diversity—different ethnicities, music, TV shows, fashion, food, and the freedom of various lifestyle choices. In such as cultural environment it is considered arrogant to say there is only one way to God. 

If pluralism is the view that there are many ways to God, what do we make of this claim? 

Exclusive Inclusion

Firstly, the very claim that there are many ways to God, assumes that some religions are wrong. Why? Because not all religions are trying to get to God. Most forms of Buddhism, for example, are atheistic and as such the goal has nothing to do with God. Similarly, most forms of Hinduism are pantheistic—you are part of God and the goal is not to reach God, but to realise you are already God.

Perhaps the question could be rephrased as: “are there many ways to reach the ultimate goal?” But even this is too ambiguous for the various religions all have different goals. For instance, if atheism were true, then it would be the case that, regardless of whether you followed Christianity, or Islam, or Hinduism (or atheism for that matter), you would still end up being no more after you die. For under atheism, one’s existence (and that of the universe) is doomed to come to nothing. Alternatively, a Christian could say the ultimate goal is to meet your maker, and yes, everyone will stand before God one day—to be given what they desire, either to be with Him forever or not.

If pluralists are saying it is bigoted to tell others they are wrong—well they have just done that to the extreme, and created their own new religion in the process

But that’s not really what’s meant by the question: “are there many ways to reach the ultimate goal?” What we really want to know is, if you follow Buddhism, can you reach Nirvana; and whether followers of Hinduism also reach Brahma (a ceasing of individual existence and a state of unity with all things); and whether Muslims will also reach their paradise; and whether Christians will be in communion with God forever? 

But the problem with this theory is that it assumes that there is some overarching religious reality above other faiths. It's the God of this overarching religion who is the real Authority who gives everyone whatever they seek. 

We don’t have any evidence for the God of this overarching religion. And if pluralists are saying it is bigoted to tell others they are wrong—well they have just done that to the extreme, and created their own new religion in the process. Alternatively, this claim fails because the religions are seeking contradictory things and making contradictory claims relating to their core beliefs, and, so they can’t all be right (and indeed some must be sincerely wrong). 

Verifiable Claims

So where does that leave us? Effectively, we need to evaluate each of the worldviews and see what they believe and why, and then ask which (if any) is more likely correct. Let me give you one reason to consider starting with Christianity. Many other religions are not really verifiable until after you die (in which case it could be too late). Whereas Christianity is based on the historical claim that the person Jesus of Nazareth really lived, died and rose again (in first century in Israel), and if there is evidence that this is more probable than not, then your search is over. 

Problems with Pluralism

What are some common arguments for pluralism?

Some pluralists argue that if you were born in Pakistan you would have likely been a Muslim, hence one’s belief in Christianity is merely by chance. But if the pluralist had been born in Pakistan he or she would likely have been a particularist (believing there's only one way). This shows that pluralism is self-defeating (it fails to meet its own criteria and hence undermines itself). Hence, the question ought to be, which position is true regardless of which tradition you may have been brought up in?

Some say that all religions are analogous to blind men touching an elephant. One man is holding the tail of the elephant and stating that it is a snake. Another is holding the trunk and saying it is a hose. Yet if the blind men could see they would realise it is an elephant. By analogy, Christianity has a part, and says that God is love, Hinduism says God is infinite, and so on. But in reality, the pluralist says each of the religions only has a limited perspective on the bigger reality. However, this analogy fails for it assumes that there is a privileged position that can see the truth - that it is indeed an elephant, and this is exactly what the illustration is meant to be denying. Interestingly, it is implied that what is needed is some kind of outside revelation to tell the blind men what it really is, and that is basically what Christianity (and other religions like Judaism or Mormonism) claim to be – God telling us the bigger picture. So once again the real question is: “is there any good evidence for a particular worldview?”

I would like to humbly suggest that there are good reasons to think that the Christian position is true and hence, I am not angry that God has only provided one way to Him in the person of Jesus. Rather, I am grateful that, although I didn’t deserve it, God lovingly provided the way for me (and, indeed, for everyone who believes—c.f. John 14:6).[1]


Photos (from top): Suvan Chowdhury; James Hammond

[1] There are many of good books on the veracity of Christianity, one I would recommend is Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 304 pages; Or for further reading on Pluralism one suggestion is: Netland, Harold A. “One Lord and Savior for All? Jesus Christ and Religious Diversity.” The Gospel Coalition. Christ on Campus Initiative. 2008. 37 pages. Available at: http://www.christoncampuscci.o...

David Graieg studied Electrical Engineering at the University of Western Australia and Theology at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is currently undertaking a PhD through Sydney College of Divinity. David has previously taught apologetics in Singapore and worked at City Bible Forum. He runs a Reasonable Faith chapter in Perth. David is married to Grace, and they have three young children.

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