Reason for God, II

After his introduction on doubt, Keller begins the first section of Reason for God with a look at the seven most common objections to faith in Christ that he has received in his years at Redeemer. The first of these objections is "There can't be just one true religion."

This is the question of exclusivity. "There can't be just one way to God", "Jesus can't be the only way", etc, etc. Keller agrees that one of the major barriers to world peace, is in fact "religion." When you share a common set of beliefs with others, you naturally feel a superiority to those outside of that community who believe differently. The response to religion is then to either outlaw, condemn or intensely privatize it.

Keller states that the trajectory of thinking for many years has been that the more scientifically sophisticated and more able to understand and control our environment, our need for religion would diminish. But this "secularization thesis" has been largely discredited. Relgious affiliation is no where close to diminishing all over the globe. In fact, Keller mentions, that it isn't even the secularized, thin Christianity that is growing, but a robust faith with belief in miracles and authority of Scripture.

Here, Keller gets into some finer detail, because this ethos is becoming more common as our culture polarizes, becoming both more secular and more religious.

"All major religions are equally valid and basically teach the same thing."
How anyone ever makes this argument with a straight face is beyond me, but it is somewhat common. Someone who claims that the doctrinal differences between Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Mormonism, Christianity, etc. are negligible and they all worship the same God is merely developing their own different doctrine as they refute the doctrinal differences between the other religions.

"Each religion sees part of spiritual truth, but none can see the whole truth."
Alas, we find the famed Elephant illustration. You may be familiar with it. Several blind men come up to an elephant and each touches a different part, coming to a different conclusion about what type of object the elephant is. The leg makes it to be thick, like a tree. The ear makes it seem thin and flat. The tale makes it seem snake-like. The illustration backfires because the one who sees this all happening is one who is not blind himself and must be able to see the whole picture.

"Religious belief is too culturally and historically conditioned to be 'truth.'"
Here we find a claim that because we are all "locked into our historical and cultural locations, it is impossible to judge the rightness or wrongness of competing beliefs." Again, the claimant is exempting himself from his own razor. If I were born in Morocco, wouldn't I be a Muslim? Well, if the secularist were born in Honduras, might he be Catholic?

"It is arrogant to insist your religion is right and to convert others to it."
Keller points out that is is certainly a mostly Western idea that it's problematic to believe your religion is "best." It is deeply rooted in Western self-criticism and individualism. When someone claims that a Christian cannot make exclusive claims to a superior knowledge (it's not really superior, but) and that God is unknowable, is not that claim a "religious belief" in itself?

I think I'll save Keller's thoughts on "Privatization" for my next post...


Ben said…
Some thoughts -

Outlaw - It's probably worth mentioning that in developed countries, the non-religious population is actually increasing a bit and that there are studies that link higher IQs with disbelief. Besides, growing religious affiliation does not mean growing Christian affiliation. Christianity is actually shrinking worldwide. Not that this really has anything to do with how true something is.

The Elephant - the illustration doesn't backfire at all. The claim is not that we know for sure that each religion sees part of the truth, but that it is a possibility. One of the blind men could easily come to this same conclusion to explain the discrepancy in their descriptions.

Cultural Conditioning - Again, this argument does not necessarily defeat itself. A person does not need to be exempt from a weakness in order to recognize it. If a group of us were standing in a field, looking at an object in the distance, I could easily point out that we are too far away to make it out. Cultural influence seems to serve as a good model for why certain religious beliefs and practices have changed over time.

Superior Belief - There's a bit of a straw-man argument here. Claiming that God is unknowable is certainly a religious claim, but it is not the same thing as rejecting someone's claim to have superior knowledge - especially if that knowledge does not seem to be adequately supported. Christians are not the only ones with very old books and religious experiences, so I think it's valid to ask for support for their claims.
Jonathan King said…
I'm so glad that you posted these responses, Ben, becuase that is exactly why I have posted some of Keller's thoughts here - to generate some discussion. I should maybe preface each post with an apology to Keller for trying to glean some succinct thoughts that can be posted in brief blog post, but I am trying to stay true to his arguments as much as possible :)

I am still journeying to figure out what I believe about many of these arguments (and the posts to come), which is why I am reading this book and why I have been trying to learn more from the atheist side as well. Not that my goal is to argue or debate someone into the kingdom, but it I am seeing the importance for being able to enter into an intelligent conversation about these objections.

I have heard the high-IQ argument a lot of ways it makes some sense, but I don't totally buy it. Meaning, the intelligensia does not have a monopology on knowledge and I have read atheists who agree. Again, greater knowledge and sophistication is not bringing down Christianity or spiritual belief.

The elephant illustration. Isn't the point that this illustration has been used by skeptics (isn't it largely seen as faulty nowadays?) to claim that religious peoples each have part of the truth? So...that makes the one telling this illustration the only one who can see, right?

Cultural conditioning. Keller ties this together with historical conditioning, so he says that one cannot say "All claims about religion are historically conditioned except the one that I am making right now."

Superior belief. I agree with you, Ben. Christians are not the only ones with ancient texts and we must be good stewards of those texts, understanding what we believe and why we believe it. Is it similarly narrow to claim that one religion is right and to also claim that one way to think about all religions (that all are equally valid or that none can have The Truth) is right?

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