ChurchETHOS

One God, Two Gods, Three Gods, No God

Posted in christian thought, theology by Nathan Creitz on March 17, 2009

Is it reasonable to believe in god? If there is a god, how do we go about getting to know him / her / them? Has science ruled out the possibility that god exists?

These are a few of the questions that people who are seeking tend to ask. I’ve had this conversation on several occasions with people who are trying to figure out the answers. I’ve come to realize that when someone is seriously asking these questions it is helpful to remove some obstacles so they are free to explore all the possibilities.

The Ignorance of Tolerance

picture-1The first obstacle to people believing in god is the concept of tolerance. I understand where tolerance comes from. Tolerance comes from a sincere desire to keep religions from fighting with one another. The ideal of tolerance is that some people worship god one way, others worship god another way, and it’s okay for them to do that [just don’t be pushy with your beliefs, thank you very much]. The sentiment of a tolerant person is “can’t we all just get along?” — I can appreciate that.

But tolerance is ignorance…

or stupidity (depending on your frame of mind)

Most people simply go along with tolerance as an ideal because it is the foundation of our society (when it comes to various religions). They believe that all religions are equally right and/or wrong so there’s no need to force feed your beliefs on me (ignorance). Others know the shaky logic of tolerance yet remain steadfast and immovable (stupidity).

This needs to change.

Call A Doctor, I’m Feeling Polytheistic!

To help remove the obstacle of tolerance so that we can take another step towards authentic worship of god, we have to talk about the various religions of the world.

Tolerance is built on the foundation that all religions are true. Really? Can any thinking person see the problem with that assertion?

We have to realize that any statement made about god is either true or false – not both. All major religions make one of three basic statements about god: either there is NO god, there is ONE god, or there are MORE THAN ONE gods. When we say that all religions are true and that we should tolerate all viewpoints we are asking people to tolerate lies. Only one option can be correct. God’s existence and being are not dependent upon what I believe about god! God IS and we must either accept him as he IS, or flat out reject him by worshiping a false god of our own imagination.

So, when we survey the major religions of the world we discover several atheistic (no god) religions, several monotheistic (one god) religions, and several polytheistic (many gods) religions. If, for the sake of argument, each of these beliefs had one-third of the world’s population as adherents to their religions, then two-thirds of the world would be wrong! They are wasting their time! (At this point I’m not trying to make a case that my world-view is correct, just saying is all) Their life is being lived in pursuit of a lie! They think they are being sincere, but they are sincerely wrong!

The Truth Shall Set You Free!

But how do we go about discovering which one is true?

Each -theism has it’s own share of problems in establishing it’s validity. Like atheism: Hasn’t science proven that this is the most rational option? Not if god is spiritual and not material. Science has no tools to measure or observe or test the nature of god. I have a feeling that it never will.

What about monotheism and polytheism? If we say god or the gods can’t be observed isn’t that just a cop out? How can we prove there is a god or more than one gods if we can’t use our senses to find out more about him / her / them?

And by the way, do you think it’s remotely possible or even likely that god might have something to say about the matter? Does he know the truth? Has he ever offered humanity a clue as to who he might be? Or how we might know him? Or what his plan is for the universe (much less for little old me)?

The Audacity of Veracity

That’s where our search can begin: with the sacred documents of various religions. Either god exists or He doesn’t, right? If god doesn’t exist then there would not be any sacred documents describing the plan of god, the nature of god, etc. The sacred documents that we do have are simply fantastical human concoctions and to some degree they all share or plagiarize material from one another. All of them are wrong because there is no god.

But, if there are many gods then there could be many sacred documents (which there are). All of them could be true. When the Christian or the Jewish god says, “You shall have no other gods other than Me!” then you could say, well, he’s just upset with the other gods and wants all the power and glory for himself, but he’s only one of many gods. That’s a plausible theory and it actually accounts better for all the sacred documents than atheism. Wherever we are led astray comes from the gods themselves. Maybe one is lying to us by saying he’s the only god.

On the other hand, what if only one document has the Answer everyone is looking for. In that case, only the sacred document from that religion is Truth, all the others are forgeries penned by a man or woman with various motivations for doing so.

It seems to me that we need to search these documents and apply the veracity test to each of them. One could start with the predominant religions in each category. Study the sacred writings of Buddhism (atheistic religion), Hinduism (polytheistic religion), and Christianity (monotheistic religion) and simply see if anything stands out. This would be a good starting place.

