Monday, August 27, 2007

Danger is relative

A newspaper article that recently showed up (I'm told it was from the Houston Chronicle, but I can't find it there anymore; this guy seems to have the article) asked what the "most dangerous idea in religion today" was, and gave the responses of five rather famous religious leaders, including the likes of Deepak Chopra and Rabbi Harold Kushner.

With the exception of Richard Land, all of the answers centered around the idea of extreme tolerance; it's dangerous to tell people their behavior is wrong, their religion is wrong, or attempting to convert anyone to your own faith. In other words, the underlying assumption in all of these is that there are many paths to God, none of them wrong, but attempting to claim that yours is the only path is itself wrong.

I find the premise of the article amusing, because this "today" thing is a bit of a stretch. Really, there's nothing new under the sun philosophically speaking, and that's especially true of religions founded millenia ago. Still, my own take? I'd have to give two answers.

If you're asking which idea is most dangerous physically, I'd agree with Dr. Land that violence in the name of God threatens us the most. There's a strong resurgence in the world of Islamic Imperialism, and its adherents are willing to go to any lengths to attack those they see as standing in the way of that. Whether that means gunning down a street full of civilians or suicide bombing a group of soldiers, these guys seek a theocracy by any means. Even more frightening, many in the world have become too frightened of appearing "intolerant" or "racist" to face the problem as it presents itself and opt to hide behind the skirts of a ticking clock. This problem isn't critical mass now, they must be reasoning, so I can get away with pushing it off to someone else to deal with. This vulnerability makes the problem far worse.

However, the most dangerous idea spiritually, the one most likely to hurt people when they face their maker, would be the very idea the religious leaders were defending, that there are many ways to God, that any and all expressions of religious belief, as long as they are sincere, will merit a man heaven.

I find such ideas to be a comforting thought if you'd rather not be serious about the matter, but reality is harsh. Some ideas are better than others, and when you have religious systems that present reality in ways fundamentally different from each other, both cannot be correct. Judaism teaches that Christians worship a false messiah . . . how could both possibly be on the same path to God? Islam teaches that Christians and Jews altered their scriptures and deny the truth Muhammad brought, which consigns them to Hell. How could these ideas all be leading to the same God?

I open the question up to you, readers. What do you consider the most dangerous idea in religion?

12 comments:

Dr. Church said...

That Jesus could microwave a burrito so hot that he himself could not eat it.

Meera said...

i take the opposite stance that the most dangerous idea both physically AND spiritually is "my way is the only right way."

i feel like most religious violence, whether it be abortion clinic bombings, the klan, hindu-muslims wars, or suicide bombings come from the lack of religious tolerance. if everyone agreed that there are many paths to god, perhaps these violent disagreements could be avoided.

also, while i understand that you are christian and your beliefs will obviously reflect that, i find your argument poorly supported outside of your belief system. you say that you think the "many paths to god" idea is a dangerous because it is not helpful when you face the maker. what if some other religion doesn't have this issue? i.e. confucianism says "In the world there are many different roads but the destination is the same. There are a hundred deliberations but the result is one.." (I Ching, Appended Remarks 2.5). hinduism says "Whatever path men travel is my path: no matter where they walk it leads to me." (Bhagavad Gita 4.11) there are other religions where there is no danger in that idea.

what do you mean by dangerous? i have shown a scenario in which thinking that there is only one path to religion is dangerous, outside the realm of specific tenets. do you think there are similar scenarios in your example?

Hal said...

Okay, let's look at it outside of my belief system.

Most religions make exclusive claims on truth, either explicitly or implicitly. When Islam says, "God has no son," it's an implicit claim to truth over Christianity. When Jesus says, "No one comes to the father but by me," that's a pretty explicit claim of exclusivity.

In both cases, you have diametrically opposed ideas. It's an either/or situation. Either Jesus was the son of God or he wasn't. He can't be correct, saying that he is God and must be worshipped, and wrong, being a blasphemer and Christians idolaters.

Some people like the analogy of three blind men pawing at an elephant, one thinking he's grabbing a snake (trunk), another thinking it's feeling a tree (leg), and the third thinking he's found a rock (side). It may seem like a "you have what you can find" kind of look at religion, but the fact is that all three men are still wrong. It means there is still an objective truth, that what they're grabbing actually is an elephant, and your blindness doesn't change that, nor will it keep that elephant from trampling you.

That's why I find the idea so dangerous. It allows people to be satisfied with bad ideas and shuts down any dialogue or debate in the name of "tolerance." After all, if everybody is right, then the worst kind of intolerance would be proselytization, to tell someone that they're going to Hell. But I'd never consider religion to be so haphazard that anything will do, so long as it is sincere.

Hal said...

And for the record, I think you will find that violence in the name of Christianity comes from something other than its teachings. Klan violence I'd peg at racism, and abortion bombings at a misguided view of justice. You'll find no biblical justification for such things.

Meera said...

elephant analogy

how do you know the three men are wrong? how does anyone know that they are grabbing and elephant, and not something that appears to be an elephant but is actually a big robot arm shaped like an elephant? and if the robot that this big elephant arm is attached to is a good and loving thing, as most gods are supposed to be, why would it care if you thought it was an elephant or a rock or anything else, as long as you were being a good person?

to address your other comment, i am not sure exactly what part of the bible the KKK or abortion clinic bombers use to justify their work. but i do believe the bible certainly does preach violence:


You'll find no biblical justification for such things.
"Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones" and "When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. f, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property."

