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On New Age & Old Eastern Thought: Why a Larger Circle Can Never Be Drawn Around Christianity
This opening 1994 mini-series of Proclamation articles is particularly addressed to those friends among our readers who are of an Eastern religious, dialectic philosophical, or New Age spiritual persuasion. Some of you have visited in my home, others of you have corresponded with me privately, and still others whom I have never even met receive and read this publication. While the material in this series is by nature somewhat “heavier” than our usual fare, we believe it is all of the absolute essence with regard to both an accurate apologetic and a workable epistemology; the ramifications are really beyond measure.
I will begin by confessing that many of us who represent historic orthodox Christianity often speak to you or about you without having ever really done our homework. We have often not worked very hard to understand your language or thought forms. In many cases we have tended to regard you as the enemy of truth without even understanding exactly what you consider to be truth. I am personally still trying hard to grasp all that your thought system entails, although I do regularly read your material and talk with you. What follows in this mini-series is my initiative at promoting a further helpful exchange via this published forum. To get us moving, I am presenting here a variety of passages drawn from a variety of sources in my reading and conversations over the past few years. Much of this material seems to me to pose impossible complications with regard to your basic epistemological proposals. Perhaps you will agree to advise me of any misperception to which you may think I have fallen prey.
Hindu Swami Vivekananda was quoted at this past year’s meeting of the Parliament of World’s Religions in Chicago as saying: “We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions to be true.”
Now evangelical Christians will quickly respond here by saying, “This is impossible.” We will point to the words of Jesus in the Bible Book of John (14:6), “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” We will explain that on this basis Christianity is necessarily exclusive. Jesus here claims to be the truth. He says in John 10:1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber”, further explaining that in this metaphor He alone is the door. We may also go on to point out I Timothy 2:5 which says, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”. Just one Mediator, see? No other. Only one route to God-Jesus. Jesus alone. So of course others must be false. We will say, “Sorry, but because this is what the Bible says, and because this is what Jesus says, you simply may not absorb us into a larger system. You may be able to perform syncretism on other religions, but not with Christianity. You cannot legitimately draw a larger circle around Christianity. If you believe Christ, you must reject others. It’s either-or. Either what Christ said is true or what He said is not true. If what He said is true, then what others say about truth must be false.”
Now you will probably be very gracious about the fact that we take this position, because you will under-stand that this is actually the expected result of perceiving truth through the “cloud” of either-or thinking. You may be saddened that we Christians are not yet enlightened to truth on a higher level-that we have not yet come to see that Jesus was speaking to those who believed in Him, and that for them He was the truth. But that while He was, and is, the truth and the door for those who believe in Him, Tao or Zen or Ramtha or crystal power or Siddhartha Gautama or the Vedas or A Course in Miracles may very well be the door for other folks at other times or in other places. And if we are willing, you will try to help us understand that reality on this higher plane involves no either-or choice at all; you will try to help us see why it can always be both-and.
The both-and thought system has, of course, historically been promoted in (and by) the East, although it was also advocated by Karl Marx (dialectics), and today seems to be increasing in popularity here in the West. An example- if someone asks, “Is God personal?” the correct answer may be both “yes” and “no”. Either-or logic, on the other hand, has traditionally been associated with the West. Here, the Law of Non-Contradiction rules that for a statement to be meaningful it cannot be self-contradictory (A – non-A). India-born Ravi Zacharias, speaking at Harvard University’s Veritas Forum this past year, said that an American-born professor of Eastern philosophies in California once vigorously tried to convince him (what irony!) of the fact that Western logic must always yield to both-and thinking, especially in the East. After awhile Ravi turned to the professor and said: “So what you’re saying is this, ‘I must either use the both-and system or nothing else.’ Is that right?” The professor immediately knew he’d been checkmated. All he could manage was, “The either-or does seem to emerge there, doesn’t it?” Ravi said: “Yes, sir. Even in India we look each way before we cross the street. It’s either the bus or me, not both of us. And the very fact that you’ve spent all this time trying to argue me out of the either-or system is demonstrating for me that you’re using the either-or with which to prove the both-and.”
This article is scheduled to continue next month. Meanwhile, we’d welcome your response re: Ravi’s response.