Philosophy of Other Religions

Posted: October 23, 2010 by Cory Tucholski in Philosophy of Religion, Religious Diversity

Many Christians regard other religions as purely false. But that, former preacher-turned atheist philosopher John W. Loftus believes, begs the question:

That although there are many other similar mythological stories told in Ancient Near Eastern Literature that pre-date what we read in the Bible, the stories in the Bible are about real events and real people.

And:

That although a great number of miracles were claimed to have happened in the different superstitious cultures of the ancient world, only the ones in the Bible actually happened as claimed. (source)

What we are here lacking is a philosophy of other religions. How are we, as Christians, to deal with the claims of other religions in a way that doesn’t cast dispersions on the claims of our own? If, for example, I claim that only the miracles of the Bible really happened, what makes me discount the miracles of other religions so readily, when the same evidence for them is available as for the ones in the Bible? By the same token, if the creation story in the Bible parallels ANE creation myths, what makes me so sure that the one in the Bible is true while all of the others are counterfeit?

First, we have to establish an authority. For the purpose of this article, let’s say that the Bible is, as the Christian believes, the only infallible rule of faith and practice. How that can be established is best left for another article.

With the Bible established as our infallible measure of truth, the next question to ask is, “Does that mean that the Bible is the only truth?” The answer is found within the pages of the Bible itself.

In Acts 17, Paul is in Athens, Greece. In verse 22, he begins a sermon in the Areopagus by saying, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.” He notes that they observe religious customs and worship the divine. But the apostle seizes on one aspect of their worship: they don’t know the identity of the divine.

For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, “To the unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. (Acts 17:23-25)

The Greeks knew a god existed, but they didn’t know who he was. Permit me a quick digression. You can look at this device:

And you can look at this device:

And you know that they are both computers, despite the radically different shapes, design, and spatial arrangement of monitors, mice, and keyboards. Now, why is that?

Plato believed that there exists a universal form (often called a Platonic form) of every object that we can perceive and conceive. The Platonic form never exists in fact; it only exists as an object of conception. These Platonic forms contain every aspect of the extant objects they describe. Something like a blueprint, but not exactly because it describes every instance of the object in question not just one instantiation.

So you see the first device pictured, and it fits the bill of the universal Platonic computer form. And so does the second device. That’s great for concrete objects, or objects of perception. But what about abstract objects–objects of conception?

For abstract objects, like peace, justice, or happiness, Plato also believed that a Platonic form existed. These positive traits that I just named, as well as moral values, were sourced in a Platonic form called the good. Since Platonic forms exist based on instantiations of the objects they represent, such forms are abstract constructs of extant objects and thus do not need a “real” existence themselves. However, since no perfectly moral society ever existed, and humans share a vision of what one would look like, the good must exist in point of fact. Somewhere.

The problem is that Plato could never figure out where the good existed. The gods of the Greek pantheon were too busy with in-fighting and settling petty squabbles on the material plane to be it. And no society was ever up to snuff, so that couldn’t be it either.

Paul, however, is answering that question.

We see in the Bible that God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor 14:33). With God as the yardstick by which we measure truth (God is truth; no darkness in him–1 Jn 1:5), we can conclude that “truth” won’t contradict itself. What this means is that truth is truth insofar as there is no contradiction within itself–and that includes philosophies constructed by other religions. These philosophies can point us to a greater understanding of God, so long as we approach them carefully and with the understanding that error may exist in them. However, if we are careful students of the word, these errors should see the light very quickly.

 

 

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Comments
  1. J.W. Wartick says:

    Very interesting discussion, Cory. Do you think there is the possibility of salvation outside of Christianity, then?

    Also, would you say that you agree with neoplatonism constructions of Christian theism?

    I tend to think that platonism in some form is at least partially correct.

    • Nope, I don’t think that salvation outside of other religions is possible. I think that other religions are man’s attempt to reach up to God, which, like the Tower of Babel, is doomed only to failure. God has reached down to man in the person of Christ Jesus, and it is only through him that we will be reconciled to God.

      What I described, incidentally, isn’t proper Platonism. Plato regarded the material world as concrete instantiations of the immaterial world of forms. The material world was bad, the immaterial world good. Therefore, we strive to break ties with the material world. Not a bad formulation, since Jesus teaches something similar with a different justification.

  2. […] the idea that all worldly wisdom should be shunned, just that God’s wisdom is superior. I’ve argued elsewhere that the Bible isn’t the sole source of God’s wisdom, merely the sole infallible source […]

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