I just listened to Timothy Keller talk about exclusivity (the belief that one religion is correct and all others are incorrect) on his homepage. It was some interesting stuff and I wanted to comment on it.
The first thing I’ll say is that he portrays the parable of the blind men and the elephant incorrectly. He fails to mention the part at the end of the parable where the seventh blind man says that it is something big that none of them understand, “all of these things [their descriptions] and more.” The seventh blind man does not presume to understand what the elephant is, only that it is a continuing mystery, so his perspective on the matter is different from Keller’s accusation, which states that we are just creating another divisive perspective if we accept all religious attitudes as truth.
I understand what Keller means by saying this though, and by saying that since religious views in some sense or another will always exist, it’s best to figure out which one helps everyone the most. I also know that for me personally, I do believe that Jesus provides the best way for salvation, a “best results if Jesus is believed in” theology. I think this salvation we note is not even as much about heaven vs. hell but the best way to have a new, better world that can live with God. I also know that I personally chose Christianity because of my objections to other faiths. I do not believe any particular group of people to ever have been “chosen” by the same God who is supposed to be the benevolent Father of us all, so that counts out Judaism (though ethnically I am part Jewish.) Muslims seem to have a lot of issues going on today, so it didn’t seem like the best time to hop on the bandwagon for Islam either. Hinduism appears to accept many different viewpoints which did attract me, but I find the caste system to be a perfect example of Marx’s accusation of religion taking advantage of people. I found Christianity to be unique and I guess I do believe that it’s the “best” religion, and if that makes me biased or close-minded I guess that’s just the way it goes.
However, the problem I had with Keller was his last statement where he said “and if you don’t believe in the message of Jesus Christ, you might consider believing it.” As I’ve said before, I don’t think true religious faith is something you can just decide to believe, so I find this suggestion rather pretentious. Also, I believe that Christianity leads to salvation (in the physical and metaphysical sense) the easiest and best way. I think that Christianity provides unique, unnatural, and preferable moral values to many other systems and has a unique history, and is different from anything that came before or after it. Nevertheless, I am unconvinced that a truly all-benevolent God would care as much about dogma as He would about the pragmatic side of things. While I believe Christianity to be the best and “truest” religion, I can certainly see that it’s entirely possible to have an Atheist or Agnostic person or member of another faith who acts exactly as Keller describes, who dedicates his or herself fully to helping others, who forgives and loves and works for the good of society, and who behaves exactly as Jesus told us to behave, but does not believe in, has not heard of, or does not care about the metaphysical or dogmatic side of Christianity. As I’ve said before, I believe our results are best when we study for the test, but I do not believe our eternal teacher (God) will fail us if we manage to pass without studying.
This is, again, my objection to “salvation through faith alone,” and to Keller’s view of our own salvation. He seems to create a good reason for why we should act as Jesus did, and why we should let ourselves suffer and forgive for the good of everyone, but he gives no good reason why a person cannot do these things and still be an Atheist or member of some other religion. Again, I believe that Christianity is the best way, the easiest way, and the only true way. However, as Saint Augustine said,
“There are many whom the Church does not have who are in the kingdom of God, and also many whom the church does have that are not in the kingdom of God.”
In conclusion, Keller was interesting and insightful, and makes a clear case for why Christianity is different (and he would say superior) to other religious traditions. However, he provides no case for why dogmatic beliefs and traditions or belief in ancient scriptures or other texts can outweigh the actions of a real, God-created living breathing human.