Thursday, May 15, 2014

I'm Sorry, Not All Rivers Flow into the Sea

Fifth Sunday of Easter Year A

“All Rivers flow into the Sea!” An oft-repeated analogy (or over-repeated), that may have had its origin in Hinduism, is used to describe that all religions have an element of truth in them and are thus, equally valid and parallel paths leading to salvation or liberation. Of course, no one bothered to consult a geologist or more specifically a potamologist, a person who studies rivers, to confirm the veracity of this statement. Surprisingly, not all rivers flow into the sea. For example, the rivers flowing south from the Tassili Mountains in North Africa disappear in the searing heat and scorching dryness of the Sahara. Others run into other bodies of water like lakes and even other rivers. So, not ALL rivers flow into the sea!

But say that we accept that most rivers, though not all, do indeed flow into the sea, can we similarly postulate that all religions equally lead to salvation? The equality of the salvific value of each religion is a fallacy, it contradicts logic, specifically the principle of non-contradiction. When one accepts a proposition to be true, one is automatically forced to believe that all statements to the contrary must be false; otherwise one cannot in reality believe what one claims to believe. This basic understanding is derived from the universal law of non-contradiction, without which nothing can be determined to be true or false. In the words of Aristotle, "One cannot say of something that it is and that it is not in the same respect and at the same time", e.g. the man is dead and not dead (at the same time and in the same respect), which is false. Or in the case of religious beliefs, if one religion maintains that there is no God, as in a Supreme Omnipotent Personal Being, and another religion maintains that such a Supreme Divine Being does exist, both cannot be equally true. Or given the gospel reading that we have heard, one cannot both maintain that Jesus is singularly and uniquely THE Way, THE Truth and THE Life as well as also accepting as equally valid that apart from him there are other Ways, other Truths and other sources of salvific Life.

But why would such a fallacy gain such widespread acceptance, to the point of being mistaken by many Catholics as a doctrine of the Church? We live in a free marketplace of religious options. It seems that nearly every belief subscribed to in the history of human civilization is available for us to believe. And so many people take a "mix and match" approach to religion. The New Age phenomenon attests to the fact that people actually attempt to create a "make your own" salad for the soul and there is no shortage of consumers in the market. But we are not saved by a human recipe — we're saved by the Truth. And if something is true, then it must be true for all people at all times or as Pope St John Paul II teaches, “Truth can never be confined to time and culture; in history it is known, but it also reaches beyond history.” Likewise, Pope Benedict reminds us that “truth draws strength from itself and not from the number of votes in its favour.”

Pluralism has become attractive today, especially democratic pluralism which allows for personal freedom and social cohesion of a multireligious and multiracial society. Doctrinal pluralism, however, poses serious dangers. There is a danger that social tolerance of difference becomes personal indifference to values; when the lowest common denominator of public life becomes the major determinant of personal identity; when unreflective acceptance of material values precludes a deeper vision of life. Thus, when trying to find the ultimate common denominator among people of different religious or philosophical leanings, one would necessarily have to preclude God, since some religions and individuals choose not to believe in him. Perhaps another prime example of this danger may be seen in the area of morality, specifically in the degradation and cheapening of sexuality and love.

The most popular of all objections against the claims of Christianity today comes from this field. The objection is not that Christianity is not true but that it is not THE Truth; not that it is a false religion but that it is only A religion, one among many. The world is a big place, the objector reasons; "different strokes for different folks". Thus those who speak of the uniqueness of Christianity or even of Christ are deemed narrow minded and intolerant. Critics of Christianity’s exclusive claims would often co-op God into their argumentation – “God just has to be more open-minded than this.”

In our obsessively politically correct world, many actually no longer worship God, but equality instead has become the New Fashionable Deity. The benchmark for this new deity and his religion is a level playing field, even if this means dragging God down to our level. It fears being right where others are wrong more than it fears being wrong. It worships democracy and resents the fact that God is an absolute monarch. One popular Catholic apologist, Peter Kreeft gives this humorous though damning illustration, “If you confess at a fashionable cocktail party that you are plotting to overthrow the government, or that you are a PLO terrorist or a KGB spy, or that you molest porcupines or bite bats' heads off, you will soon attract a buzzing, fascinated, sympathetic circle of listeners. But if you confess that you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, you will find yourself suddenly alone, with a distinct chill in the air.” You may actually risk being labelled ‘fundamentalist’,   ‘fanatical’ or a ‘religious bigot’.

When people claim that all religions are principally the same, with merely insignificant and superficial differences, as open-minded as they may sound, it actually betrays a certain ideological superiority and ignorance. No one could ever possibly make this claim unless he is abysmally ignorant of what the different religions of the world actually teach. Certainly, there are similarities and analogous parallels, but there are also many differences and even contradictions between truth claims. It doesn’t take a genius to tell you that there’s a world of a difference when one religion that states that there is no God and another one that asserts it, and one could obviously not sweep this inconsistency under the carpet and term it as ‘insignificant’ or ‘non-essential.’ To ignore or to collapse every single difference and contradiction into a single voluminous salad bowl of beliefs is like thinking the earth is flat.

Christianity is not a system of man's search for God but a story of God's search for man. Throughout the Bible, man-made religion fails but God continues to reach down, in spite of our failure. There is no human way up the mountain, only a divine way down. Of course, if these roads to salvation were indeed man made, it would indeed be stupid and arrogant to absolutise any one of them. But if God made the road and the path, He must indeed be a fickle and schizophrenic deity who enjoys confusing his creation by creating contradictory alternatives. But if He made only one path – One Way, One Truth and One source of Life, His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ and the Church which he has left behind as that one certain path for all humanity – then it is humility and not arrogance to accept this one road from God, and it is arrogance, not humility, to insist that all our manmade roads are as good as God’s God-made one.

The Second Vatican Council took a position that distinguished Catholicism from both modernist relativism, that all religions are either the same or that they all have relative value, and fundamentalist exclusivism, which proposes that only the adherents of one religious position can be saved whilst others are damned. The Council taught that on the one hand there is much deep wisdom and value in other religions and that the Christian should respect them and learn from them. But, on the other hand, the claims of Christ and his Church can never be lessened, compromised, or relativised. The Church continues to proclaim that God intends the salvation of all, and he does so through the mediation of His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, and the Church, which is His Body. And yet those who through no fault of their own do not know Christ or His Church, but who follow the dictates of their conscience as prompted by the Spirit, may also be saved. But their salvation too comes from Christ and never apart from Him.

Though the world may appear to be free market place of ideas, opinions, theologies and ideologies, where we are constantly tempted to come up with a recipe or salad of ideas, we Christians have already made our choice. There may be many rivers which may ultimately lead to the sea, but there is only one Way, one Truth and one Life that leads to Heaven, it is Christ, for He is both the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the Source of Life itself and its destined End.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Terms of Use: As additional measure for security, please sign in before you leave your comments.

Please note that foul language will not be tolerated. Comments that include profanity, personal attacks, and antisocial behaviour such as "spamming" and "trolling" will be removed. Violators run the risk of being blocked permanently. You are fully responsible for the content you post. Please be responsible and stay on topic.