On occasion, and not very often, I am late to the dance. Though I have been very aware of this movie and its acclaim, I only recently saw The Life of Pi for the first time. Part of the backstory is what interested me most. There is a scene in which the main character Pi, a younger person at the time, discusses his beliefs. We have already seen that he is an amalgam of Catholicism, Hinduism, and Islam. There is a growing (yet not new) understanding of faith known as religious pluralism. Recently Pope Francis was rumored to have said that, “All religions are true.” A little digging proves this is a false allegation, yet this same sentiment is becoming more prevalent. From my vantage point there are two main streams in these thoughts…
Why We Want Religious Pluralism to Work
An all-paths-lead-to-God theology is desirable because it almost certainly puts all people on equal ground both here and hereafter. We want to believe one of two equally-merited thoughts… one, that all people are generally good and should be treated as such; and two, that if a Deity does exist, his love should outweigh his justice. Further, we want to see spirituality as a series of paths, and that all paths lead to heaven or wholeness or karma or whatever the good place (reality) you may subscribe to.
Why Religious Pluralism Cannot Work
Because I have learned not to, I will not begin with the Bible. Let’s start from an intellectual point of view. Ironically and sadly enough, the term we have borrowed from geography does not work in geography anymore than it does in spirituality. All roads do not lead to Rome. Well, they do… but only if you misspell it “roam”. We know that if we head north on I-75 in Atlanta it will take us through Knoxville, TN on our way through Cincinnati, OH on to Detroit, MI and all the way to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada. I know. I took my college roommate there to renew his Canadian visa. It will not, however, take us to Rome, Italy. No intelligent person would say so. Yet far too many believe that this same line of thought is possible in spirituality.
And then there’s the Bible. Christian, if you honestly study the pages of this book you know that it is both lovingly inclusive to all who believe, yet exclusive for those who do not. You don’t have to like this. You don’t have to agree with it. You don’t have to understand it. You can even wish that it was not so. But none of that changes what the Scriptures say. As I have argued elsewhere (and will continue to), this does not give us the freedom to beat not-yet-believing people over the head with it (the Bible). It does force us to – at least – admit that there are some final conclusions about destiny and what happens to us ultimately that are spoken of distinctly in the pages of Scripture.
In closing (and hopefully opening), my prayer for anyone reading this is that you would begin in a place of intellectual honesty. All religions simply cannot be simultaneously true. Few, if any, would allow it. But even with those facts, and from my admittedly Christian viewpoint, loving one another is not optional. Speaking kindly to people (especially when you disagree with them) is not take it or leave it. Finally, the words of Jesus in John 3.
For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
3 thoughts on “Life of Pi and Religious Pluralism”
If you are interested in some new ideas on religious pluralism and the Trinity, please check out my website at http://www.religiouspluralism.ca, and give me your thoughts on improving content and presentation.
My thesis is that an abstract version of the Trinity could be Christianity’s answer to the world need for a framework of pluralistic theology.
In a constructive worldview: east, west, and far-east religions present a threefold understanding of One God manifest primarily in Muslim and Hebrew intuition of the Deity Absolute, Christian and Krishnan Hindu conception of the Universe Absolute Supreme Being; and Shaivite Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist apprehension of the Destroyer (meaning also Consummator), Unconditioned Absolute, or Spirit of All That Is and is not. Together with their variations and combinations in other major religions, these religious ideas reflect and express our collective understanding of God, in an expanded concept of the Holy Trinity.
The Trinity Absolute is portrayed in the logic of world religions, as follows:
1. Muslims and Jews may be said to worship only the first person of the Trinity, i.e. the existential Deity Absolute Creator, known as Allah or Yhwh, Abba or Father (as Jesus called him), Brahma, and other names; represented by Gabriel (Executive Archangel), Muhammad and Moses (mighty messenger prophets), and others.
2. Christians and Krishnan Hindus may be said to worship the first person through a second person, i.e. the experiential Universe or “Universal” Absolute Supreme Being (Allsoul or Supersoul), called Son/Christ or Vishnu/Krishna; represented by Michael (Supreme Archangel), Jesus (teacher and savior of souls), and others. The Allsoul is that gestalt of personal human consciousness, which we expect will be the “body of Christ” (Mahdi, Messiah, Kalki or Maitreya) in the second coming – personified in history by Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu), and others.