Hal said...

Well, the elephant analogy presumes that what you are indeed grabbing is an elephant. The idea is just that whatever these men think they're grabbing, they're still grabbing something entirely different. Just because you think it's a tree doesn't mean it will behave like a tree, no matter how still that elephant sits while you're pawing at it.

And your quotes do nothing to prove that the Bible teaches violence. What you have is laws written in a period where theocracy was practiced in Israel. No Christian believes that the civil/ceremonial laws of Israel are prescriptive for the Church. Your challenge, therefore, is to either show that Israel's civil laws still apply to modern Christians, that there are Old Testament moral laws which preach violence, or that there are New Testament teachings admonishing violence.

-Murphy said...

Well, the elephant analogy presumes that what you are indeed grabbing is an elephant. The idea is just that whatever these men think they're grabbing, they're still grabbing something entirely different. Just because you think it's a tree doesn't mean it will behave like a tree, no matter how still that elephant sits while you're pawing at it.

I'm a bit lost concerning what you're getting at with the elephant metaphor? How do you know it's an elephant? How is it possible to know it's an elephant? How do you know it's going to trample you? Should we presume that everything is very, very dangerous?

Meera said...

ryan said exactly what i wanted to say about the elephant - but much more eloquently.

What you have is laws written in a period where theocracy was practiced in Israel.

how can you justify away the violent words in the bible, yet still stand strong in your conviction that the quran preaches violence? to someone like me, who has not studied the bible extensively, i read those quotes and see someone telling me it's ok to do bad things. obviously, if one is more knowledgeable like you are, then these make sense in the context of the time period that the bible was written in . yet, you don't give the same consideration to islam and have many times claimed the the quran preaches violence. how do you reconcile those two seemingly opposing views?

Hal said...

The Elephant Analogy
The analogy is used as a way of saying that people in different religions can't really see God for what he truly is, but must feel about to the best of their advantage. One man sees the elephant as a tree because that's what his experience tells him, while another interprets his experience as a snake. The analogy is meant to say that none of these are incorrect because they are simply following according to what their limited senses tell them about the elephant (God).

I say the analogy is silly because whatever their experience says about that elephant, it's still an elephant, and it will still behave as such. That "snake" won't bite, and that "tree" won't remain stationary.

But like all analogies, the original is worth as much stock as one puts in it. Your mileage may vary.

The Bible vs. The Qu'ran
If you're unfamiliar with the specifics of Biblical theology regarding the approaches to the Old and New Testaments, I'd be more than happy to share. Knowing IS half the battle, after all.

You accuse me of not giving such consideration of context to the Qu'ranic verses, but it is exactly because of such context that I can't give the Qu'ran such benefit of the doubt. And it's not just me; over a thousand years of muslim jurists have decided on such interpretations of their various scriptures.

I applaud those who can look at the Qu'ran and the Hadith and say that Islam teaches peace. However, they must interpret those texts in the same what that liberal Christian theologians interpret the Bible and find no grounds for Jesus' divinity or the sinfulness of homosexuality.

Jen said...

In case I needed another reason to like Rabbi Kushner....


I agree with all of them. But you probably already knew that. ;-)

Meera said...

i would love to learn about the bible, actually. do you have my email address?

elephant analogy

wouldn't it make sense for all of the people who are feeling up the elephant to agree that they don't know the whole truth about it, and then try to learn from the other people? it seems that religions that are claiming they are the only right one are the ones that are in danger of being trampled by the elephant. which is why i think it is such a dangerous idea.


And it's not just me; over a thousand years of muslim jurists have decided on such interpretations of their various scriptures.

like who?

however, they must interpret those texts in the same what that liberal Christian theologians interpret the Bible and find no grounds for Jesus' divinity or the sinfulness of homosexuality.

you consider these interpretations liberal because they are too lenient compared to your beliefs? wouldn't someone who wanted to follow the bible to the word consider your beliefs too liberal? where do you draw the line?

Hal said...

Your email address? I don't have it, but you're welcome to email me so that I do. It's in my AIM profile, and I'm always online. Of course, you could also leave it in the comments, but I'm not certain you'd want to leave it at the mercy of the spambots roaming the webernets.

The elephant analogy, of course, brings us back to why analogies and models can only take us so far. The point of the analogy is for those who would say that nobody really knows anything about God, that we are only reacting to as much as we've been able to discern about the divine. Christians take no such stance; we believe that you can see much more clearly, that there is a discernible truth because God has taken the extraordinary step of revealing himself to mankind. If you believe that God has spoken, then it is hard to reconcile the idea that other belief systems can also be fully correct.

And as for "liberal" Christianity, it's a somewhat PC term for Christians ranging from somewhat unorthodox to fully apostate. The main point is that many of these theologians or lay people will look at very clear biblical statements, such as condemnations of homosexuality, and then give a list of reasons why the church should ignore it. "God continues to speak, and now he says that we must move past this; the bible was written by men who were just reacting to their cultural situation; Paul was a closeted homosexual, so his words are meaningless anyhow," etc. This has also been characterized as "post-modern" Christianity.

My meaning was that a "post-modern" Islam is one that can explain away or ignore verses and traditions relating to jihad, the subjugation of conquered non-muslims, treatment of women, and so forth.

As for your question on Islamic scholarship, I'll get around to your question later, as I'd rather not do it injustice with a one sentence response.