Summary: "I am the way, the truth and the life"
Dr Tim Keller is the senior minister in a church next to the world trade centre – the Redeemer Church. And he talks about a debate he was in with a Muslim scholar before a university audience. The debate went on as most of those debates do with perfect civility as they expressed their point of view. The Islamic cleric expressed the fact that in his understanding of the universe there is only one God, he doesn’t have a Son and the idea of God having a son and coming to earth is nothing short of blasphemy. And Dr Keller expressed his view that God the father had a son who at one wonderful moment came to earth and walked amongst us. It’s very clearly different, said Dr Keller. The idea that Jesus came to earth as a man is central to his faith, but a blasphemy to Islam.
Having said this, he was quite perplexed when the first question from the floor from one of the students began like this: “It seems obvious that both of you men are saying the same thing. Both you men really believe the same thing.” And both Dr Keller and the Muslim cleric said no, we don’t believe the same thing. In fact, we believe diametrically opposite things. Both of us can’t be right. Jesus coming to earth can’t be both blasphemy and this most wonderful event in history.
But this student insisted. No, you don’t understand. You’re both saying the same thing! Now what’s going on for the student at this point? He’s no fool. Why is it he can hear one man say something is red, another say it is green and then conclude that they’re both saying it’s brown? I’d suggest it’s because he’s an unconscious victim of a religious ideology that’s dominant in the western world. It’s a dogma normally not thought out, normally not supported by logic or arguments but it’s passionately held all the same. It’s called Pluralism.
The word pluralism of course can be used to mean a number of things. One way of using the term is simply to recognise that there are many different ways of thinking and doing in our society. Different races, different cultures – a sort of social pluralism – that in society there are by definition different ways of being and doing. Not that’s not a bad thing. It’s a self-evident truth in many ways. But accepting that sort of pluralism often leads people into accepting something quite different which is called theoretical pluralism, or philosophical pluralism, or religious pluralism. That’s’ the view the student held. It teaches things like this:
All religions are equally valid. There are many different ways to God. They might refer to the fact that there are many roads up a mountain, but the view from the top is the same. That the differences among religions are only superficial. That anyone who has bothered to study them deeply will recognise that at heart they’re all the same. They all lead to the same goal. That’s Pluralism. Many ways of believing all leading to the same God.
They believe that at the ultimate reality, at the heart of everything, there is plurality there. There isn’t just one ultimate reality, there are many. Whatever you believe to be real, is real. No one will be surprised, no one will be disappointed. So, if you believe that God is love as the Bible teaches or if you choose to believe that God is cruel and indifferent, or if there are many gods – that’s all true. That’s pluralism.
The ethical command of pluralism is very simple – it’s tolerance. That’s the basic command in this religion. You can choose to do whatever you want – well don’t hurt anyone, but basically anything you want – and what you need to do is be tolerant. To be intolerant is the great evil. It is a call to humility to admit that we don’t really know. To admit that if we make truth statements they’re actually taste statements. We might not realize it, but they’re just statements about what we like to believe. What we choose to believe, what we’ve been brought up to believe. Intolerance is the great evil.
There’s some truth to that, of course. Bigotry and intolerance is a source of great suffering. You’ve probably experienced it at some time. That’s why people move in that direction. They can see that intolerance can cause suffering and so they conclude that if we can get everyone to be tolerant the world will be a whole lot better. And the way to get them to be tolerant is not to encourage them to hold their views with politeness and love and kindness but simply to claim that all views are the same. So therefore what is forbidden and what will be punished are any claims to know ultimate truth. Any claims to believe that THIS is true and therefore other views are false. Even if you don’t say it, even if it’s just implied, people will quickly pick it up and you will be punished. And the main punishment is shame. You will be spoken of and spoken to as if you should be ashamed of yourself, as if you are ignorant. Don’t you realize that there are millions and millions of other people who don’t see it your way? You’re arrogant. You just happen to prefer your opinion to others. You’re an imperialist. You’re a narrow-minded bigot, You’re an exclusivist. You think you’ve got a monopoly on the truth and in the end that will be violent and you will treat people with disrespect. It is forbidden.