3. Shaivite Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucian-Taoists seem to venerate the synthesis of the first and second persons in a third person or appearance, ie. the Destiny Consummator of ultimate reality – unqualified Nirvana consciousness – associative Tao of All That Is – the absonite* Unconditioned Absolute Spirit “Synthesis of Source and Synthesis,”** who/which is logically expected to be Allah/Abba/Brahma glorified in and by union with the Supreme Being – represented in religions by Gabriel, Michael, and other Archangels, Mahadevas, Spiritpersons, etc., who may be included within the mysterious Holy Ghost.
Other strains of religion seem to be psychological variations on the third person, or possibly combinations and permutations of the members of the Trinity – all just different personality perspectives on the Same God. Taken together, the world’s major religions give us at least two insights into the first person of this thrice-personal One God, two perceptions of the second person, and at least three glimpses of the third.
* The ever-mysterious Holy Ghost or Unconditioned Spirit is neither absolutely infinite, nor absolutely finite, but absonite; meaning neither existential nor experiential, but their ultimate consummation; neither fully ideal nor totally real, but a middle path and grand synthesis of the superconscious and the conscious, in consciousness of the unconscious.
** This conception is so strong because somewhat as the Absonite Spirit is a synthesis of the spirit of the Absolute and the spirit of the Supreme, so it would seem that the evolving Supreme Being may himself also be a synthesis or “gestalt” of humanity with itself, in an Almighty Universe Allperson or Supersoul. Thus ultimately, the Absonite is their Unconditioned Absolute Coordinate Identity – the Spirit Synthesis of Source and Synthesis – the metaphysical Destiny Consummator of All That Is.
After the Hindu and Buddhist conceptions, perhaps the most subtle expression and comprehensive symbol of the 3rd person of the Trinity is the Tao; involving the harmonization of “yin and yang” (great opposing ideas indentified in positive and negative, or otherwise contrasting terms). In the Taoist icon of yin and yang, the s-shaped line separating the black and white spaces may be interpreted as the Unconditioned “Middle Path” between condition and conditioned opposites, while the circle that encompasses them both suggests their synthesis in the Spirit of the “Great Way” or Tao of All That Is.
If the small black and white circles or “eyes” are taken to represent a nucleus of truth in both yin and yang, then the metaphysics of this symbolism fits nicely with the paradoxical mystery of the Christian Holy Ghost; who is neither the spirit of the one nor the spirit of the other, but the Glorified Spirit proceeding from both, taken altogether – as one entity – personally distinct from his co-equal, co-eternal and fully coordinate co-sponsors, who differentiate from him, as well as mingle and meld in him.
For more details, please see: http://www.religiouspluralism.ca
Samuel Stuart Maynes
I just sent you an email. I’d be happy to discuss this with you.
Rob… Thanks for contacting me. I have read your essay carefully, and I still believe that all major religions have some truths which relate closely to one or other (or some combination) of the persona of the Trinity.
If you read my Preview you will see that in an abstract and enlarged concept of Trinity, all major religions can be included without denigrating or diluting any of them. As I say on my Homepage, religious pluralism is an attitude which rejects a focus on immaterial differences, and instead emphasizes those beliefs held in common. True religious pluralism goes beyond toleration and religious liberty, and gives respect to core principles rather than contradictions and marginal issues. Pluralism is the engagement not the abandonment of distinctions.
Jesus did not say that he is the ‘ONLY’ way (see John 14:6). The Bible says that there is no way to the Father, except through the Son, and implies that Jesus Christ will be the Supreme Judge of all human beings on ‘Judgment Day.’ However, it would only be fair if Christ shares that judgment seat with Muhammad or the Mahdi in the case of Muslims, Indra or Krishna for Hindus, Gautama or Maitreya for Buddhists, Lao-Tzu for Taoists, and so forth. Some just recognition is required.
If the threefold human soul – personality/mind/spirit – is modeled on the Trinity, then individual humans may inevitably have an innate predisposition to worship any one, any combination, or all of the persons of the Trinity. Some toleration is required.
Christians believe that a spark of the divine spirit of God indwells all humankind, and this is essentially the same spirit that is in the Father, in the Son, and glorified in the Holy Spirit of Father and Son. The Qur’an agrees that “the spirit of Allah is closer to you than your jugular vein.” Hindus call it the “Purusha.” Buddhists refer to it as the “Unconditioned.” Neo-Confucians call it the “Tao.” Spirit is the glue that binds.”
Samuel Stuart Maynes