Reza Aslan’s Pluralism

Michael Medved interviews Reza Aslan, and, out of the entire interview I thought this small section was the most important to the apologist to understand when dealing with Reza’s mixed up [self-refuting] claims.

  • MONOTHEISM, An infinite Personal God Exists Both Beyond and in the Universe. The belief in one God as the creator and ruler of the universe, without rejection of revelation (distinguished from deism).
  • PANTHEISM, is the belief that the Universe (or nature as the totality of everything) is identical with divinity, or that everything composes an all-encompassing, immanent god. Pantheists thus do not believe in a distinct personal or anthropomorphic god.


CRITIQUES of PLURALISM


Evil, Logic, and Reincarnation (Groothuis and Zacharias)

The below is an extended example of the weakness of the pantheistic religions in describing reality and supporting THEIR OWN claims:


  • Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 620-625.

4. The nonexistence of evil. One way to dispense with the problem of evil is to dispense with evil itself. This route is taken by various forms of pantheism, such as Advaita Vedanta Hinduism, Zen Buddhism, assorted New Age worldviews and mind-science churches such as Christian Sci­ence, Religious Science and Unity. Since all is ultimately divine, evil is unreal; it is only a problem of perception, and not a problem of objective reality. Pantheists hold that God “is beyond good and evil.” The difference between good and evil is apparent and not real.17 The more a person ap­proximates the divine Mind, the more these distinctions drop out of view. A sixth-century Zen poem puts it this way:

If you want to get to the plain truth
Be not concerned with right and wrong.
The conflict between right and wrong
Is the sickness of the mind.18

But consider this poem. It advocates “the plain truth,” which must be taken as objectively good. Otherwise, there is no reason to “get the plain truth.” The poem then offers an imperative: “Be not concerned with right and wrong,” because “the conflict of right and wrong is the sickness of the mind.” The imperative is a moral one, an injunction to “get the plain truth” by being unconcerned with the sick idea of moral conflict. The poem re­duces to this:

  1. There is no right and wrong that are in conflict with each other.
  2. One should not be concerned with right and wrong, since to be con­cerned with right and wrong is a “sickness,” which must be taken as wrong.

But statements 1 and 2 contradict each other and yield:

  1. If statement 2 is true, then statement 1 is false.
  2. If statement 1 is false, then there is a conflict between good and evil.

Despite its insistence that good and evil are illusions, pantheism still issues moral judgments and makes moral commands. As such, it is logi­cally and existentially inconsistent. These considerations should lead us to reject the idea that no objective evil exists.

5. Karma and reincarnation. Many believe that karma and reincarna­tion answer the problem of evil. The evils of this life cannot be justified if we have only one life to live. However, if we have lived before and will live again (reincarnation), the scales will balance out because karma (a law of moral assessment and administration) assigns rewards and punishments from lifetime to lifetime.19 Nevertheless, multiple problems dog this at­tempted response.

First, most forms of Buddhism and Hinduism, the two leading reli­gions that advocate karma and reincarnation, deny the existence of a substantial and personal soul (an individual, spiritual substance that en­dures through time, whether of a human or nonhuman being). Bud­dhism has many different schools, but all claim that the individual self does not exist (see chap. 23). The self is nothing but a name for a collec­tion of separable parts (skandas)—like a chariot that has no essence. There is no substance that binds the parts together in an essence. At death, the parts—which combined to form the illusion of a self—sepa-rate. If so, no personal self is available to be reincarnated, since there was no self to begin with. But if there is no personal being who exists from lifetime to lifetime, then there is no way for that being to experi­ence either good karma or bad karma, since the karma has nothing to work on.20

Hinduism displays a dizzying diversity of schools, but the form most popular in the West (Advaita Vedanta) also denies the existence of an in­dividual self.21 The one reality is Brahman, or the Absolute Self. Finite, individual selves are illusions of the unenlightened mind. Therefore—although its metaphysics of the self differs from that of Buddhism—Hinduism faces the same problem concerning reincarnation. Because it claims that Brahman is the sole reality, there are no individual selves avail­able to endure from lifetime to lifetime on which karma might attach with its various outcomes.

For there to be reincarnated subjects of karma, there must be indi­vidual, personal selves that endure and continue as themselves from life­time to lifetime. But Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta Hinduism do not affirm the existence of individual, personal selves. Therefore, these reli­gions cannot logically support the existence of selves that endure from lifetime to lifetime or which are subjects of karma. Therefore, these Eastern religions cannot logically support reincarnation. If this argu­ment succeeds, it not only demonstrates that they cannot solve the prob­lem of evil, it further shows that both religions propose essential truth claims that contradiction each other: (1) there is no self, and (2) reincar­nation and karma. Thus, both religions fail the test of internal logical consistency and are necessarily false.

Second, Buddhism and Hinduism cannot explain the system of karmic evaluation and administration. Both religions affirm that karma is a uni­versal system that evaluates the moral conduct of human beings and ad­ministers rewards and punishments appropriately. Even those versions of Buddhism and Hinduism that grant a personal deity do not claim that this deity administers the karmic system, which is deemed a brute fact. The system is thoroughly impersonal.

