Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Porcupines and Teddy Bears

It's become a recent phenomenon in my life. When I visit someplace like my home church or my old high school that I still have connections with but that I haven't been in awhile, and talk to people, they often ask me how things are going.

I have discovered that my favorite response to this is the phrase "I'm in college." It says so much in so few words. It says:

1) I am in college. This seems self-explanatory. But from that statement follows so much more, such as:
2) I am taking harder classes.
3) I am scared out of my mind academically and socially.
4) I am adjusting to the fact that my dorm room is becoming more and more my "home."
5) I am eating commons food.
6) I am scared out of my mind, period.
7) My relationship with God is growing, albeit under stress.
8) Speaking of stress, I have much of it.
9) I am learning things.
10) I am very tired. Always. And if I'm not tired, I'll do something like doing laundry at 1:00 AM, to make myself tired.
11) There's more to add to the list, but that's a brief summary of the implications.

So you see that the statement "I'm in college" has many implications beyond simply what it says.

But I was also going to post an essay today. And so I will. Constructive criticism is welcome. I'm not sure how loosely I'm using the word "essay" here. But don't look for that 5-paragraph structure with three-pronged thesis statements. What's funny: you're forced to follow it in an almost totalitarian fashion during high school and then told, once in college, that nobody gives a crap about it. At least, your english and philosophy professors say nobody gives a crap. Oh, and they say you can use I now.

Pluralist in this essay refers to someone who believes that there is more than one path leading to salvation (i.e. Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism all lead to Salvation.) Exclusivist in this essay refers to someone who believes that there is one path of salvation (i.e. only by Christ are we saved.) I am an exclusivist. This essay is an attempt to explain how I often feel talking with pluralists, and the misconception I see in their perception of my belief system. One day I may attempt an essay dealing with the feelings of the pluralist in the dialogue. It certainly could be helpful, if I could pull it off.

"Porcupines and Teddy Bears"

When common pluralists speak of exclusivism, they often speak wrongly of it. In their view exclusivism is a theological teddy-bear which the orthodox hug at night. They see us as being somehow comforted by the notion that some persons will be saved and others will not. Of course I exaggerate. I am not seriously suggesting that pluralists always view exclusivism as a comforting prejudice. But many pluralists do, and the others have a habit of giving that impression.

The myth about exclusivism is that it is a preferred belief, taken on because one wants to believe it. But the pluralist’s own words hold the truth. A very dear and very pluralist friend of mine once remarked, when discussing the subject, that she didn’t “really like the idea of hell.” We were too young at that time to appreciate such ideas as heaven and hell. Even so, her words betray the truth: Exclusivism is a belief accepted not because of, but in spite of, its appeal. It follows that persons who reject exclusivism (unless they know a perverse exclusivist very well) are likely to reject it on the basis of its unpleasantness, not its supposed basis in sectarianism or in prejudice.[1]

It may have occurred to the reader that perhaps all exclusivists are perverse and prefer their doctrine. I offer myself as a counterexample. I don’t really like the idea of hell, either. But I take it as an article of orthodox faith, with honesty I find exclusivism the most difficult component of orthodoxy. Some days I pray to God that when I die I might discover that pluralism is the true theology, that I have been wrong all of this time about Christ being the only way to heaven. I cannot expect these prayers to change God’s mind. At least in orthodox Christianity hell is considered to be very much real. But should I die and discover that hell is a human invention, I will not be any less joyful for the fact.

The difficulty I have with most pluralists is not simply what they believe, but that often when they speak about said beliefs I am made to feel as if I am, because I am not a pluralist, prejudiced or sectarian. As if my belief system were an easy one to hold. Exclusivism is not a teddy-bear which the orthodox hug at night. Accepting exclusivism is like hugging a porcupine. It can be done, but at each turn there is a spike of doubt, sadness, or pain, which causes the believer (spiritually speaking) to bleed. There is no teddy-bear. Those of us orthodox who are sensible know that exclusivism may be true, but it must never be pleasant. Hell exists, but delighting in the fact perverts the doctrine. We accept the doctrine of Christ as the way because it is written in the Scripture, said by Christ and by others. The very last thing on the sensible exclusivist’s mind is that exclusivism should be a vehicle for mere prejudice.

A scant few might honestly say that they reject it on the basis of reason, but a scant few is a scant few. Perhaps in another writing I shall deal with that scant few; here I speak of the common mass of pluralists who, frankly, don’t do much reasoning on theological matters.


That's the end of the essay. Enjoy.


L-Po said...

So, why do you think you're staying in college when it's such a scary, stressful place? Are there any perks ... like the Commons always has a dinner plan?

nana said...

i think you have successfully defined a paradox. Despite the 10 reasons why you shouldn't, you give every evidence of having a blast in college and being in your natural element.

As far as the essay, I am greatly impressed and could not agree with you more that "exclusivism may be true, but it may never be pleasant." and "We accept the doctrine of Christ as the way because it is written in the Scriptures, aid by Christ and by others." and "Hell exists, but delighting in the fact perverts the doctrine."

Very well put. I am proud to know you.

k-po said...

are you still not coming to the wedding? if not you will be desperately missed, not only by me but your cousins as well -