Coming to Terms with Reality

One prominent atheist was confronted with all the religions of the world (including atheism) and finally had to conclude that god exists. He felt like all religions were either deep (spiritual and mysterious and only accessible by mystics, gurus and priests) or wide (easy to understand and accessible by the masses). He came to realize that only two religions were both deep and wide: Hinduism and Christianity. Since he had already come to realize that atheism is a lie, he decided to explore these two religions. In the end, after reading the Gospels in the Bible, he couldn’t escape the veracity of the story of Jesus. He couldn’t believe that a human could’ve come up with this on his or her own.

picture-2Though it was perhaps embarrassing for an established professor of literature at prestigious Oxford to admit he was wrong, C.S. Lewis became a Christian. It was the life of Jesus that made the difference. It made sense to Him. He said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen, not because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” His eyes were opened and he was able to see God (notice the use of the capital G). Jesus exudes credibility. The Bible is reliable. God has revealed Himself and He is One God.

Personally, I see the universe around me and I see patterns, I see unity, I see evidence of one God. The person of Christ is unique, the Trinity is unique, the concept of Christianity is unique. It’s simple but it’s mysterious all at the same time. This isn’t proof, it’s just my personal experience of the Truth. I don’t have to prove anything to myself because I already know God. I won’t try to prove anything to you because you may be ignoring God or running from God. I’ll let you decide whether or not knowing God is in your best interests. My hope is that after reading this your curiosity will be piqued and you will have a desire to find out for yourself.

But please, please don’t say you are being tolerant by believing there can be both no god, one god, or many gods all at the same time. If you’ve read this all the way to the end then there is no room for ignorance on this matter any longer. Ignorance is simply not knowing the truth, and that’s fine, some people haven’t thought through the contradiction of tolerance. Foolishness is knowing the truth and rejecting it for selfish reasons. Ignorance is excusable, stupidity is not. After reading this post, ignorance is the only option not available to you anymore. Wisdom puts you on the path to finding God. Foolishness puts you on the path to finding nothing. If you are an atheist, you’ve already found nothing because that’s what you want to find. But for people willing to think, these are the two options before you: wisdom or foolishness.

PostScript

I share this post with you because I love you and God loves you. Truth can hurt sometimes and I don’t share the Truth with you because I’m gloating or angry. I sincerely want people to know God. God wants you to know Him. He’s given you a beautiful creation to enjoy. He’s given you His Word, the Bible, to understand Him. He offers you His love and, though we’ve all rejected Him and could even be considered as His enemies, He still wants to know you. I can understand if this post is offensive and I know you’re desire will be to bang out a hasty response in the comments section. That’s fine, as long as it doesn’t have offensive language, I will publish it. Feel free to ask questions, offer a contrary opinion, or debate my points. Just remember, I want to have a friendly, productive dialogue with my readers. Let this be a space you can use to explore the things I’ve articulated. God said, “When pride comes, disgrace follows, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2)

Related Post: Did Jesus Claim to be God? ::  Subscribe ::

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14 Responses

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  1. morsec0de said, on March 17, 2009 at 2.40 pm

    Tolerance is allowing others to believe what they want without forcing them to change.

    That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to convince them. Or that you shouldn’t believe that your own opinion is the truth.

    So, I’m tolerant of you.

    As far as I’m concerned, you’re free to believe and practice whatever you want. Until, of course, you try to force your beliefs on others, or hurt others because of your beliefs.

    • Nathan Creitz said, on March 17, 2009 at 8.46 pm

      morsecode – I appreciate your comments. Was there any point in particular with which you disagree?

      One comment about tolerance is that you are right, tolerance has to do with tolerating something even if you disagree. But Tolerance as a way of life is much broader than that. Tolerance as an ideal seeks to boil down all the religions to their lowest common denominator with the idea that now we can all get along. Well, as a Christian I do want to get along with people – I’m not looking for an argument – but I don’t want my neighbor to suffer God’s wrath due to their rejection of Him. Therefore, it is my privilege to share the wonderful news that our Creator loves us, and though we first rejected Him, He has made it possible for us to know Him.

      In a sense, I do tolerate people (using your definition) who have different viewpoints than my own. I’m not forcing anyone to accept Christianity (and I hope I made it clear that my post was to invite and promote inquiry and debate). But, if we take tolerance to be the word used to express the idea of harmony and unity among all the religions then I am intolerant. I can’t keep silent because my faith IS different from all the other faiths. For one thing, it isn’t a man-made religion, it’s a relationship with the God of Creation. That’s worth talking about.

      Last of all, I appreciate your willingness to share with me your viewpoint without eviscerating me in the comments. I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts in the future.

