TimeHop and Facebook’s “On This Day” have been really awesome in un-covering some of my old random thoughts and musings. This one was from 3 years ago, and I think it makes a good point. I haven’t seen many of the coexist bumper stickers lately, but I always thought they were good spring-boards for conversation.
Here is what I wrote on the topic, 3 years ago.
I can see the value of ideas promoted by the “COEXIST” bumper sticker. We should all try to live in harmony with other religions by… you know, not killing each other and stuff.
Tolerance is a good thing.
However, the “COEXIST” bumper sticker isn’t only suggesting that we should all live in harmony, is it?
It also seems to be suggesting that every religious perspective is equally valid… and that is a problem.
Now, I understand the desire to affirm this “all roads lead to Rome” idea, I really do.
But let’s take this pluralistic approach seriously for a moment. Is promoting religious pluralism really doing what the pluralists want it to?
Namely, affirm that all religions are equally valid?
I don’t think so.
In fact, it seems to do quite the opposite.
In an attempt to group all religions into a single category, we’re ignoring the vital differences between the religions. We are essentially ignoring MOST of the teachings of the various religions (primarily the exclusivistic teachings… we don’t like those) and assuming that part of the religion IS FALSE. For example, those who say that Christianity is just as true and valid as Islam or Hinduism, are ignoring the contradictory teachings of each of those religions.
Christianity claims that Jesus is the 2nd person of the trinity. Islam and Hinduism deny this.
Islam claims that there is the true God is Allah, and that Muhammed is His prophet. Christianity and Hinduism deny this.
Hinduism claims that there are multiple Gods. Christianity and Islam deny this.
You cannot believe that Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism are all true without running into immediate contradictions.
It seems that, in a twist of irony, those saying “all religions are valid” are forced into affirming “no religions are actually valid” in order to maintain true religious pluralism.
All religions could be false.
But all religions can not be true.
Many people dismiss religious experiences because “religious people claim to have experiences and they can’t all be correct”. While its certainly true that they cannot all be correct (they teach contradictory things), not all religious experiences can (or should) be discounted.
In epistemology, there are things known as defeaters. Defeaters are beliefs that show another belief to be false. For example, if I believed that it was raining outside and I looked outside to see clear blue skies, my observation of the weather would be a defeater for my belief that it is raining.
The same principle can be applied to experiences. If we have an experience, we have to assess it based on our other beliefs about the world. If our experience contradicts our current beliefs, then we have to make a decision; either accept the experience as veridical or reject it based on other beliefs.
In either case, one may act as a defeater for the other.
In the example above, the existence of clear blue skies is an experience that forced me to reevaluate my belief that it was raining.
The same goes for religious experiences. If someone claims to have had an experience consistent with Hinduism, we can analyze Hinduism for its truth value. If it turns out that Hinduism is false, that becomes a defeater for the experience and we can therefore reject the experience as evidence for Hinduism. Given that Hinduism is false, there must be another explanation for the religious experience.
You cannot have a true experience of a false religion.
When it comes to Christian religious experience, we can do the same kind of assessment. If you have an experience consistent with Christianity, you need not reject it until you have a defeater for that experience. And because the evidence points towards Christianity as being true, we can also embrace experience as veridical. Unlike the Hindu experience, we have reason to think that the Christian experience is real.
This is one of the main reasons that I accept subjective Christian experiences as subjective evidence for Christianity’s veracity. It is important to note that a subjective religious experience may be a justification for an individual to embrace Christianity, but one person’s subjective religious experience ought not be used as an objective justification for others to accept Christianity as true.
I cannot say that I know for sure that I have had a genuine religious experience. And even if I do, I will likely remain skeptical of it’s veracity, because I know that I am not immune to psychological manipulation. But who knows. Perhaps my mind will change on that one, given the appropriate experience.