The Syllogism of American Religion

Major premise: All men are created equal.

Minor premise: All religions have their origin in men.

Conclusion: All religions are equal.

 

    The above syllogism appears to be a valid argument, that is, if the premises are true, the conclusion is justified.  Only if the premises are true, however, can the argument be considered sound.  On that basis, we must proceed to test the premises as to whether they are true.    There are a couple of ways of  doing that.  One would be to question the major premise on the grounds that Jesus of Nazareth, as the New Testament describes him, was not only a man, but was God Incarnate and the Creator of all things visible and invisible. Accordingly, it cannot be truly said in the first place that "all men" are "equal." And since the biblical record, (and the Koran as well!) attests his miraculous conception in the womb of the virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit, he can hardly be said to have been "created." We must question, therefore, the major premise that "all men are created equal," for Jesus of Nazareth would be a clear exception to that premise. And since this syllogism has to do with the subject of religion, it would be fallacious to ignore this important exception. If the New Testament is true, then the major premise that "all men are created equal" is false. 

    The only way that the major premise could be regarded as true would be to deny a priori that Jesus was God in the flesh, or to put it another way, to disassociate his person from the transcendence commonly associated with him. But such a denial would represent a begging of the question, i.e., assuming the conclusion without having logically demonstrated it. The fallacy in that case would be transmitted by way of the minor premise, that all religions have their origins in men, to a false conclusion that all religions are equal.  All religions simply cannot be equal if they have their origin in men and Jesus Christ is one of those men, for then you would have a religion with its Founder declaring "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me."   If Jesus' claim is true, no religion would be the equal of Christianity.  If it is false, then Christianity would have to go to the bottom of the heap, for it is perpetuating falsehood of the worst degree.  In either case, it would not then follow that all religions were equal.

    Some might regard this as a kind of begging the question, i.e., practically assuming the conclusion from the outset. So as not to cut off meaningful dialogue, let us exempt Jesus Christ from the general class of men (since his Deity, if it be true, puts him in a class by himself), grant the point, and try another approach. When we do this, however, it should be clearly understood that we are, in effect, qualifying the word "men" in the major premise by inserting the word "mere" in front of it, i.e., "all mere men are created equal."

    The minor premise states that religion has its origin in men, but if we exempt Jesus Christ from the field of men on the ground that he is God, then we must acknowledge the falsehood of the minor premise that all religions have their origin in men. For if Christianity is included among the religions mentioned in the minor premise, namely, that all religions have their origin in men, then the minor premise is erroneous since we have already acknowledged that the founder of the Christian religion transcends the category of men. For it was on that basis that we agreed to exempt Jesus from the class of "all men" in the major premise.

    If we persist in the minor premise in the face of that fact, then we have exempted Christianity both from the category of religion in the minor premise, as well as from the Conclusion that all religions are equal. And if that be the procedure we follow, then Christians need not be troubled by the syllogism, for it does not apply to Christianity.

    We have no difficulty, therefore, accepting the syllogism with respect to all other religions which have their origin in men who are merely men and nothing more. For all other religions, by that definition, represent men's attempts to reach out to God.  Christianity, by contrast, is about the Sovereign God extending His grace from Heaven to earth in the person and work of Jesus Christ. That grace extends to men who had no previous inclination to seek God or reach out to Him. From that standpoint, Christianity has nothing to do with religion--that is, if religion is defined as having its origin in mere men.

    But dare we stop there? Should we not question the major premise on other grounds as well? To be sure, all men are created equal in the sense of possessing dignity and worth in keeping with the image of their Creator, and on that account, they all have certain inalienable rights within the state. Does it necessarily follow, however, that they all are equal in the sense of being endowed with equal reasoning capacity or inclination? Why should we expect their mental endowments or volitional tendencies to be any more equal than their physical endowments or tendencies? Are all Olympic athletes? Do all have the natural capacity or inclination to be Olympic athletes?