But how can an impersonal (meaning unconscious and nonagentive) system morally evaluate the worth of actions by human persons? Karma is a law akin to a natural law of science. G. R. Malkani, a Hindu, claims that karma “automatically produces the appropriate results like any other law in the natural domain. Nobody can cheat the law. It is as inexorable as any natural law.”22 But this law is nothing like any law of nature described by science. The law of gravity, for example, explains the regular behavior of physical objects. It has nothing to say about objective moral values; rather, it predicts the automatic reactions of material entities. But moral states are very different from material states because they are nonphysical and re­lated to human agents, who are not reducible to the physical realm, as ar­gued in chapter seventeen. When considering the moral value of an act (or attitude), we necessarily think of judgment or evaluation. Moral judgments require an evaluator, as argued in a chapter fifteen. However, the idea of karma does not include a moral evaluator of any kind. Therefore, the no­tion of karma is logically unsupportable. In addition, this problem ration­ally disqualifies the worldviews of Hinduism and Buddhism in toto, since both affirm reincarnation and karma as essential religious doctrines that turn out to be irrational and thus false.

But problems continue to mount because reincarnation and karma also require moral administration. The impersonal karmic system must meet out rewards and punishments universally and for all time to all sentient beings—a fantastically complex process of cosmic government. But it is government without a governor—a vast system of karmic coordination and implementation, but all without the benefit of a mind to plan the ad ministration or a will to implement it. Yet surely a personal and moral agent would be required for such a grand scheme of administration.

The Hindu and Buddhist doctrine of karma and reincarnation cannot solve the problem of evil, nor is their central teaching rationally warranted. Therefore, these religions are disqualified as rational worldviews.

Third, the doctrines of reincarnation and karma do not solve the problem of evil because they cannot explain the reality of evil. One of the engines of the problem of evil is innocent suffering. This is a vexing conundrum for any worldview, but karma does nothing to solve or allevi­ate it. According to karma, there is no unjust suffering. Everyone gets what he or she deserves, even supposedly innocent children. This should strike us as counterintuitive. As Paul Edwards points out, it would hardly be consoling to a mother grieving over a severely deformed child to be told by a reincarnationist minister that this death was morally deserved because of an evil committed in a previous life.23 Edwards suggests that if he were the mother and a baseball bat were available, he would clunk the person over the head and say, “You deserve your pain not because of a sin in a previous life but because you are a monster right now. You see that justice has prevailed.”24

Fourth, karma and reincarnation are not adequate responses to the problem of evil because they cannot insure that good wins out over evil in the end. The goal in Hinduism and Buddhism is to escape the realm of karma and reincarnation (samsara) and to attain enlightenment in an inef­fable realm beyond personality, individuality, morality and history (nir­vana for Buddhism; moksha for Hinduism). There is no final vindication of the cosmos and its beleaguered pilgrims. The cosmos and humanity it­self must be left behind because both are trapped in an endless cycle of futility. Life will not be redeemed; it must be obliterated. The contrast with the new heavens and new earth promised to Christians could not be more striking (see Revelation 21-22).

In conclusion, the Eastern systems of karma and reincarnation do noth­ing to solve the problem of evil. We must look elsewhere.

Thus far, I have eliminated five alternative strategies for explaining the problem of evil: atheism, a finite god, a morally impaired god, a world without evil and karma/reincarnation. We now explore ways to approach the problem from a Christian worldview.


(17) See Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 36.

(18) Quoted in Alan Watts, The Way of Zen (New York: Vintage Books, 1957), p. 115. See also pp. 107, 147 on the Zen’s denial of objective morality. Given my argument for objective morality in chap. 15, this fact alone is enough to disqualify Zen Buddhism as a true and rational world-view. See Harold Netland, Dissonant Voices (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), pp. 189-92.

(19) However, the goal of religions that hold to karma is not a world of perfect justice sometime in the future but the escape from the world of space and time and personality entirely.

(20) ‘See Paul Griffiths, “Apologetics in Action: Buddhists and Christians on Selves,” in An Apolo­getic for Apologetics (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1991).

(21) On the various schools, see R. C. Zaehner, Hinduism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983).

(22) G. R. Malkani, Philosophical Quarterly (1965): 43, quoted in Paul Edwards, Reincarnation: An Examination (New York: Prometheus, 1996), p. 39. This reference is to an Indian publication, not the more well-known Scottish journal of the same name.

(23) Edwards, Reincarnation, p. 45. Ibid.

Buddhism “Hashed Out” To Its Logical Conclusions

Originally Posted May 24th, 2010

A partial portion from my proposed book and an old post elsewhere:

Aren’t All Religions the Same? from Papa Giorgio on Vimeo.

I wish to illustrate with a conversation (unfinished by the way) between myself and a Zen Buddhist.  This conversation can almost happen with any religious Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, or the like. The conversation takes place after an interesting post by the person on his blog about self-defense, the Dalai Lama, WWII, and the Buddha. I will post my reply to his original thought, and then he responds, followed again by me.  (Keep in mind I am using our “blog” names, they are almost like “handles” like in the movie Top Gun):[1]

My initial engagement:

Does the idea of “violence” as a moral good or a moral evil truly exist in the Buddhist mindset? What I mean is that according to a major school of Buddhism, isn’t there a denial that distinctions exist in reality… that separate “selves” is really a false perception? Language is considered something the Buddhist must get beyond because it serves as a tool that creates and makes these apparently illusory distinctions more grounded, or rooted in “our” psyche. For instance, the statement that “all statements are empty of meaning,” would almost be self refuting, because, that statement — then — would be meaningless. So how can one go from that teaching inherent to Buddhistic thought and say that self-defense (and using WWII as an example) is really meaningful. Isn’t the [Dalai] Lama drawing distinction by assuming the reality of Aristotelian logic in his responses to questions? (He used at least three Laws of Logic [thus, drawing distinctions using Western principles]: The Law of Contradiction; the Law of Excluded Middle; and the Law of Identity.) Curious.

