Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Many Paths, No God

Many Paths, No God

When confronted with the messier details of specific religious doctrines, many believers who themselves are religiously inclined but who don’t agree with the standard orthodoxies will adopt a very general concept of God that they think transcends all these petty disagreements. The Baptists, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus all have different variants on a basic idea that make them appear to be fundamentally different, the line goes, but when we view them all from a sufficient distance we can see that really they are all worshipping or believing in essentially the same thing. They all subscribe to the general notion of a higher power--a guiding force—and their religions all do more or less the same thing for them.

A recent Pew Charitable Trust survey seems to confirm that this form of watered down theism is by far the most common in the U.S. Consider:

“A strong majority of those who are affiliated with a religion, including majorities of nearly every religious tradition, do not believe their religion is the only way to salvation. . . . More than two-thirds of adults affiliated with a religious tradition agree that there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their faith, a pattern that occurs in nearly all traditions.”


As a result, these post-doctrinal believers find both the squabbles between sects and the serious literality of atheists’ attacks on religion to be largely missing the point. People will do bad things, and people will do bad things in the name of religion, but that’s not the fault of religiousness. The impulse to divide, become orthodox, fight against contrary views, and to exclude those who don’t think like you are human faults. But believing in God and the positive influences that belief can have should be encouraged. Specific religious doctrines shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but there’s nothing objectionable about belief. Our notion of God should be sufficiently general to transcend the problems that inevitably come out when people take religious doctrine too seriously. All of these people are on many different paths to the same God. Against the backdrop of this general celebratory spirit about religiousness and positive feelings about people’s relationships with a “higher power,” strident atheists come across as stingy and cranky.

But we have to ask just what is being bought by this liberality about other paths to God? At first glance it appears that this open minded approach to other faiths can solve a lot of problems. But there are a lot of questions that it raises. Where does this liberality end? Is if confined to Christians, Protestants? Can Hindus get into heaven too? What about Muslims? Zoroastrians? Judging from other polls about how much Americans revile atheists, we will assume that they won’t allow atheists too. The point is that there will be lines to draw, and in the end these lines will be sectarian or doctrinal. And now we are back to the same problem. The believer has arrived at the conclusion that there is a God and that God has certain features in virtue of which he rewards or blesses some and punishes or rejects others. So the looming questions will be, what are our grounds for thinking that such a being exists, and that he has these properties and not some others? Why is this account of God correct in their minds rather than some other account? These believers are often respond to criticisms of religion with comments like, “Well, that’s not real Christianity,” or “The real Islam isn’t like that.”

But making a distinction between what real Christianity (whatever that means) is and is not, requires making some hard calls about what’s true and what’s false, or what God is and what God isn’t, and what is a correct view of God and what isn’t. There just isn’t any getting making some firm decisions, and firm decisions require evidence, reasons, arguments, and justification.

What the Many Paths, One God mentality stinks of is intellectual laziness. It’s an inability or reluctance to actually ponder through the implications of one’s actions on Sunday morning, one’s words, one’s behaviors and appreciate their meaning. We’ve seen the distinction between narrow and wide atheist described here. Whatever the Many Paths believers means by God, then let’s get that out on the table and see what it is. Then let’s see what the reasons are for thinking that anything like that might exist. If they don’t hold up to the light of scrutiny, then it needs to go on the scrap heap of bad ideas too, and that’s just one more conception of God to jetison, justifying a wider atheism than we had before.

It’s a myth to think that adopting what appears to be some kind of generic theism will help you escape the insurmountable difficulties associated with the God concept.

So our new mott should be: Many Paths. . . No God.


Anonymous said...

The crazy part is non belief and agnosticism ,doesnt mean that there isnt a god .Both agree that they cannot see any real facts to suggest there is at the present moment in time.

And i dont think this needs to be seen as acting in any Unspiritalized manner .I think it could be said that it is more sriritual to honestly question matters than it is to be blindly led .

Besides with regards to ACTUAL spirituality can religions be making to many judgements regarding spirituality , keeping in mind the overall state of some of their records to date ?? .









What is it really that worrys religious people so much , about honest questions and reserved judgement by non beleavers ?.

What could/would be considdered to be worse by any god that there posibilly might be ? , to hapilly be blindly led to beleave or to beleave only by factual evidence .

