Of Elephants And Faith

Even if Zacharias was right about Christianity, however, does this necessarily mean that all other religions are false? Perhaps they're all teaching the same fundamental truths at their core, using different language, diverse images, and various traditions to communicate basically identical beliefs.

"Some people say that when you strip away everything, all the world religions are essentially teaching the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of humankind," I said. "That would mean that all the world's faith systems are equally valid."

Zacharias shook his head, his face registering dismay. "Only someone who doesn't understand the world religions would claim they basically teach the same thing," he said.

"What do they mean by the universal fatherhood of God when Buddhism doesn't even claim that there is a God? What do we mean by the fatherhood of God when Shankara, one of the most respected Hindu philosophers, said theism is only a child's way to ultimately get to the top, where you find out God is not distinct from you? What then does the fatherhood of God mean? It's an illusion. This fatherhood of God is not a trans-religious doctrine.

"Secondly, the brotherhood of humanity-yes, we are brothers and sisters as fellow human beings, but the only reason we are is because we have been fashioned by God. Once you take that foundation away," he said with a chuckle, "then brotherhood ends up with more hoods than brothers! In sum, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity are not saying the same thing. They are distinct and mutually exclusive religious doctrines. They all cannot be true at the same time."

Still, I wasn't through attempting to harmonize them. "Maybe the various religions each have a slice of the truth," I suggested. "Theologian John Hick said the world religions are different culturally conditioned responses to the ultimately 'Real,' or God." Isn't this like the old story of the three blind men feeling the elephant-each religion is a sincere but inadequate attempt to explain the mystery of God, and so each one is valid in its own way?"

Zacharias started with a bit of philosophical judo. "Either Hick is the product of his own culture or he has transcended his culture in making that statement," he countered. "And if he has transcended his culture, why hasn't anyone else transcended culture? It sounds very academically sophisticated, but it has too many problems at its heart."

"Like what?" I asked.

"For instance, does the atheist have a piece of the truth, or is the atheist marginalized here? If the atheist does have a piece of the truth, which piece is it, since the fundamental tenet of atheism is the denial of God's very existence?"

He paused, letting the question answer itself. Then he added: "I will say this: there are aspects of truth in virtually all of the major religions. They contain some great thoughts and ideas. Reading the notable Eastern philosophers is very, very stimulating. But it's not like we are blind people exploring the elephant, with one person feeling the leg and thinking it's a tree; the other person feeling the trunk and thinking it's a rope; and the third feeling the ear and thinking it's a fan.

"The point is," he said, his voice rising for emphasis, "the parable has already given away the fact that this, indeed, is an elephant! The blind man may tell you it's a tree, but he's wrong. It is not a tree or a rope or a fan. The seeing man knows this is an elephant. He knows the truth; his sight has revealed it to him. And Jesus Christ has made it clear that the eternal truths of God may be known. Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of the gospel-in him, all of truth came together. So while there may be aspects of truth elsewhere, the sum total of truth is in Christ.

"Hick's explanation ignores the possibility that God would reveal himself, and that therefore we can have knowledge of who he is. Instead, Hick has made culture and intuition supreme. But the Bible says God did reveal himself: 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."16

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