They Call Him James Ure, responds:

You’re right that language is just a tool and in the end a useless one at that but It’s important to be able run a blog. That or teach people the particulars of the religion. It’s like a lamp needed to make your way through the dark until you reach the lighthouse (Enlightenment, Nirvana, etc.) Then of course the lamp is no longer useful unless you have taken the vow to teach others. Which in my analogy is returning into the dark to bring your brothers and sisters along (via the lamp-i.e. language) to the lighthouse (enlightenment, Nirvana, etc.)

I respond:

Then… if reality is ultimately characterless and distinctionless, then the distinction between being enlightened and unenlightened is ultimately an illusion and reality is ultimately unreal. Whom is doing the leading? Leading to what? These still are distinctions being made, that is: “between knowing you are enlightened and not knowing you are enlightened.” In the Diamond Sutra, ultimately, the Bodhisattva loves no one, since no one exists and the Bodhisattva knows this:

“All beings must I lead to Nirvana, into the Realm of Nirvana which leaves nothing behind; and yet, after beings have been led to Nirvana, no being at all has been led to Nirvana. And why? If in a Bodhisattva[2] the notion of a “being” should take place, he could not be called a ‘Bodhi-being.’ And likewise if the notion of a soul, or a person should take place in him.” (Comparative Religions – Buddhism)

So even the act of loving others, therefore, is inconsistent with what is taught in the Buddhistic worldview, because there is “no one to love.” This is shown quite well (this self-refuting aspect of Buddhism) in the book, The Lotus and the Cross: Jesus Talks with Buddha. A book I recommend with love, from a worldview that can use the word love well. One writer puts it thusly: “When human existence is blown out, nothing real disappears because life itself is an illusion. Nirvana is neither a re-absorption into an eternal Ultimate Reality, nor the annihilation of a self, because there is no self to annihilate. It is rather an annihilation of the illusion of an existing self. Nirvana is a state of supreme bliss and freedom without any subject left to experience it.”

My Final Response

I haven’t seen a response yet. Which is fitting… because whom would be responding to whom? Put another way, would there be one mind trying to actively convince the other mind that no minds exist at all?

Here’s another way to see the same thing, Dan Story weighs in again:

It may be possible that nothing exists. However, it is impossible to demonstrate that nothing exists because to do so would be to deny our own existence. We must exist in order to affirm that reality doesn’t exist. To claim that reality is an illusion is logically impossible because it also requires claiming that the claim itself is unreal—a self-defeating statement. If reality is an illusion, how do we know that pantheism isn’t an illusion too?[3]

Another author put it thusly, “if pantheism is true (and my individuality an illusion), it is false, since there is no basis by which to explain the illusion.”[4] The challenge then becomes this: “if reality is an illusion, how do we know then that pantheism isn’t an illusion as well?”[5] You see…

…most people assume that something exists. There may be someone, perhaps, who believes that nothing exists, but who would that person be? …. no one ever consciously tries to defend the position that nothing exists. It would be a useless endeavor since there would be no one to convince. Even more significantly, it would be impossible to defend that position since, if it were true, there would be no one to make the defense. So to defend the position that nothing exists seems immediately to be absurd and self-contradictory.[6]

Another problem in pantheism is God’s inability to deal with or solve the problem of evil.[7] Dan Story points out what should be becoming obvious, “He is the cause of it (remember, all is God).” Mr. Story continues:

Pantheism and the New Age may try to ignore this problem by claiming that sin and suffering is merely illusion.  But let’s bring this philosophy down to the real world.  Try to convince a man dying of cancer or a parent who has just lost a child that evil and suffering are illusion.  Even if evil is an illusion, the illusion itself is real.  In either case, evil exists.  As Geisler noted, “If evil is not real, what is the origin of the illusion?  Why has it been so persistent and why does it seem so real?…  How can evil arise from a ‘God’ who is absolutely and necessarily good?”[8] The answer must be that if pantheism is true, God cannot be good, and He must be the source of evil.[9]

Between karmic destiny and the god[s] of pantheism and its dealing with pain and suffering (and consequently the promotion of it) by claiming everything is an illusion is not an answer at all.  Must we not live as if this illusion is reality?   In other words, “look both ways:”

As the professor waxed eloquent and expounded on the law of non-contradiction, he eventually drew his conclusion: “This [either/or logic] is a Western way of looking at reality. The real problem is that you are seeing contradictions as a Westerner when you should be approaching it as an Easterner. The both/and is the Eastern way of viewing reality.”

After he belabored these two ideas on either/or and both/and for some time, I finally asked if I could interrupt his unpunctuated train of thought and raise one question.

I said, “Sir, are you telling me that when I am studying Hinduism I either use the both/and system of logic or nothing else?”

There was pin-drop silence for what seemed an eternity. I repeated my question: “Are you telling me that when I am studying Hinduism I either use the both/and logic or nothing else? Have I got that right?”

He threw his head back and said, “The either/or does seem to emerge, doesn’t it?”

“Indeed, it does emerge,” I said.  “And as a matter of fact, even in India we look both ways before we cross the street – it is either the bus or me, not both of us.[10]

Pantheists may pawn this inane philosophy on people, but no one can live it out consistently as Ravi pointed out.  Moreover, when a large population tries to live it – like in India – one can see the fruits it produces, the destruction of the family a case in point.[11] The promulgation of suffering and the inability of the religious Hindu to stop and help a suffering child or the rampant infestation of disease ridden — crop eating — pests, is all a loud refutation of trying to live an unlivable religious proposition.  A lie.


