In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries declared “post-truth” as the word of the year to reflect the global social and political climate in which objective facts were less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals. Fast-forward to today and this word still feels highly relevant, extending beyond politics into many other social spheres including religion. In this blog post from 2011, Pastor McLennan writes that in the sphere of religion, the only productive way forward in our society is to accept religious pluralism as the Truth. To make his argument he appeals to feelings rather than to objective facts to make his case. I first want to affirm his desire for unity, love and respect amongst all people from different religious groups. I believe if we were to treat one another with sincere love, dignity and respect when discussing our beliefs, a deeply important part of our personal and social fabric, we would be a more compassionate and civil society. However, I believe this well-meaning desire for harmony has led Pastor McLennan to wrongfully conclude that the only path to unity in society is to disregard religious truth claims altogether and instead approach all religions as being equally valid.
In his blog, he asserts that since “we humans are finite and ultimate reality is infinite…we can’t use normal human concepts to describe ultimate reality or God.” Essentially, he says God and reality are beyond our capacity to fully understand and thus any one religion can’t claim to have the full truth. He uses the parable of The Blind Men and the Elephant to illustrate his point. This parable is meant to show how three blind men touching different parts of an elephant come to different conclusions about what it is they are touching. One man touching the leg thinks it’s a palm tree, another touching the tail thinks it’s a rope and the other touching the ear thinks it’s a fan. The parable seeks to demonstrate that the world’s different religions are like the blind men, describing aspects of one true reality but cannot grasp the whole concept.
The point Pastor McLennan is trying to make is that we should all be humble in our perceived knowledge of truth due to our limitations in understanding the nature of God. However, he fails to see how the parable demonstrates that there is indeed a person, the storyteller, who is capable of correctly perceiving the reality of the thing being described by the blind men and thus showing how, though sincere in their beliefs, the blind men were ultimately wrong in their conclusions. The irony in using this metaphor to show our limited ability in perceiving ‘ultimate reality’ as he calls it, is that he puts himself in the position of storyteller where he is the one who is able to grasp the “ultimate reality” being described, which in his view is that all religions describe equally valid aspects of reality/God and that religious pluralism is “the way, the truth and the life.” He is proclaiming an absolute and exclusive truth claim regarding the very subject (reality/God) which he says can’t have an absolute truth claim attached to it.
His desire to focus on religions’ similarities rather than on their differences is though understandable, both impractical and illogical. Illogical as all religions are exclusivist in their truth claims about God and reality. Impractical in that if his aim is to focus on their collective usefulness to society, they leave only confusion as they differ on their prescriptive answers on how we are to live life given their contradictory views regarding origin, meaning, morality and destiny. On the question of whether all religions are true, there are logically only two options, either none of them are true or only one is true. A measure of their validity of their truth claims is in how well their answers correspond to our lived experience and reality and how well their responses correspond to each of the other questions regarding origin, meaning, morality and destiny. Both in my investigations and my personal lived experience,, I have come to realize that only in the Judaeo-Christian worldview are these questions answered with assertions that correspond truthfully to the nature of reality as we experience it and is able to provide a cohesive view with all of other claims regarding origin, meaning, morality and destiny.