  2. poppies said, on March 18, 2009 at 1.27 am

    “Like atheism: Hasn’t science proven that this is the most rational option? Not if god is spiritual and not material.”

    But wouldn’t we expect to see unmistakable material effects of the existence of this spiritual being? Why would God hide now when he was so actively engaged in the material world during biblical times?

  3. the sister-in-law said, on March 18, 2009 at 1.44 am

    I looked up tolerance on Wikipedia, Webster’s, Dictionary.com and several other places, and it is mostly described as appreciation, respect and fairness toward others – I did not find any definitions claiming that tolerance is believing that something is both true and false at the same time. Considering that we are at war right now in which the core conflict is over religious intolerance, it seems to me that religious tolerance is extremely necessary. When it comes to religion, it is clearly not possible, at least in this life, to prove which one is right, or if any of them are right. When it is suggested that all of them could be right, I doubt this is meant to be taken literally.

    You obviously find truth in Christianity, and you don’t relate to other religions because Christianity works for you, and that is a good thing. But you have to know that people of the other religions, or of no religion, must feel just as connected to the truth as you do, and it is certainly, at the least, unfair to accuse these religions of being lies. Regardless of the path we choose, as long as we are able to be good people, we all seem to find our way to the truth, and as long as we are all in the same place in the end, what does it matter what religion we are, if any?

    Just to be clear, I am sending you this comment in the spirit of the friendly, productive dialogue you described. I hope you know I would not try to cause a conflict with you and I hope I have not been offensive. I do find your opinions fascinating and I actually often read your blog. You write very well.

    love ~ Suzanne

  4. Nathan Creitz said, on March 18, 2009 at 6.55 am

    poppies – thanks for the thought. I agree, though God is spiritual He definitely has an impact on the material. After all, He created it in the first place so that’s a pretty strong involvement.

    But I understand the frustration…it’s not like God is leading people with pillars of fire and clouds (as He did with the Israelites thousands of years ago). However, that’s not to say that He never intervenes. I wouldn’t claim to know all of God’s motives but I suspect that since the resurrection of Jesus almost 2,000 years ago there isn’t anything more astonishing or any message more vivid than that (though miracles are still part of His playbook whether or not you’ve seen one personally).

    God has already given us everything necessary for entering into a relationship with Him. That’s why this blog post is encouraging my readers to consider the life of Jesus. I recommend the Book of Mark. Tell me what you think.

  5. Nathan Creitz said, on March 18, 2009 at 7.45 am

    Hi Suzanne – thanks for reading my blog. I know you wouldn’t try to be offensive and you definitely make a valid point.

    The definition you give is the exact definition, but that’s not how it’s used in practice. I’m all for allowing people to live their own lives. You of all people know that I’ve never forced my beliefs on you or other members of the family. In that regard, I’m a very tolerant person.

    However, let me explain how tolerance towards Christians is a very different thing. The definition in practice is “all values, all beliefs, all lifestyles, all truth claims are equal.” I assume, including that one. As a result, if someone suggest that their “truth claim” or “belief” is not equal to another religion, that is intolerance. Again, that may not be the Webster’s definition of “intolerance” but that is the attitude people have.

    What I’m talking about is the ideal of tolerance, which I outlined in the post. Tolerance as an ideal has as its desire to remove all those aspects of religions that are different from other religions. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that the only commonality of all religions is that we are to be selfless. Tell that to John Galt (a fictional character that embodies the Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand).

    We can’t agree on God, no God, many gods, and the majority of people never will. My point is that we are approaching the subject from the wrong direction: OUR perspective. That’s why I raised the question “Is it likely that god might have something to say about the matter?” The good news is that He does.

    Religion is humanity’s attempt to know God, be god, or destroy god. Most people agree with the idea that religions are like paths that all lead to the same God. We are all simply on other paths but we are on the same mountain. The image in my mind is some old white guy with a long white beard sitting cross-legged at the top of a mountain. I guess he’s passively up there waiting on everyone to figure it all out.

    Christianity tells a different story. It is the ONLY “religion” that describes things in this unique way. That is, that God is not a passive God waiting at the top of some mountain like it’s some game of “Amazing Race”. When someone attains Nirvana, or has a spiritual experience he’s ready to say, “Welcome to the top of the mountain.” Interestingly, Gandhi believed in this multiple paths to the same God metaphor. At the end of his life he said he never found God. Sad that such a great man and one who I have tremendous respect for never experienced God.