[1] I use quite liberally in this exchange two resources, they are follows: Michael J. Murray, ed., Reason for the Hope Within, 212-214; Ernest Valea, “Possible difficulties in Buddhism,” Many Paths To One Goal? Found at: http://www.comparativereligion.com/Buddhism.html (last accessed 8-11-09), the main site is: http://www.comparativereligion.com/index.html

[2] “One who has taken a vow to become a Buddha.” David Burnett, The Spirit of Buddhism: A Christian Perspective on Buddhist Thought (Grand Rapids, MI: Monarch Books, 2003), 329.  “Celestial” Buddha’s and bodhisattvas are said to be able to assist in guiding believers towards salvation as supernatural beings.  These bodhisattvas vary in their rolls and offices as the many gods of Hinduism, from which Buddhism comes.  See: Michael D. Coogan, Eastern Religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Toaism, Confucianism, Shinto (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005), 133-139.

[3] Dan Story, Christianity on the Offense, 112-113.

[4] Francis J. Beckwith and Stephen E. Parrish, See the Gods Fall: Four Rivals to Christianity (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1997), 210.

[5] Dan Story, Christianity on the Offense, 112-113.

[6] L. Russ Bush, A Handbook for Christian Philosophy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991), 70.

[7] Michael J. Murray critiques quickly the Ramanuja and Madhya philosophies:

Stated in terms of Christian terminology, Ramanuja’s view implies that every soul that has ever existed endured an eternity in “hell” (i.e., the cycle of rebirths) before it could enter “heaven” (i.e., union with God). Now unlike Madhya, Ramanuja claims that God freely, and beginninglessly, created the world, and all existing souls, out of his own being. This latter claim, however, presents Ramanuja with a very severe problem of evil: that of reconciling his belief that God is perfectly good and all-loving with God’s ultimate responsibility for the beginningless existence of souls in a state of sin and suffering. The problem of evil faced by Ramanuja here is much more severe than that faced by Western theists. First, unlike Western theists, Ramanuja cannot say that this evil is a necessary consequence of God’s creating creatures with free will. Although the suffering of a soul in any individual life could be blamed on the bad karma resulting from its free choices in previous lives, the fact that the suffering is beginningless — and hence infinite — cannot be blamed on free choice. The reason for this is that, no matter what free choices souls make in this life, or have made in any previous life, they cannot change the fact that they have beginninglessly endured an infinite amount of suffering; but one cannot be responsible for what one was powerless to change. Followers of Ramanuja, therefore, do not seem to have recourse to the traditional free will theodicy invoked in the West to explain evil. Second, the amount of evil that needs to be explained is infinitely larger than that faced by West­ern versions of theism, since, according to Ramanuja each soul has committed an infinite number of evil acts and endured an infinite period of suffering. Unfortunately, as Julius Lipner points out, neither Ramanuja, nor any other orthodox Hindu theologian, ever attempted to address this particular problem of evil since they took the eternality of the world and souls as an “unquestioned datum for life and thought.” Unlike Ramanuja (and Western theism), however, Madhva’s theol­ogy largely avoids the problem of evil. The reason for this is that in his theology God is neither responsible for the beginningless existence of souls in a state of bondage, nor for the fact that they continue to remain in bondage, this being ultimately the result of their inherent, uncreated na­ture. Nonetheless, his system suffers from two drawbacks when com­pared to Ramanuja’s view. First, Madhva’s system leaves one with a plurality of ultimates — souls, matter, and God — without accounting for their existence. Although this is not a devastating criticism of Madhya, everything else being equal, views that hypothesize a single, unified source of everything (such as God), are in virtue of their simplicity, philosophically more satisfactory. Second, even though Madhya claimed to base his view on scripture, from the perspective of many orthodox Hindus his theology seems to contradict both those passages of Hindu scripture that appear to imply a deep sort of identity between God and souls and those that appear to imply that the world emerges out of God.

Reason for the Hope Within, 200-202.

[8] Norman Geisler, Christian Apologetics, 189 (emphasis added).

[9] Dan Story, Christianity on the Offense, 113.

[10] Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God? (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994), 128-129 (emphasis added).

[11] Rabi R. Maharaj, Death of a Guru, 13 and 14:

No matter how fulfilling life becomes, there are always cer­tain regrets when one looks back. My deepest sense of loss involves my father, Chandrabhan Ragbir Sharma Mahabir Maharaj. How I wish he were still alive! Nor does the fact that this extraordinary man died so young and under such mysterious circumstances entirely explain my regret. So much that is even more remarkable has happened since then. I often wonder what it would be like to share it all with him, and what his reaction would be. To share it with him! We never shared anything in our lives. Because of the vows he had taken before I was born, not once did he ever speak to me or pay me the slightest heed. Just two words from him would have made me un­speakably happy. More than anything else in the whole world I wanted to hear him say, “Rabi! Son!” Just once. But he never did.  For eight long years he uttered not a word, not even a whispered confidence to my mother…. “Why is Father that way?” I would ask my mother when I was still too young to understand. “He is someone very special—the greatest man you could have for a father,” she would reply, always patient with my persistent questions and puzzled expression. “He is seeking the true Self that lies within us all, the One Being, of which there is no other. And that’s what you are too, Rabi.”


I want to leave the reader with this thought by Robert Hume. In his book, The World’s Living Religions, he comments that there are three features of Christian faith that “cannot be paralleled anywhere among the religions of the world”  [I can add here, the cults either].  These include the character of God as a loving Heavenly Father, the character of the founder of Christianity as the Son of God, and the work of the Holy Spirit.  Further, he says:

The nine founders among the eleven living religions in the world had characters which attracted many devoted followers during their own lifetime, and still larger numbers during the centuries of subsequent history. They were humble in certain respects, yet they were also confident of a great re­ligious mission. Two of the nine, Mahavira and Buddha, were men so strongminded and self-reliant that, according to the records, they displayed no need of any divine help, though they both taught the inexorable cosmic law of Karma. They are not reported as having possessed any consciousness of a supreme personal deity. Yet they have been strangely deified by their followers. Indeed, they themselves have been wor­shipped, even with multitudinous idols.

