This week’s blog is indebted to a good friend who wrote to me requesting that I have a listen to Remona’s view of spirituality in the radio show, above. My friend had seen my post a few weeks ago about an encounter I had with a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Glasgow and wanted to know what I thought…
Do You Think About Heaven?
No wonder that people are increasingly giving pause to think about paradise. Current world events are distressing for most people, regardless of any faith/belief/convictions. And despite the flecks of immense beauty that I try to focus on every single day, it’s obvious that the world is in a very fragile state – naturally, sociologically, politically. It’s awful and very frightening to behold.
Responding to the nominally Islamic Remona, I want to sign-post the only way to have something more than a wafer-thin bedrock of hope for the future.
The very first hurdle here is difficult to vault – i.e. the strongly ingrained sense of ‘entitlement’ or ‘rights’ within the human psyche. Early on, Remona refers to paradise as being, basically, ‘whatever you like’ – whatever/whoever/however you imagine it to be – like a fairytale pic ‘n’ mix.
Forget any faith perspective for a moment, this is the general human response (whether for LGBT ‘rights’, the astounding ‘redefinition’ of family/marriage, white supremacists, the whim of a 6 year old boy to go to school wearing a dress, a Church leader abdicating his charge, a rebellious teenager who doesn’t respect any authority at all, a gunman in Vegas, terrorism on our streets…) – whatever seems like a human right to us as individuals is the trump card rather than an objective enquiry after what is actually true and moral.
Honestly, this level of thought that Remona has privilege to spout over national radio is irritatingly childish because basically, for her, it boils down to the fact that “unless I feel it is reasonable or fair or plausible, it simply can not be true…” or, conversely, “…if I feel paradise must include Elvis or Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, then it must surely be true.”
And no one can say anything different without becoming hateful and bigoted…or arrogant.
The Offence of Absolute Truth
But watch what happens as a major part of this (common) ‘spiritual’ train of thought:- if the question of any objective, absolute truth is brought into the conversation, (history, facts and figures), there is often a strong rejection of that based on the insult to the childish thinking, above – outrage, in fact, like a toddler’s tantrum – Remona’s whole internal world is being governed by her offence at the concept of absolute truth.
This attitude comes out clearly when she refers to the thought of paradise being full of only Muslims as absolutely not her idea of eternal fun. Unfortunately, eternity isn’t based on our ideas or imaginations; it’s a literal/physical reality that, in one sense, couldn’t care less about our ideas or opinions of what it should/shouldn’t be. (I say unfortunately but how ridiculously scary would paradise be if it was based on all of our subjective ideas and imaginations? Again, fairy tales [at best] and horror shows [at worst]).
Not Everything Is True
Instead, can’t we face simple facts, acknowledge and be grateful that it’s a contradiction in terms to say that everything is true? My watch is black not yellow. It doesn’t matter how anyone feels about that, black is what it is. Belief, as Remona says, may be complex but acknowledging this simple concept of absolute truth really is not. A child of the age of six can tell you the colour of their cereal bowl.
Granted, the issue of claiming a monopoly on the truth is massively offensive and regarded by some as being horribly arrogant. I half agree – it is a direct challenge for all of us to be told “this is true and this is not” and a direct affront to our own desire to be at peace with God by our own “good works”, expressed in a myriad of ways that you and I see every day. For example, one of my neighbours is a Free Mason and is lovely, lovely bloke but his belief system hinges on entering paradise based on him being “good” – cutting my grass etc. The JW’s in last week’s post are trying to earn their salvation by ‘witnessing’ on the streets.
The Futility of Pluralism
In Romans 3:23, the former persecutor/murderer of Christians, Paul of Tarsus (see Acts 9), writes that “all of us have fallen short of the glory of God…” (God’s standard of perfection). Isaiah said, hundreds of years before, that all our best efforts to remedy this gap are like filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6). Hence we need a solution that no other world faith offers: grace. We need Jesus. Love him or hate him – whether you’re from England, Iran, Iraq, US, Israel, wherever – we need something more than we can give ourselves. We need salvation.
But the big foghorn narratives of culture shout that “whatever is right for you, whichever way to God works for you, whichever holy book comes from your culture…good on you…as long as you’re ‘good’…and who am I to tell you any different? Pluralism is absolutely the order of the day.
But let’s pause for a second. While significantly more palatable, popular and easy-to-digest than a human-confronting, arrogant-sounding absolute truth, does pluralism actually make sense? Are we even trying to engage with this question of paradise on a genuinely intellectual level?
The Land of Narnia is Real
Countering this type of secular thought, C.S.Lewis said it like this,
“Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important”.
Pluralism, in essence, argues that everything is moderately important and, in so doing, robs humanity of the joy, exhilaration and genuine peace of finding absolute truth. It’s like driving a beige box Volvo of a car from the 90s when you could drive a flying orange Ferrari from the future: it serves a purpose but simply doesn’t scratch where we all really itch with longings for peace and assurance, even if we can’t quite articulate where that is.
The point from my conversation with the Jehovah’s Witnesses (who don’t believe the Bible or the account of the life/death/resurrection of Jesus) was just what Lewis’ quote addresses: please let’s not try to resolve this by ‘agreeing to disagree’ because it’s impossible for us both to be right – one of us has to be wrong. Either Christ was the Son of God, or He wasn’t; either what the JW’s believe is true or what I believe is, or a Muslim or a Buddhist or a Hindu or an atheist. But we can’t all be right, can we? We should all care a lot more about genuine, absolute truth or else what we say we believe (as being true) is like a constant holding of our breath without any real hope of starting to breathe again. Like when Phoebe convinced Ross in a few seconds that evolution might not be true.
What Makes Sense?
Absolute truth, though unpopular and often rejected without robust thought, is the only logical conclusion and why claiming a monopoly on the truth isn’t arrogant but, ultimately, sensible. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus Christ didn’t claim to be God. This claim isn’t even close to being historically sensible but, also – on a basic level – is completely illogical.
If you read the 16 short, fast-paced chapters of Mark’s gospel/eye-witness account of Christ, it’s obvious that it was precisely because of Jesus’ claims of absolute truth (“I am the way, the truth and the life, no-one can come to the Father but by me – John 14:6) that he was killed and hated by the religious powers that were under Caesar and The Jewish Pharisees at that time. Why else would someone that obviously good be given a criminal’s death – even death on a cross? Not even secular history disputes the life and death of Christ. It’s a complete given. But they hated that he claimed a monopoly on the truth and it’s exactly the same today.
But that doesn’t mean that absolute truth isn’t true. And it certainly doesn’t mean that Christian thought, claiming a monopoly on the truth, is arrogant. The only arrogance is the shocking claim that anything and everything can be true (except an absolute truth) and that this is, somehow, (like fairy dust), expected to offer any real assurance or peace for Remona’s children wondering about their Grandpa in the photo on the mantle piece.
The type of ‘spiritual thought’ in this radio feature is very popular and adored by the BBC (whether secular, humanist, or, in this case, nominally Islamic) but also completely nonsensical. Even my other neighbour, (an Iraqi Muslim), who cycles to the mosque every morning at 5am, wouldn’t believe what Remona shares on this radio show.