    Instead, the Bible suggests that we can’t know God. We are enemies of God. Everything we do is destructive to His creation, to ourselves, to each other, but ultimately, because people reject Him, we’ve destroyed our relationship with Him. Wars are sometimes fought over religious intolerance (as you rightly suggested) but there is a deeper reason: humanity is corrupted because it has rejected God. Christianity (as a religion) is not exempt from this sort of corruption. I’m certainly aware of all the injustices that have been done globally in the name of Christianity. But, having read the life of Jesus many times, I can safely and confidently say, they were not doing those things on His behalf!

    There was nothing that could be done for us to be restored to God. We can’t pray five times daily and make a pilgrimage, we can’t rub a Buddha belly, we can’t venerate cows, we can’t expect God to love us because we refuse to murder a bug or because we’ve taken a vow of silence or poverty or vegetarianism. Even if we come up with a cure for cancer or eliminate environmental degradation, none of that will restore us to God. It’s impossible.

    That’s what’s different about Christianity. Every other religion says here’s something you can do. Christianity (I should say, “The Bible”) says you can’t do anything. Every other religion says we are all on the different paths to the same God. The Bible says there’s only one path. Every other religion says it’s up to you to find a path. The Bible says the path has already been provided…for everyone! Every other religion implies that God is passive. The Bible records the history and the promises of a God who is active and is acting lovingly to restore people to Himself.

    So, though I may not have done a good job of explaining what I meant by tolerance, I think you can see where I’m going with all of this. My larger point was to suggest that it is impossible to state that all religions are the same or equally valid. My point made above is that we have to realize that some religions are simply wrong. I’m not trying to be intolerant. If people choose to live their lives ignoring Truth fine. But for those people who sincerely want to know God I’m trying to help them see the Truth that they desperately seek.

  6. morsec0de said, on March 18, 2009 at 8.12 am

    “But, if we take tolerance to be the word used to express the idea of harmony and unity among all the religions then I am intolerant.”

    As am I. Particularly as I view certain religions to be legitimately harmful to individuals and society.

    One of the great contradictions of my form of tolerance is that I cannot tolerate intolerance.

  7. poppies said, on March 19, 2009 at 2.26 am

    “miracles are still part of His playbook whether or not you’ve seen one personally”

    Really? Do you have proof of this?

  8. Nathan Creitz said, on March 19, 2009 at 7.54 am

    morsecode – I’m glad you recognize the contradiction 😉 Most people don’t.

    poppies – I can’t give you universal proof. My experience of God, my observation of miracles won’t be admissible in your court. I can actually give you dozens of stories of God’s miraculous intervention in my life and in the lives of people close to me and it probably wouldn’t make a difference to you.

    But, that’s not what this post is about. I’m trying to make one main point before I can move on to other points and that is that in the name of tolerance we are allowing ALL religions to coexist as if they were all equally valid. I’m trying to suggest that some religions MUST be false. For example, if polytheism is false then all polytheistic religions are false. People can be sincere in their worship but they can also be sincerely wrong. I’m asking the three of you who are reading this blog to either reject that line of logic or accept it. If you accept it then I can move on to another post that builds off of this one. If you reject it, I would like to know on what basis you reject it. Am I missing something? Let me know your thoughts on that matter.

  9. morsec0de said, on March 19, 2009 at 3.40 pm

    It’s not so much a contradiction as it is a verbal paradox. You can’t have tolerance if you allow intolerance to flourish. Just the way it is.

  10. Nathan Creitz said, on March 20, 2009 at 7.47 am

    morsecode – I just want to clarify that we are talking about tolerance in the sense that all religions are equally valid right? And by intolerance you understand I don’t mean forcing religion on people. There are a lot of things we are intolerant about…intolerance isn’t always a bad thing. I’m intolerant of someone zipping ahead to get in front of me in a long line of traffic. When it comes to religion there are a lot of things I won’t tolerate. We shouldn’t tolerate religions that murder people or fly planes into buildings (not that all Muslims believe that way…so there’s room for peaceful Islam). But I’m not talking about action, I’m talking about belief. If I believe that God loves us and has given us a way to approach Him and to know Him but that we can only know Him through His Son Jesus then I won’t tolerate you telling me that’s not acceptable as a belief system.

    Logic demands that not all religions are equally valid and I’ve demonstrated that by saying not all religions can be true…some have to be false. I haven’t said anyone has to believe the way I believe, I just don’t appreciate when people reject my beliefs because somehow the religion of tolerance is somehow more noble.

