Christian exlusivism and the problem of divine hiddenness

I recently had a very intriguing conversation with a facebook user called  Barbara.

She reacted to my recent interview of progressive methodist minister Roger Wolsey.

*****

Barbara: “I have to say that if I were still a Christian I’d probably be somewhere in the same ball park as this guy. But this interview begs a couple of questions for other Christians. For example, he seems to be saying that Christianity doesn’t necessarily have a patent on salvation — he is “willing to accept that God’s fully at work in all other world religions.” One of Christianity’s great flaws, IMO, is that its doctrines force it into exclusivity. Can Christianity be non-exclusive?

Marc (me):

Hi Barbara!  
Thanks for this terrific question! I’m somewhat (theologically) less left-oriented than Roger so I’ll give you my own answer.
If by “exclusivism” you mean that one must affirm that only people dying as Christians will get to heaven, then I completely disagree.
 
While the Bible doesn’t speak with one voice on that topic, there are clearly texts which (implicitly) teach the contrary.
 
 
C.S. Lewis was also a staunch inclusivist with respect to salvation. I could quote many others as well.
 
If however, you mean by that that one cannot be a Christian while believing that “all ways lead to God” then I tend to agree there’s a real tension here.
 
 
I believe, however, that the problem is a logical one. All worldviews cannot be true at the same time.
So if God showed us His ultimate nature in Jesus of Nazareth, he didn’t do it through Mohammed, Buddha, Hinduism and so on and so forth.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t imply  that all proponents of these worldviews might not experience Him in a different manner.
This idea is a very old one which is well anchored within Christian orthodoxy.
 
Indeed, the apostle Paul himself said that “And He made from one, every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times in the boundaries of their habitation, and they would seek God if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him though He is not far from each one of us, for in Him we move and exist as even some of your own poets have said, for we also are His children.” whereby he quoted two GREEK (Pagan) poets referring to…ZEUS!
 
Had American fundies lived at this time, they’d have screamed out loud and called Paul a hellbound heretic.
 
This shows they’ve no right to speak for all Christians.”

********

Barbara:

“All worldviews cannot be true at the same time.” I tend to agree with Joseph Campbell – all religions are true; they just aren’t literal. Or, all religions are true, but you need to notice what they are true *of.*

Buddhism mostly takes the view that doctrines are provisional. They are guides to truth, not truth in itself. The truth they point to is ineffable and beyond conception, but it can be experienced and understood on an intuitive level. Buddhism is a *means* to do that – not a belief system as much as a practice — but for the most part it doesn’t claim to have a copyright on enlightenment, which people may realize all kinds of ways. And one worldview may serve as well as another one, but of course Buddhists think Buddhist practices do the job most effectively.

There’s also an understanding in some schools that even a falsehood can, under some circumstances, serve as an expedient means (upaya) to realize enlightenment. In that case the falsehood is eventually realized to be false, of course. From that perspective it’s not a problem if non-Buddhists believe other things, such as in the divinity of Christ, because such beliefs might serve as upaya to realize enlightenment. Stranger things have happened.

So, from the perspective of this Zen student, the various worldviews of the great religions are all true and false at the same time. They contain truth, but only a kind of relative truth. And the “ultimate nature” is manifested freely by all phenomena; it’s not hoarded by a few special beings.

******

Laurent:

It could be argued that an infinite god (or universe) must necessarily contain conflicting truths/realities in order to be infinite.

***

Barbara:

Depends on what you call “truth.” From the perspective of Zen and several other traditions, anything we can think or conceptualize or explain with Powerpoint is only a limited, relative kind of truth. Likewise anything we experience as “reality.” The absolute truth/reality is beyond concepts. Conflict would not be possible. But if we’re talking about religious doctrines, we’re talking strictly relative truth.

*****

I’m really thankful to Barbara and Laurent for having given rise to a very deep conversation. It was also delightful for me to see that she has remained very kind and respectful after her leaving Christianity.

This stands in stark contrast to numerous American anti-theists who are former fundamentalists and who openly advocate the use of bullying and ridicule against ALL religious believers.

The problem of God allowing many people to remain in the dark about his true nature (divine hiddenness) could be partially solved by considering His leaving freedom to man AND salvation not being dependent on holding the right beliefs while dying. This is certainly related to the Buddhist concept that “even a falsehood can, under some circumstances, serve as an expedient means (upaya) to realize enlightenment.”

As I mentioned above, the apostle Paul (or at least the author of the Acts of the Apostle) did believe that Pagan Authors can understand profound truths about mankind. C.S. Lewis said the same thing about Socrates.

To my mind, the most troubling aspect of divine hiddenness may very well be the huge amount of suffering it involves. God’s intervention could certainly have hindered many (if not all) atrocities stemming from human ignorance, wickedness or a mixture of both.

I have proposed tentative solutions to the general “problem of evil”.

Honestly should compel all Christians to recognize it hasn’t been solved yet. I can certainly understand atheists unable to even hope there might be a God owing to the pain they see around them.

Thematic list of ALL posts on this blog (regularly updated)

My other blog on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)

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5 thoughts on “Christian exlusivism and the problem of divine hiddenness

  1. It’s often said in Zen that nothing is hidden; we just don’t see it. Buddhism basically is built on the premise that we are all lost in a fog of delusion, and we practice the Eightfold Path to find our way out of the fog. IMO the real “problem of evil” might be called a “problem of God,” since at the heart of it is an assumption that God is a particular being who interacts (or doesn’t) with the world and with people’s lives. To suggest that perhaps God is being misinterpreted is not to say there isn’t one, though. 🙂

  2. Check out this hymn-prayer on the inclusive Jesus – http://www.carolynshymns.com/christ_you_are_the_savior.html

    Christ, You Are The Savior
    ASH GROVE 6.6.11.6.6.11 D (“Let All Things Now Living”)

    Christ, you are the Savior, the Way to the Father,
    The Truth we depend on, the Life that we need.
    We trust you, believing! We listen, receiving
    The joy of the gospel by which we are freed.
    Yet, Lord, you remind us: Through mercy you find us,
    By grace you forgive us. The way home is yours!
    We dare not judge others, our sisters and brothers
    Whom you choose to welcome through love’s open doors.

    With outcast and sinner you sat down to dinner;
    You healed the Samaritans, Gentiles, too.
    The poor knew your caring — the rich, your declaring
    That God welcomes everyone, not just a few.
    A conquering nation brought harsh occupation.
    A soldier came asking; you offered a hand.
    A thief saw your power in his final hour;
    You welcomed him home to God’s heavenly land.

    O Lord, all around us, your mercies astound us
    As others discover the Way you reveal.
    A man whispers, “Help me!” A woman cries, “Mercy!”
    A doubter discovers your welcome is real.
    O Way to the Father, your mercy is broader
    Than we as your people have often proclaimed.
    May we welcome others as sisters and brothers,
    And treasure the life that we share in your name.

    Biblical References: John 14:6; Luke 15:2, 17:11-19, 7:1-10; Mark 7:24-30; Luke 7:20-35, 23:39-43
    Tune: Traditional Welsh melody (“Let All Things Now Living”) (MIDI)
    Text: Copyright © 2014 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
    Email: bcgillette@comcast.net New Hymns: http://www.carolynshymns.com

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