THE meaning of the word "God"
has become more than a little ambiguous in the modern world.
Ours is a religiously pluralistic world in which some religions
claim to have exclusive rights to the word, while others appear
to have no use of it at all. Ours is also an age in which the
acids of secularism have burnt deep into the fabric of culture,
distorting our understanding and use of this term.
"God" can mean anything, even everything. Or it can
mean nothing at all. Yet, despite the irrevocable ambiguity,
the term "God" cannot be - must never be - abandoned
by the Christian faith. Terms like "Absolute", "Ground
of Being", "Transcendental Other" have sometimes
been used as substitutes. But they do not enjoy the same universal
acceptance and history as the term "God" does in the
Christian tradition. The solution to the problem of ambiguity
is therefore not substitution, but clarification. Indeed, in
the modern world, Christian theology has to clarify what it means
when it speaks of God again and again amidst the flood of competing
|This assertion, to be sure, is offensive to the modern mind. To the modern mind, such exclusivism bespeaks of a kind of religious imperialism that is off-putting to sensible people||
used to a culture of tolerance and political correctness. This
form of exclusivism also offends those who wish to embrace a
philosophy of religious pluralism.
A distinction must be made between recognising the fact that
we live in a religiously plural world, and a philosophy of religious
pluralism. The former has to do with the recognition of religious
plurality as a phenomenon. The latter is an attempt to explain
that phenomenon. The philosophy of religious pluralism is often
associated with philosophers like John Hick.
Hick tries to demonstrate that no single religion has a monopoly
of the truth, and that all religions are related to the same
Ultimate Reality. The differences in doctrines and worldviews
in the various religious are due to the fact that Ultimate Reality
is ultimately incomprehensible, and each religion has but a partial
and fragmentary glimpse of it. Furthermore, the varying religious
expressions of this one Reality is due to the fact that they
are embodied in different cultural forms. Thus no single religion,
Hick insists, can claim a monopoly of the truth - each has but
a blurry and perspectival grasp of Ultimate Reality.
But this attempt to relativise the religions against each other
actually fails to consider just how important dogmas are to the
religions. Most religions claim that their doctrines are truth-claims
that say something true about reality. To insist, as Hick does,
that religious dogmas are just culture-laden expressions of their
vague religious experience would be to treat them as purely subjective.
Furthermore, as a philosophy, religious pluralism's attempt to
counter what it opines to be a form of religious imperialism
has in fact resulted in another form of imperialism. It forces
the religions to accept its paradigm, and it insists that its
particular view of religions is right. In other words, it is
also making a truth-claim. It is forwarding a dogma.
Finally, pluralists like Hick claim to have knowledge that none
of the world religions has discerned. He claims that Ultimate
Reality is in the end unknowable, and that all the religions
are in fact expressions of this Reality. The question is, How
does Hick know this? How is it that he has privy of knowledge
about God that eludes the great religions despite their centuries
of tradition? Furthermore, how less exclusive is Hick's claim
about the religions than, say, the Christian's claim that Jesus
Christ is the only Saviour of the world?
If Hick's approach is an attempt to "save" the idea
of God from secularism (although it is not totally unaffected
by it), philosophers like Feuerbach and Marx have sacrificed
that idea on the altar of secularism. For Feuerbach, God is man's
extension of himself, an image he has created with his mind,
a projection of an ideal humanity. Such a notion of God does
not make religion unimportant. Religion is a culture's way of
coping with problems and difficulties, some of which may appear
to be insurmountable. The "God" of religion "rescues"
human beings from such difficulties, and provides human beings
with solace and hope. "God" is a religious illusion,
but a necessary one in the face of life's vicissitudes. But once
human beings (and human societies) come of age, there is no need
for such a "God".
with His everlasting love
This indeed is the proposition of Karl Marx. Religion is the
opiate of the masses. But once the civilised world - whatever
this may mean - has come of age and human beings can surmount
these difficulties, then "God" is no longer needed.
Human progress will bring about the "death of God",
that is, the negation of the religious illusion. Some such utilitarian
use of the concept of God is found in modern science as well.
The "God hypothesis" is needed to bridge the gaps in
modern scientific knowledge. That is to say, when science is
unable to explain certain a phenomenon, it appeals to God. "God"
becomes the "God-of-the-gaps", filling those crevices
in modern scientific theories. But as more and more "mysteries"
are solved by science, the "God-of-the gaps" shrinks,
and will one day disappear.
The pluralist and secular concepts of God fail to satisfy. "God"
in the Creed cannot be seen to refer to the diverse conceptions
of deity that is sprinkled on the vast intellectual and religious
landscape of our modern (some say post-modern) culture.
For God, the God of the Christian faith, is "the highest",
the one who cannot be comprehended. He is the one who cannot
be imagined. He is beyond our highest strivings, our deepest
intuitions, our thoughts, however sublime and sophisticated.
"God" here refers not to a general notion of Deity,
not Reality-as-such, not some transcendental Being. He is not
the magnitude of our conceptions of Deity. The God the Creed
professes is unsearchable and inconceivable, beyond the grasp
of the human mind.
But this God has revealed Himself to us. He who is unknowable
has made Himself known to us in His revelation. He has condescended
to us, and disclosed Himself through His acts in the history
of Israel, and supremely in the person of Jesus Christ. "God"
in the Creed refers to the One who has thus revealed Himself.
And because (and only because) He has spoken to us, we can now
speak to Him and of Him. He has revealed himself as God the Father,
the Almighty and the Creator.
Further, "God" in the Creed refers to the One who is
Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the triune God, who through the death
and resurrection of His incarnate Son, has brought salvation
to the world. He has become one of us so that we can be like
Him. He has made a covenant with human beings and embraces them
with His everlasting love. This God, the true God, challenges
all our concepts of God. He is not the continuation of the concepts
of God found in philosophy, but their dethronement. For He comes
as a pure surprise! As One who cannot be imagined!
"God" in the Creed refers to this God and no other.
|A RELIGIOUSLY PLURAL WORLD vs A PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGIOUS PLURALISM|
'A distinction must be made between
recognising the fact that we live in a religiously plural world,
and a philosophy of religious pluralism. The former has to do
with the recognition of religious plurality as a phenomenon.
The latter is an attempt to explain that phenomenon. The philosophy
of religious pluralism is often associated with philosophers
like John Hick. Hick tries to demonstrate that no single religion
has a monopoly of the truth