    The danger of your “verbal paradox” is that intolerance is condemned and “tolerant” people tend to go on a witch hunt to root out intolerance wherever it may be found. Christianity is unacceptable to “tolerant” people and so the only people who aren’t free to worship as they choose are Christians. I have a conviction about my beliefs that they are true! If other religions want to water down their beliefs and say “we are all on different paths up the same mountain to the same God” then that is an indication that they don’t believe what their religion teaches. It’s evidence that that religion is false. If it were true and they knew it were true they would be standing firm in their beliefs. If it were true then that would mean other religions are false based on the Law of Noncontradiction. So, Christians believe their “religion” is true…and that’s such a bad thing? This is what G.K. Chesterton is talking about (quoted above).

    Now, I know you tolerate me, because you said so earlier. So this comment isn’t against you but it is concerning the ideal of tolerance that so many hold. There are a lot of people who want Christianity to go away quietly because they just don’t like it. That’s why I say, I’m glad you recognize the contradiction. People who don’t recognize the contradiction are militantly opposed to Christianity in the name of “tolerance” and they don’t even realize they are virtually saying “your religion is not valid because of your intolerance, we need to eliminate your religion because we believe all religions are equally valid.” I, on the other hand, don’t believe all religions are equally valid, I wouldn’t be a Christian if I did. Therefore, I have no problem saying there are some religions that are false and the people worshiping in that way are misguided, or ignorant, or unfortunate. That’s intolerance to some, it’s truth to me.

    Which raises the other “verbal paradox” that most “tolerant” people swear by: “There is no absolute truth!” Except for that one, of course.

  11. morsec0de said, on March 20, 2009 at 9.01 am

    “And by intolerance you understand I don’t mean forcing religion on people.”

    And that is what I mean by intolerance.

    So much fun when we never have the same definitions, isn’t it? 🙂

    “I just want to clarify that we are talking about tolerance in the sense that all religions are equally valid right”

    And no. When I say tolerance, I mean allowing other points of view to exist, even if they are untrue. And ‘allowing’ doesn’t mean you don’t have to argue with them, or try to convince people if you think they’re wrong. It just means that you don’t force them.

    “It’s evidence that that religion is false.”

    Here I would disagree.

    It’s an indication that they don’t full believe in their religion. But belief in something isn’t evidence of that thing’s truth or falsehood.

    And I have no problem with Christians believing what they want, or being tolerant or intolerant of others. My only concern is when actions are taken that force or harm others.

    Some people, I think, are confused about what it means to be tolerant and intolerant.

    For example, I have no problem with you holding the opinion that homosexuality is wrong and they shouldn’t be allowed to be married. (Assuming you hold that opinion, you may not.) But I do have a problem when you try to force that opinion on anyone outside your religion. (And again, not saying that YOU do, this is just an example.)

    So hopefully I’m more clear this time.

    ““There is no absolute truth!”

    It depends on what you mean by the word ‘absolute’, and what kind of truth you’re talking about.

    I would say there is definitely objective truth. For example, when a tree falls in the woods and no one is around, it does make a sound. That is objectively true. The presence of a listener doesn’t change the fact that a falling tree vibrates air molecules (not to mention the ground) and creates sound.

    If you’re talking about morality, it again depends on your definition of ‘absolute’. Not to jump into the middle of another conversation, of course. But it always occurred to me that a system that teaches that sometimes it’s okay to kill and sometimes it isn’t (when god does it, or says it’s okay, for example) can’t, by definition, be called ‘absolute’.

    But that may be another conversation for another time.

  12. Nathan Creitz said, on April 1, 2009 at 2.13 pm

    Morsecode – thanks for the clarifications. I just want to respond to what you said about intolerance. I’m not intolerant of other people’s beliefs (trying to force them to believe differently). I’m intolerant when people tell me how to believe. I don’t think that’s what you are doing, but that’s the point I’m trying to get across about intolerance. I agree that we don’t go around forcing people to stop wasting their time on religions that aren’t true…they have the right to do that if they want. However, there are some people who want to shut down the Christian worldview because things like the following make them uncomfortable: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father but through me” and “narrow is the path that leads to life and there are few who find it.” I’m not trying to define intolerance so that I can go on the attack, I’m offering a defense of my own faith because Christianity is under attack.

    To sum up this entire post:
    Proposition A: Christianity suggests that it is the only way to God.
    Proposition B: Most religions believe ALL religions lead to God (or gods).

    My post isn’t trying to prove that Proposition A is true. Instead I am proving that Proposition B can’t be true.

  13. morsec0de said, on April 1, 2009 at 2.17 pm

    “Proposition B: Most religions believe ALL religions lead to God (or gods). ”

    I don’t know if this is necessarily true. Certainly some do.

    Perhaps it would be more accurate to propose that “Most religions don’t believe you will be punished horribly if you happen to choose the wrong religion.”


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