The danger of truth

This article was originally a letter I sent to a Pakistani army officer who held Islamic fundamentalist sympathies and wrote expressing a concern for truth, especially as stated in the Quran.

Truth can be a contentious concept, which self-righteousness can easily drive towards sin. It is good to be concerned for truth provided that concern does not stray into extremes that make it dangerous. Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the three great religions of Abraham, have each at times spawned dangerous fundamentalism, which has perverted spirituality into hatred.

God is truth. God is wisdom. God is mercy. God is righteousness. God is love. But God is all these virtues at the same time. Any portrayal of God that relies on one or two of his attributes, rather than all, is a perversion. Fundamentalism is such a perversion. The focus of fundamentalism is the concept of truth based on a deified book rather than a God who is all-in-all. Whether the book is called Torah, Bible or Quran, it is idolatry to raise the book to the level of an ultimate authority. God spoke to Abraham as a man speaks to his friend. God has not changed, but many religious people have changed their story of God to portray him as a distant, inaccessible despot hidden behind an idol, a priesthood or a book.

My background is that of an evangelical Christian who once was pleased to describe himself as a fundamentalist. My zealousness for objective truth did not, thank God, reach the extremes that fundamentalism has sometimes shown, but it did at times overshadow my sense of mercy and love.

>I know very little about Islam, having been brought up in a quite different culture. However, I recognise Islam as a valid spiritual tradition that has many values in common with those that I hold. I do not wish to be converted to Islam; nor do I aspire to convert Muslims to Christianity. What I sincerely desire is that all those who say they love God will learn to know him better in all his reality. The traditions that brought them into faith may have distorted God's image by over-emphasising one aspect of God to the detriment of other attributes. Those who truly follow God as spiritually alive individuals, rather than as political conformists to the dogma of their religion or sect, find that God is far more complex, more exciting, more mysterious and more wonderful than they realised when they first fell in love with him.

Each of the great religions has variations ranging from fundamentalism, which promotes exclusivity, to more open forms of spirituality, which promote respect and sharing. I encourage every believer to move away from self-righteous positions of exclusivity and pride and to move towards those inclusive, healing, forgiving ways that show God's beauty to the world. Truth, like God, is many-sided. We can genuinely know the truth, but still need a lifetime of learning to know its other faces. In fact a lifetime is insufficient and I look forward to an eternity of learning. Each side of truth that we learn is valuable, but there are always other aspects to be learned. Knowing the truth has little to do with knowing truths, but everything to do with developing a personal relationship with the God behind the truths.

© Derrick Phillips - 1997