All of the nine founders of religion, with the exception of Jesus Christ, are reported in their respective sacred scriptures as having passed through a preliminary period of uncertainty, or of searching for religious light. Confucius, late in life, confessed his own sense of shortcomings and his desire for further improvement in knowledge and character. All the founders of the non-Christian religions evinced inconsistencies in their personal character; some of them altered their prac­tical policies under change of circumstances.

Jesus Christ alone is reported as having had a consistent God consciousness, a consistent character himself, and a con­sistent program for his religion. The most remarkable and valuable aspect of the personality of Jesus Christ is the com­prehensiveness and universal availability of his character, as well as its own loftiness, consistency, and sinlessness.

Robert Hume, The World’s Living Religions (New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1959), 285-286.

Concepts: John Van Huizum`s Achilles Heel ~ “Moral Pronouncements”

Since I have been critiquing John van Huizum’s articles (here-and-there), he came across as someone who took a position to comment on the “right[s] and wrong[s]” done in politics — just one example to make the point. In April of this year, John had an article entitled “About Correcting Mistakes.” In the article he uses words like “disaster,” “correct,” “imbalance,” and the like.

The above is a great example of the Western distortion of Buddhism. Alan Watts speaks about “me,” “SELFish,” “I am desire,” etc. As you will see, this is all anathema to Buddhism. Ethics, morals, etc also are all illusory:

Or John’s “critique” of Sharia Law, and his asking if Christoper Hitchens was right. This makes no sense in light of the following article about Alan Watts, who really teaches that ethics have “no intrinsic value.”

My point being that while I may continue to critique John’s articles, know that whenever he accesses some behavior as wrong, or one that should be corrected — as in the political left and right — he is undermining his own case by a) not having an ontological or epistemological basis for his positions, and b) is proving the superiority of the Judeo-Christtian ethic over other views. In other words, me dealing with bad thinking is in futility, and john’s positions on a way politically, economically, or morally for someone to go is also in futility. Here is the article referencing Alan Watts:

(Click to enlarge)

I will give and example from my book, more specifically from my chapter on Eastern philosophy where I include a debate/discussion I had with a Zen-Buddhist apologist:

I wish to illustrate with a conversation (unfinished by the way) between myself and a Zen Buddhist.  This conversation can almost happen with any religious Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, or the like.  The conversation takes place after an interesting post by the person on his blog about self-defense, the Dalai Lama, WWII, and the Buddha. I will post my reply to his original thought, and then he responds, followed again by me.  (Keep in mind I am using our “blog” names, they are almost like “handles” like in the movie Top Gun):[1]

My initial engagement

Does the idea of “violence” as a moral good or a moral evil truly exist in the Buddhist mindset? What I mean is that according to a major school of Buddhism, isn’t there a denial that distinctions exist in reality… that separate “selves” is really a false perception? Language is considered something the Buddhist must get beyond because it serves as a tool that creates and makes these apparently illusory distinctions more grounded, or rooted in “our” psyche. For instance, the statement that “all statements are empty of meaning,” would almost be self refuting, because, that statement — then — would be meaningless. So how can one go from that teaching inherent to Buddhistic thought and say that self-defense (and using WWII as an example) is really meaningful. Isn’t the [Dalai] Lama drawing distinction by assuming the reality of Aristotelian logic in his responses to questions? (He used at least three Laws of Logic [thus, drawing distinctions using Western principles]: The Law of Contradiction; the Law of Excluded Middle; and the Law of Identity.)  Curious.

They Call Him James Ure, responds

You’re right that language is just a tool and in the end a useless one at that but It’s important to be able run a blog. That or teach people the particulars of the religion. It’s like a lamp needed to make your way through the dark until you reach the lighthouse (Enlightenment, Nirvana, etc.) Then of course the lamp is no longer useful unless you have taken the vow to teach others.  Which in my analogy is returning into the dark to bring your brothers and sisters along (via the lamp-i.e. language) to the lighthouse (enlightenment, Nirvana, etc.)

I respond

Then… if reality is ultimately characterless and distinctionless, then the distinction between being enlightened and unenlightened is ultimately an illusion and reality is ultimately unreal. Whom is doing the leading? Leading to what? These still are distinctions being made, that is: “between knowing you are enlightened and not knowing you are enlightened.” In the Diamond Sutra, ultimately, the Bodhisattva[2] loves no one, since no one exists and the Bodhisattva knows this:

“All beings must I lead to Nirvana, into the Realm of Nirvana which leaves nothing behind; and yet, after beings have been led to Nirvana, no being at all has been led to Nirvana. And why? If in a Bodhisattva the notion of a “being” should take place, he could not be called a “Bodhi-being.” And likewise if the notion of a soul, or a person should take place in him.

So even the act of loving others, therefore, is inconsistent with what is taught in the Buddhistic worldview, because there is “no one to love.” This is shown quite well (this self-refuting aspect of Buddhism) in the book, The Lotus and the Cross: Jesus Talks with Buddha. A book I recommend with love, from a worldview that can use the word love well.  One writer puts it thusly: “When human existence is blown out, nothing real disappears because life itself is an illusion. Nirvana is neither a re-absorption into an eternal Ultimate Reality, nor the annihilation of a self, because there is no self to annihilate. It is rather an annihilation of the illusion of an existing self. Nirvana is a state of supreme bliss and freedom without any subject left to experience it.”

