Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Dissimiliar Knowledge-Claims of the World Religions


I'm reading Dallas Willard's Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge. I want to say, "Thank you, God, for giving us Dallas Willard!" What a well-written and well-reasoned book this is.

Here's a Willard-thought that will be evident to anyone who has actually studied the world's great religions. They are not the same. They are not... "equal." When people say "All religions are equal" "what is meant is that all religions are equally devoid of knowledge and reality or truth. In fact, however, no known religions are the same; they teach and practice radically different things. You only have to look at them to see that. To say they are all the "same" is to disrespect them. It is a way of claiming that none really matter, that their distinctives are of no human significance." (K, 322-340)

Some years ago I publicly dialogued with the imam of northern Ohio in U of Toledo's Rocket Hall. At one point the imam said to the student audience, "I think John and I really believe the same thing." I said, "We do not, on a number of major points." The imam shook his head "yes." I looked at the audience and said, "The imam says we believe the same things, but at essential points we do not. His Islam claims Jesus did not die on a cross; my Christian faith finds this cross-event central." The imam just smiled as I said this, shaking his head "no." I thought, "I just got disrespected!" In the guise of amicability. What the imam and I were then engaged in was not "dialogue" but was spin-politicking.

Willard writes: "What is true of Christianity in its inception and history is true of other religions as well. They all present themselves as providing knowledge of what is real and what is right. To think otherwise is to falsify the very nature of religious consciousness and religious life as well as the claims of the particular religions. If religions only called people to "faith" or commitment (or profession!) as those are now generally understood, they would have no claim whatsoever on the attention of humankind. Instead, they offer - whether they are right about it or not - knowledge of certain profound truths, and they call people to act on the basis of that knowledge." (K, 358-66) The Buddha, for example, "promises knowledge of how things really are." (K, 366-74)

Religions and philosophical worldviews make big-time truth-claims that intend to be true for everybody. Religions are not simply about "mere belief or commitment." (K, 366-74) They all make knowledge-claims.