Biblical Christians cannot embrace Eastern philosophy and religion and still be true to the biblical witness. While there might be some helpful teachings here and there, the overall scheme of things is in direct contrast to what Christianity teaches, including the belief that there is absolute truth, and there are falsehoods that stand against these truths. There are real spiritual and theological and moral opposites, not just two sides of the same coin.
Before I became a Christian I spent a fair amount of time looking into Eastern philosophy and theology. I read many of the key works, and tried to get my head around Eastern thought. But then I became a Christian and I very quickly gave up on that worldview and way of thinking.
But of course I still have encounters with folks who embrace Eastern thought – be they Westerners like me who have looked into it, or those from the East itself. When it comes to discussing Christianity with them, it often boils down to a debate between how Westerners and Easterners think.
The common claim is that the West is rationalistic and logical while the East does not embrace this way of thought. Logic, we are told, is simply a Western concept, and things like the law of non-contradiction are fine in the West, but have no application for those in the East.
But is this actually the case? Are there two radically different ways of thinking and viewing the world, and never the twain shall meet? No, is my short answer. And to tease this out further, let me mention a comment that came in to a social media post I had done. I had been discussing a common debate found in Christian theology. And with my morning Bible reading spurring me on, I had said this:
Hundreds of biblical passages speak to the fact that God is fully sovereign and in control. Hundreds of biblical passages speak to the fact that people are responsible for the choices that they make. How these two truths cohere will remain a mystery this side of heaven. But a number of times both truths are fully affirmed in a single verse, such as Mark 14:21: “For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”
Since this can be such a hot potato topic with so many getting all hot and bothered theologically, I added a comment saying that those who want to start WWIII over this are advised to take it elsewhere. After all, with entire libraries devoted to these issues, we will just not get very far arguing in tiny Facebook comment boxes.
Well, things were going pretty good with folks seeming to respect my wishes. But then someone came along from unexpected quarters. I had expected an ornery Calvinist or a grumpy Arminian to write in, but it did not occur to me that I would get into a debate with an Easterner – in this case an Asian Christian friend. She sent in this comment:
“It’s a problem because western intellectual history is based on Aristotle’s non-contradiction theory. The Eastern mind has no problems accepting contradictions. In fact that ability is a sign of intelligence. However, in the west, it’s considered illogical. BTW the Bible is essentially an Eastern book.”
I thanked her and gave her a brief response, but assured her that a much longer piece would be needed to give this topic due justice. So what follows is an expanded version of what I had said to her. It was not entirely clear if she was saying that this is how Eastern folks tend to think (which is certainly the case), or whether she was saying that she as a Christian believed this as well. This then is my response.
God is a God of truth. And truth implies that there can be the absence or antithesis of truth – that is, falsehood. Lies and truth are not two sides of the same coin, of yin and yang. They are in fact polar opposites. God does not lie nor can he lie. And falsehood and truth can never cohere or live together in some sort of peaceful harmony.
Moreover, the laws of logic, including the law of non-contradiction, are NOT theories invented by Aristotle. He, along with others, may have helped to ‘discover’ and codify these laws (for which we can all be grateful), but he did not create them. In the same way Isaac Newton did not create the law of gravity; he simply discovered it.
The laws of logic have to do with the nature of truth, and our God is a perfectly true God, so he too is logical, and he does not contradict or repudiate himself. So these basic truths of thought and rationality are rooted in the very nature of God. They exist in God and he has revealed these truths to us. That God cannot lie or contradict himself is consistent with who he is. He is a God of truth, and we too are created to live this way – to live in truth and to confront falsehood.