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Here’s how I would handle this week’s challenge:
I just thought of something else to ask them. When they say all gods are really the same god, I’d ask, “Does that include the Flying Spaghetti Monster?” It seems like they would have to say, “No,” since the FSM was intentionally made up as a parody. But they might say yes. So you could go in two different directions with this.
If they say “No”:
Ask why not. If it turns out that the reason is because the FSM was made up, then ask, “So only gods that are NOT made up are the one true god?” It seems like they’d say “yes.” But then I’d press them on the obscurity of the origin of a lot of god beliefs. How do we know most of them were not just made up? Or what about if somebody is just delusional and makes up a god they think is real?
If they say “Yes”:
That would be a very interesting answer. I’d follow it up with, “So are you saying that it’s impossible for anybody to make up a god that is not the one true god?” What if I decided to regard my cat as a god and worship my cat? Would my cat then be the one true god? What about emperors who have become deified in some cultures. Are they really the one true god? What if I invent a story containing two gods, and I stipulate in my story that the two gods are actually different gods. Given that the story is fiction, you couldn’t object to the stipulation, could you? But what if somebody read the story, totally believed it was true, and worshiped both gods? Would those gods then become the same god, regardless of the stipulation?
I might ask them about Zoroastrianism, too.
I like this response Sam. That might be a very productive line of questioning.
Speaking of deifying emperors, let’s suppose there are two emperors who live at the same time. Maybe one is an emperor while the other is a general. Then the emperor dies and the general takes his place. The dead emperor becomes deified. Now the new emperor (who once was a general) dies and becomes deified. We know for certain that they were distinct individuals, but if they were both deified, would that cause them to become the same individual in reality just because people regarded them as gods?
Brett, what would you say to one of the Hare Krishna people if you pointed out the many mutually exclusive claims in the Bible, the Qu’ran, and various other places about different gods, and they responded with something like this: “None of these differences prove your point. All you’ve shown is that people believe mutually exclusive things about their gods. But that does not prove they do not worship the same god. At best, it only proves that many of them have mistaken beliefs about God. If I believed Amy was a graduate of Harvard, and you believed she was a graduate of Biola, that wouldn’t mean we were talking about two different people. It would just mean one of us is wrong about where she graduated from (assuming we’re talking about graduating at the same time and in the same sense)”?
I think they’ve confused metaphysics and epistemology. I’m after the metaphysical question (Are Krishna and Jesus different gods?), not the epistemological one (Do we have mistaken beliefs about God?). I’d explain the law of identity to them. If two things are identical they will share all properties. So we have a test: if we find one thing true of Krishna that is not true of Jesus, they are not identical. Of course, other issues might surface but that’s the direction I’d head in.