My Final Response

I haven’t seen a response yet. Which is fitting… because whom would be responding to whom? Put another way, would there be one mind trying to actively convince the other mind that no minds exist at all?

[1] I use quite liberally in this exchange two resources, they are as follows: Michael J. Murray, ed., Reason for the Hope Within, 212-214; and, Ernest Valea, “Possible difficulties in Buddhism,” Many Paths To One Goal? Found at: http://www.comparativereligion.com/Buddhism.html (last accessed 8-11-09), the main site is: http://www.comparativereligion.com/index.html

[2] “One who has taken a vow to become a Buddha.” David Burnett, The Spirit of Buddhism: A Christian Perspective on Buddhist Thought (Grand Rapids, MI: Monarch Books, 2003), 329.  “Celestial” Buddha’s and bodhisattvas are said to be able to assist in guiding believers towards salvation as supernatural beings.  These bodhisattvas vary in their rolls and offices as the many gods of Hinduism, from which Buddhism comes.  See: Michael D. Coogan, Eastern Religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Toaism, Confucianism, Shinto (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005), 133-139.

So, even the act of “loving,” or love itself as expressed in concern, the well-being of others, and the like, are all illusory. Not only that, but these concepts all keep the believer in pantheistic religions captive to this delusion rather than getting out of the cursed “wheel of reincarnation.” The words John used are laden with ideas of a moral wrongs, as if there is a plum line in the universe in which John is accessing and thinks others should hear the Cthulhu siren call of and apply to their thinking as well. C.S. Lewis dealt with this well when he talked about his atheistic days:

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too ~ for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist ~ in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless – I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality – namely my idea of justice ~ was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco, CA: Harper San Francisco, 1952), 38-39.

You see, John is baking a cake and eating it too. He is espousing atheistic Buddhism in his life, but BORROWING ethical stance made only in the Judeo-Christian worldview (see exchange at Harvard during Q&A with students, to the right).

Put another way, I had a professor of philosophy who was herself Hindu, which has a similar view to Buddhistic ideas of Karma — since Buddhism was birthed from Hinduism. During the class time that dealt with “evil,” she concentrated almost exclusively on Christianity. I pointed out that other worldviews (atheism, pantheism, and the like) all have to deal with this problem. She responded that they do not. Odd. In a paper I wrote in response to this — after eviscerating her position in class — I point the follwing out, and in the below are examples I used in class with this double masters holding professor [actively] trying to get kids to reject Christianity in class. This response went through some “evolutions” to end in my seminary level paper I wrote, “New Age Pop Culture“:

PANTHEISM

Now that we have defined what the Law of Noncontradiction is, lets apply it to some basic Eastern thinking.  All Hindus, Buddhists, New Agers (etc), are pantheists.  The term Pantheist “designates one who holds both that everything there is constitutes a unity and that this unity is divine.”[1]  Most pantheists (Hindus, Buddhists, New Agers, etc.) would hold that physical reality, and all the evils it produces, is merely an illusion.  This holds true for the personality of man as well.  This distinction explains why, in both Hinduism and Buddhism, the personality is seen as an “enemy” and is finally destroyed by absorption into Brahmin or Nirvana. Not only is the material creation absorbed, but human existence are either an illusion, as in Hinduism (maya), or so empty and impermanent, as in Buddhism (sunyata), that they are ultimately meaningless.

But is an impersonal “immortality” truly meaningful when it extinguishes our personal existence forever? Is it even desirable? As Sri Lanken Ajith Fernando, who has spoken to hundreds of Buddhists and Hindus, illustrates:

“When I asked a girl who converted from Buddhism to Christianity through our ministry what attracted her to Christianity, the first thing she told [me] was, ‘I did not want Nirvana.’ The prospect of having all her desires snuffed out after a long and dreary climb [toward ‘liberation’] was not attractive to her.”[2]

In the end, man himself is a hindrance to spiritual enlightenment and must be “destroyed” to find so called “liberation.” As Dr. Frits Staal comments in an article entitled, “Indian Concepts of the Body,” “Whatever the alleged differences between Hindu and Buddhist doctrines, one conclusion follows from the preceding analysis. No features of the individual[‘s] personality survive death in either state”[3]

With the above in mind, take note of a major problem that faces the pantheist visa viz, “that there is no reality except the all-encompassing ‘God’.”  Using the Law of Noncontradiction we can see that this is a nonsensical statement that is logically self-refuting.  If everything is illusion, then those making that statement are themselves illusions.  There’s a real problem here.  As Norman Geisler pointed out, “One must exist in order to affirm that he does not exist.”[4]  When we claim that there is no reality except the all-encompassing God, we are proving just the opposite.  The fact that we exist to make the claim demonstrates that there is a reality distinct from God, which makes this key doctrine of pantheism a self-defeating proposition.  It is an untruth – by definition.

Reincarnation

Another belief that is accepted by all Eastern philosophies as well as the New Age movement is that of reincarnation.  I will explain the concept with some examples, after I define the term.  Reincarnation is a “belief in the successive rebirth of souls into new bodies, as the soul progresses toward perfection.”[5] 

Some examples of this “karmic law” are warranted: first, lets assume I beat and abused my wife horribly, treated her like the dirt on my shoes, I would be storing up some pretty bad karma.  When I come around for my next human life, after, of course, traveling through the insect, and animal lives, I would come back as the woman being beat.  This is karma’s answer to evil, which is really no answer at all.  In fact, it perpetuates evil.  How so?  It necessitates a beatee,” which mandates a “beater.”  Karma, then, creates a never-ending circle of violence, or, “evil.”  In addition it states (emphatically I might add) that we choose our current destiny (or events) in this life due to past life experiences and choices.  This is why the holy men in Buddhist and Hindu nations generally walk right by the maimed, injured, starving, and uneducated, and do not care for them.  This next true story drives this point home.