    Granted that some may not appear to be Olympic candidates and yet through determination and hard work prove otherwise, but in doing so, they are only demonstrating the qualities that make up a true athlete. To point to such exceptional athletes proves rather than undermines the notion that athletes are the exception rather than the rule, and such exceptional people frequently express a sense of fulfilling a life-long dream, though few took them seriously in their process. Indeed, they frequently employ the word "destiny" to describe their outstanding achievements. And while it could be argued that there is physical equity in a general sense, e.g., a person born blind tends to compensate with an acute sense of hearing, touch, etc, there is certainly not equality with respect to the capacity to accomplish certain endeavors. 

    If equality with respect to physical abilities and inclinations is lacking, why should we expect it to be present with respect to mental abilities and spiritual aptitudes? Are not some more rational by their very nature while others are more intuitive by nature? Are not some more reflective while others have a more practical bent? Does it not stand to reason that some would be able to reflect upon the nature of reality with greater precision than others? Does it not make sense that some are more observant about their surroundings and are more adept at making inferences on the basis of their observations?

    Accordingly, we must question the major premise that all men are created equal. For, if we can observe these differences among men which might be described as aptitudes, then men are not equal in every respect. And if they are not equal in every respect, then the thinking of some on matters that pertain to the Deity or ultimate reality, would be more accurate, or possess a greater correspondence to reality or truth, than the thinking of others. Accordingly, their religious views and systems would not be equal in every respect.

    Generally speaking, religions that are monotheistic in concept have more in common with Christianity than do polytheistic religions. Religions which make a clear distinction between Deity and the material universe have more in common with Christianity than do pantheistic religions which confuse or merge created being with Uncreated being (the Creator).

    But there is still another ground on which we must question the major premise that all men are created equal, and that is in reference to moral disposition. If the word "created" includes "procreation," or more accurately, "reproduction," then it must be freely acknowledged that all humans do not share an equal moral disposition at the point of exiting the womb.

    There are psychological and sociological factors, some hereditary, others environmental, but all directly connected to the point of human entry into the world, such as family, ethnic origin, environment, and innate behavioral tendencies (if not addictions). These factors contribute positively or negatively to a child's moral disposition and character development, some of them of such a magnitude that they seemingly overshadow his own ability to choose right from wrong. In extreme cases, as a result of their criminal activity, children are required to forfeit their social and political freedoms and what would ordinarily be considered "rights". Others simply have a distorted view of reality or values, and they think and act as though their private interests or desires were more important than their family, their nation, or even ultimate reality. In this sense, therefore, we must question the major premise that all men are created equal.

    In a society consisting of unequal moral dispositions, some might be inclined to devise new religions or to modify existing religions in keeping with their distorted view of reality. The degree of their moral distortion would affect the value of their religious ideas. For example, a person encased in bitterness toward his family, his own nation, or another nation, might be inclined to devise a rival religion to that of his family or a nation, or to modify his own religion out of spite, possibly as a means of seeking revenge or gaining control over people. Because the wide range of such moral distortion of individuals involved in the invention or development of religions would be grounds for questioning the major premise that "all men are created equal," it would in turn be grounds for challenging the conclusion that "all religions are equal." If the major premise is an illusion, the argument is unsound.

    But there is another ground upon which we must challenge the ground of the major premise, and that is its irrelevance. For the founder of Christianity, generally acclaimed by world philosophers and students of world religion as the greatest religious teacher of all time, did not teach that natural procreation or physical birth was sufficient in itself to make anyone an expert in the field of religion. On the contrary he cautioned one of Israel's greatest religious leaders with the words, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again" (John 3:3). And the apostle whom he loved affirmed his Master's words when he stated "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God" (1 John 5:1), and likewise did the apostle Peter (1 Peter 1:23). If the views of Jesus or his apostles, or any Christian, are to be considered, therefore, the matter of how men are created or procreated, whether equal or unequal, has nothing to do with the question of whether the religions, whose founding they may have had a hand in, are equal.  The irrelevancy of the major premise means that the argument is simply not sound.