Anonymous said...

Rick Warren, Christian pastor and author of The Purpose-Driven Life, in a 2007 NewsWeek debate with Sam Harris, mediated by Jon Meacham:

WARREN: ... In 1974, I spent the better part of a year living in Japan, and I studied all the world religions. All of the religions basically point toward truth. Buddha made this famous statement at the end of his life: "I'm still searching for the truth." Muhammad said, "I am a prophet of the truth." The Veda says, "Truth is elusive, it's like a butterfly, you've got to search for it."...

Rick Warren, later in that same debate:

WARREN: The truth is, religion is mutually exclusive. The person who says, "Oh, I just believe them all," is an idiot because the religions flat-out contradict each other. You cannot believe in reincarnation and heaven at the same time.

Yaab said...

In my opinion, the million dollar question for those who subscribe to this watered-down theism is this: How does this belief system influence the decisions you make? If the answer is, "It doesn't," then I guess it's a fairly harmless delusion; more often, however, this belief allows for acting in accordance with the perceived "will of god," which can certainly cause harm.

Anonymous said...

I cant believe the cheap tactics being employed by the atheist here. People who don't subscribe to mainstream religion have a watered down view of god? That's absurd and is clearly a case of ad hominum. I am equally justified according to these rants to say the atheist believes in anal logic.

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks for your input, anonymous. The first sentence clearly refers to a group of believers that have the view in question, not to every non-mainstream believer.

An ad hominem attack is an attack on a person instead of their position and reasons for holding it. An ad hominem in this case would be something like saying that these theists are ugly (they are) or their mothers dress them funny (they do). Maybe you mean to accuse me of committing the straw man fallacy. Perhaps--that wouldn't be the first time I have done that. Or maybe there are a lot of religious positions out there, like the one being critiqued, that are so absurd and flimsy, they appear to be made of straw when we look at them seriously. But our general reverence for religious views of all sorts has kept us from acknowledging the obvious. And I've got no problem "believing in" anal logic, if I take your meaning. Seems like you could use a bit.



Anonymous said...

I agree with your assessment of making a straw man fallacy. But you also made an ad hominem fallacy in the excerpt below by belittling people who you disagree with.

"What the Many Paths, One God mentality stinks of is intellectual laziness. It’s an inability or reluctance to actually ponder through the implications of one’s actions on Sunday morning, one’s words, one’s behaviors and appreciate their meaning"

And sir, I studied logic in college and was unfortunate to run across any system of "anal logic" :)

Anonymous said...

I am curious if you had an opinion on the Dr. Greg Bahnsen debate v.s Dr. Gordon Stein "The great debate."
I know the transcendental argument is still in disscussion.

Here is an article to check out http://butler-harris.org/tag/

Anonymous said...

That is because the Bible is the precondition of intelligibility.

Anonymous said...

Hey, do you guys not realize that there are some religions that do in fact say they are the only way to salvation and not some stupid "they are all right" kind of mentality?

Look at the Mormon church for instance...

ConRep said...

Religion is no different then any of the thousands of social organizations. People around the globe need to be social, hence organizations.
Religions and others could be thought of as the root cause of the many problems in the world because they offer a breeding ground for poor or even destructive behavior. However, they only function as the messengers. Our behavior is the only issue to be dealt with. I enjoy and appreciate all the comments from everyone on this subject. Because we mostly use some form of logical thinking to draw conclusion that are difficult at best. Look to our known universe for a little perspective. The vast majority of sceintists believe we are approx. 13.5 billion years old. Let's say they are wrong & the true number is 880 trillion yrs old. The point being, if this supreme entity is responsible for us being here and has always been here ( according to most if not all religions) What was it doing before us? Did it decide it needed a distraction from total nothingness and "created" us for what, it's amusement? I like simple. The notion of a supreme entity is just ridiculious on its face. The relioginists always stumble with the idea that if we don't know or understand something, it automatically falls in the "just have faith" category. We don't have certain answers simply because we aren't smart enough yet to understand.Millions of examples of "mysteries" have been revealed through education and study. Every invention to date was a mystery until discovered. I realize my rants do not fit into the previous posts, but I trust I will hear from someone where I went wrong.