Ron Carlson, while speaking in Thailand, was invited to visit some refugee camps along the Cambodian border.  Over 300,000 refugees were caught in a no-man’s-land along the border.  This resulted from the Cambodian massacre under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in the mid-70’s (which is known as the “killing fields”) and then subsequently by the invasion of the Vietnamese at the end of the 70’s.  One of the most fascinating things about these refugee camps was the realization of who was caring for the refugees.  Here, in this Buddhist country of Thailand, with Buddhist refugees coming from Cambodia and Laos, there were no Buddhists taking care of their like-minded brothers.  There were also no Atheists, Hindus, or Muslims taking care of those people.  The only people there, taking care of these 300,000[+] people, were Christians from Christian mission organizations and Christian relief organizations.  One of the men Ron was with had lived in Thailand for over twenty-years and was heading up a major portion of the relief effort for one of these organizations. Ron asked him: “Why, in a Buddhist country, with Buddhist refugees, are there no Buddhists here taking care of their Buddhist brothers?” Ron will never forget his answer:

“Ron, have you ever seen what Buddhism does to a nation or a people? Buddha taught that each man is an island unto himself. Buddha said, ‘if someone is suffering, that is his karma.’ You are not to interfere with another person’s karma because he is purging himself through suffering and reincarnation! Buddha said, ‘You are to be an island unto yourself.’” –  “Ron, the only people that have a reason to be here today taking care of these 300,000 refugees are Christians. It is only Christianity that people have a basis for human value that people are important enough to educate and to care for.  For Christians, these people are of ultimate value, created in the image of God, so valuable that Jesus Christ died for each and every one of them.  You find that value in no other religion, in no other philosophy, but in Jesus Christ.”[6]

Do you get it now?  It takes a “Mother Teresa” with a Christian worldview to go into these embattled countries and bathe, feed, educate, care for these people – who otherwise are ignored due to harmful religious beliefs of the East.

Another example is a graphic one, but it drives the point home.  While at home on my day off, my work calls me in due to an emergency.  I cannot find a sitter for my youngest son, so I call a family member, say, uncle Steve.  While I am at work, uncle Steve rapes and sodomizes my son.  Should I call the authorities??  If I am a believer in reincarnation, then I must realize that this “evil” is an illusion, number one, and number two, this “evil” was brought on my son most likely because of something my son did in a previous incarnation.  Something my son did in a previous lifetime demands that this happened to him in this lifetime.  (Or something I did, or my wife did, whomever.)  Only recently have some Indian people rejected reincarnation and started to kill the massive infestation of disease-ridden rodents that inhabit India’s cities.[7]  These rodents carry and transmit many diseases as well as destroying and infecting large portions of food that could have made it to the starving population.  Most, however, continue to nurture or ignore these disease-carrying animals in the belief that they are a soul stuck in the cosmic wheel.  This is just one example of a horrible religious practice that is part of the many destructive practices that are hurting precious people.  The caste system mentioned before is another that promotes and encourages racism, malnourishment, lack of education, and death.

Pain & Suffering

Another problem in pantheism is God’s inability to deal with or solve the problem of evil.  In fact He is the cause of it… remember, pantheists believe all is God.  Pantheism may try to ignore this problem by claiming that sin and suffering is an illusion (maya), but let’s bring this philosophy down to the real world.  Try to convince a man dying of cancer or a mother who just lost a child, that evil and suffering are merely illusions.  Even if evil is an illusion, the illusion itself is real.  In either case, evil exists.  As Geisler asked, “If evil is not real, what is the origin of the illusion?  Why has it been so persistent and why does it seem so real?…  How can evil arise from a ‘God’ who is absolutely and necessarily good?”[8]  The answer must be that if pantheism is true, God cannot be good, and He must be the source of evil.

Between karmic destiny and the god[s] of pantheism and its dealing with pain and suffering (and consequently the promotion of it) by claiming everything is an illusion just doesn’t make sense.  Mustn’t we live as if this illusion is reality?  Pantheists may pawn this inane philosophy on people, but no one can live it out consistently.  And when a large population tries, like in India, one can see the fruits it produces.[9]  The promulgation of suffering and the inability of the religious Hindu to stop and help a suffering child or the rampant infestation of disease spreading (crop eating) pests, etc., is all a loud explanation of trying to live an unlivable philosophical proposition.

I have debated many persons over the Internet that are pantheists that will laud the evils done by the Christian church.  In these debates I point out that these persons are in fact using the Judeo-Christian moral absolutes in interpreting history and delineating between “good” and “bad.”  For in Eastern thought, there is no “evil,” or “good.” If these people really believed it, they would come to realize there is no real good or evil!

The inquisitions, for instance, were merely the outgrowth of the victim’s previous lives – incarnations.  The Christian church, then, would merely be an instrument in perfecting these person’s karmic lives.  Therefore, when some here who are defending karmic destiny in other strains speak of the horrible atrocities committed by religion,” they are not consistently living out their philosophy of life and death.  The victims of the Inquisitions or Crusades then are merely being “paid back” for something they themselves did in a previous life. It is the works these people did prior that creates much of the evil upon them now. So in the future when people like John (a believer in reincarnation) says that Christianity isn’t what it purports to be because of the evil it has committed in the past, I will remind such people that evil is merely an illusion (maya – Hinduism; Sunyata – Buddhism) to be overcome, as karmic reincarnation teaches.[10]

In addition, monistic philosophies provide no explanation for the diversity within creation. If “God is truly one,” the only reality, then diversity (all creation) is by definition part of the illusion of duality. That includes all morality, all human hopes and aspirations. In the end, despite having an infinite reference point, we are left with only a destructive nihilistic outlook on life.  To think otherwise is to adopt or borrow portions of another worldview. As Charles Manson noted, “If all is one, what is bad?”

