“Rubbish!” my friend Nosh blurted, “Jesus said, ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’!”
Noshir (Nosh) Mehta was my colleague across the hall at a classical Christian school where I taught mostly Bible and Worldview and he taught History. Nosh was theologically and politically far to the left of me, and we had enjoyed many fun discussions and disagreements by this time. But on this occasion, his retort was not aimed at me. We had a guest at the school that day. He was an American who had changed his name to “Brighu” out of his devotion to the Hindu faith.
But Brighu also claimed to be a follower of Jesus Christ. In fact, the proper way of referring to his religious identity, he explained, was to call him a “Vayshnava Christian.” This meant he saw himself as a Hindu of the Christian stripe. In Brighu’s view, Christianity was but one of many legitimate expressions of faith in “the Lord.” This “Lord” would be the same one referred to as “my sweet Lord” in the old George Harrison song from the early 70s. Being a Christian but also a Hindu, as I understood Brighu to be saying, was like being a Jesuit or a Franciscan or a Dominican and still being a Catholic. All of these are mere orders under a single umbrella faith. And for Brighu, all of them were but mere expressions of the one truth most directly seen in the Hindu faith and revealed in the Baghavad Gita and other vedantic scriptures.
It was in the context of this discussion that Nosh burst out with his quote of John 14:6. This was doubly entertaining to me because of the irony of the ethnicity of the two men. Here was a white American guy, who had changed his name from Brian to Brighu, proclaiming the truth of Hinduism and being challenged by an Indian Christian who had grown up in Calcutta.
In dealing with our (Protestant) Christian exclusivism, Brighu gave an analogy. He asked us to imagine a smaller school where grades 1 through 12 were all learning in the same building. In this school, a first or second grade teacher might be teaching students that 1 + 1 = 2. In fact, the teacher declares to her students that 1 + 1 will always equal 2 and nothing but 2. But then a student who is excused to go to the rest room stops to listen outside a very high math class being taught to high school upper classmen. this poor little student overhears a lesson being taught wherein 1 + 1 does not always equal 2. Mildly freaking out, the child returns to his classroom and tells his teacher in front of the whole class what he has just heard. Classwide panic ensues. In order to assuage the student’s concern, the teacher resorts to saying that what the other teacher was teaching his class was not true or right. Don not pay any attention to him, she says. Only listen to me. 1 + 1 = 2, and that is all you need to worry about. It is always true, and any statement that would contradict it is false.
Brighu proceeded from this analogy to explain that, at certain points in history, a Krishna (an incarnation of Vishnu) would show up on the scene to bring a needed change in direction in a given local religious and philosophical context. Among these avatars of the one “Lord” were such notables as the Buddha in India and Jesus Christ in Palestine. As part of their work, these enlightened leaders expressed teachings to their followers which ultimately would not rightly express the truth — that is, the higher level, more powerful truth. But like the little first or second graders, these devotees were not yet ready for the greater truth. Thus, the exclusive claims of the Christian faith are meant to be outgrown by those who progress to higher levels of wisdom.
In the original Star Wars film (Episode IV: A New Hope), Obi Wan Kenobi tells Luke Skywalker that the Sith Lord Darth Vader had betrayed and murdered his father, Anakin. Two movies later, when the truth comes out that Darth Vader was actually himself Luke’s father, Luke confronts Obi Wan’s ghost about the misinformation.
“So you see,” explains the ghost, “what I told you was true — from a certain point of view.”
“A certain point of view?” objects the (all too briefly) incredulous Luke.
“Luke, you’re going to learn that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”
To this, Luke merely nods, taking on the look of one who has just been exposed to a deep and profound mystery.
For me, the big problem with this scene is the easiness and serenity with which Luke accepts this new shock. I want him to resist, to call Obi Wan a liar, to tell Obi Wan that he and Yoda can keep their stupid training in the force, if they are going to play around with him like this. But we get none of that.
This is shown to be even more crazy when comes the prequel trilogy. There we see the Emperor Palpatine, who is none other than Darth Sidious, forming a relationship with the young Anakin. Their relationship, by its very fatherly tone, is set in contrast to the relationship between Anakin and Obi Wan. Ironically, Sidious levels with Anakin, explaining that the cunning and deceit of the Sith is not really very different from the convenient uses of the truth employed by the Jedi. And he is right!
The real problem with Obi Wan’s little fib is not that it is factually untrue in the sense of a proposition which corresponds to reality, though an objection on those grounds would certainly be understandable. The problem is the deceitful narrative which he created for Luke, an illusion under which he allowed Luke to live for many years. Indeed, Obi Wan and Yoda allowed Luke to go into full mortal conflict with Vader without telling him the truth. And they were desirous to send him back into it again while still perpetuating the deception. The only thing that prevented this was that the evil Vader told Luke the truth.
In the end, the films show the real face of the New Age worldview. It offers a world where there really is no difference between light and dark, good and evil. But it celebrates the fact that most people will be okay — even heroic — if they live their day-to-day lives with a basically colloquial idea that good should triumph over evil. So Yoda can feel sad that “younglings” have been slaughtered, and Obi Wan can express outrage at the “betrayal” of Anakin.
Ultimately, we human beings who are the object of God’s love are simply not satisfied with presentations of goodness and truth which leave us living in houses of mirrors with slanting floors and trick lighting. We know that those who would abandon us to such a fate do not have our best in mind. If we are to have the truth presented to us by authority figures in ways which defy logic, in ways which seem to be sometimes inter-contradictory (and I will say that this is what the Bible does), we will be right to expect that the reality we are asked to accept should make a certain kind of narrative sense. We will be right to expect that such an Authority bear a consistent testimony to our spirit that we remain, no matter what, a beloved child. We will be right to expect that the Authority will always speak to the depths of our souls that we are in good hands.
And so it is that, even at the points where God’s word and His involvement in our lives seem to be confusing or even inter-contradictory, we are never left without a bedrock assurance of His ultimate care for us. There is within us a narrative sense of it, even when all other senses, such as propositional reasoning, fail.
But Obi Wan’s lie does not do this. That it is said to take place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away does nothing to change the simple truth that Obi Wan’s deception is just plain mean. It is unkind of the Jedi masters to cause Luke to live in an untrue world. There is nothing of love in what they did to him.
What is really true to life about all of this is that it shows the true face of the New Age (and Hindu, et al) idea of God: not really kind, not really loving — not really true.