The desire of every Buddhist, for example, is to be free from the problems of life – to be free from pain and suffering. As the Buddhist saying goes, “As the water of the sea tastes of salt, so all life tastes of suffering.” Their goal is to develop a detachment from life.  Buddha taught that desire is the root of all evil. To exist is to suffer!  The answer to suffering is Nirvana (annihilation), which is achievable by successive reincarnation. Hence, Buddhism insists, “Those who love a hundred have a hundred woes. Those who love ten have ten woes. Those who love one have one woe. Those who love none have no woes.” The goal of life is to reach the stage of desirelessness. When one ceases to desire we have overcome the burden of life. How one is suppose to be desirelessness without desiring that quality is a problem few have any time (or desire?) to answer.

[1] Ted Honderich (editor), The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, (Oxford Univ; 1995), p. 641; “[T]he doctrine that God is the transcendent reality of which the material universe and human beings are only manifestations: it involves a denial of God’s personality and expresses a tendency to identify God and nature,” Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary (Random House Inc, 1999), CD, see: Pantheist.

[2] Ajith Fernando, The Supremacy of Christ, p. 241

[3] Somantics: The Magazine/Journal of the Bodily Arts and Sciences, Autumn/Winter 1983-1984, p. 33.

[4] Norman Geisler, Christian Apologetics. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1976), p. 187.

[5] Debra Lardie, Concise Dictionary of the Occult and New Age (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 2000), p. 218.; …“Proponents base their beliefs on the idea of karma, the Hindu concept of the force generated by the sum total of an individual’s actions, especially religious or ritual actions both good and bad.  Hinduism teaches that the lives of people are an accumulation of both good and bad karma.  The imbalance of this accumulation determines the circumstances for the next reincarnation life” (Ibid., pp. 218-219).

[6] Ron Carlson & Ed Decker, Fast Facts on False Teachings. (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House, 1994), pp. 28-29.

[7] From a show seen by the author [me] a few years ago on The Learning Channel.

[8] Norman Geisler, Christian Apologetics. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1976), p. 187..

[9] Rabi R. Maharaj, Death of a Guru: A Remarkable True Story of One Man’s Search for Truth (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House, 1977).

[10] From an on-line debate the author had.  You could also include the deaths of innocent civilians in the currant Iraqi war… these innocents that died by a misplaced U. S. bomb deserved so due to a previous life choice.  The critic of this war who is a New Age student of Eastern thought looses all power to criticize such “evil” acts.

To be clear… ethics [moral oughts and ought nots] finds no rest and peace in either atheism or Eastern thought

An Old Debate On Which Came First: Animism or Monotheism

This is from a larger debate, so you are coming into the middle of a conversation, FYI. This is from about 10-years ago?

Jenny said:

The indigenous peoples in the South American rain forests, and the Aborigines of Australia (before the total infestation of the white man) are two examples. These peoples, who granted have a rudimentary religious standpoint, based not upon a supreme ruling god, but on many godlike entities or species, do not get their morals from a need to worship, or fear of reprisal, for their “gods” do not hold such power. And yet, murder and thievery is still considered as wrong to them as to us.

Two points that need to be made.  First, if you read closely my original three posts, you will see that I use C. S. Lewis’s point that man cannot think of a new moral code. So yes, all men, whether in the rainforest to New York City (more of a jungle) know ultimately good from evil (for the most part). Secondly, you seem to be referring to a theory which has long been discredited but I may be wrong, please enlighten me some more if you do not mean the following. Most atheists seem to think that monotheism (belief in one God) is of recent refinement. In the nineteenth century, two anthropologists, Sir Edward Tyler and Sir James Frazer, popularized the notion that the first stage in the evolution of religion was animism (which involved the worship of spirits believed to inhabit natural phenomena), followed later by pantheism (the idea that everything is divine), then polytheism (a belief in a multitude of distinct and separate deities), and eventually monotheism.

However, recent studies in anthropology have turned this scenario on its head and show, for example, that the hundreds of contemporary tribal religions (including many which are animistic) are not primitive in the sense of being original. Writing from long time experience in India (one of the oldest religious peoples in the world), and after extended studies of ancient religions, the modern scholar Robert Brow states, The tribes have a memory of a High God, who is no longer worshipped because he is not feared. Instead of offering sacrifice to him, they concern themselves with the pressing problems of how to appease the vicious spirits of the jungle.

Still, other research suggests that tribes are not animistic because they have continued unchanged since the dawn of history and that The evidence indicates degeneration from the true knowledge of one God.

Another example is that of the mystery that confounded Confucius. One of the earliest a recordings of the worship of ShangTi is in Shu Ching (Book of History, compiled by Confucius), where it is recorded of Emperor Shun (c.2230 B. C.) as offering a sacrifice to this monotheistic God. This event (once a year) has happened for 40 centuries, until, that is, until the atheists took over when the dynasty was deposed in 1911. Chinese history and oracle bones speak of a tower where all the worlds people were once gathered, not to mention the flood and even eight people surviving on a chest full of animals. India has the same except for a few details lost in history.

All the world’s oldest religions remember a monotheistic God that they worshipped. I would study this a wee bit more to understand exactly where religion came from. Because the empirical evidence indicates that men didn’t create it, we just distorted it. That it didn’t evolve, but devolve.