- Wrestling with God
Paul Ingram of Pacific Lutheran University is a long-time veteran of Buddhist-Christian dialogue and a generous contributor to the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies. His earlier book, Wrestling with the Ox, took the famous Zen ox herding pictures as an entry point for reflecting on the transformation of identity that can take place in Buddhist-Christian relations. The present book opens with the image of Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32 as a launching point for exploring religious diversity in a world ever more shaped by natural science. Ingram's thesis is that "Christianity is now in a process of decay and that dialogue with the world's religions—especially Buddhism—and Christian dialogue with the natural sciences are the two most important intellectual foci for thinking Christians" (p. x).
Relating his position to that of John Hick while questioning Hick's Kantian epistemology, Ingram proposes a pluralistic evaluation of the world's religious traditions—or at least some forms of them. Ingram seeks to be deeply rooted in the Christian tradition while being open to the legitimate variety of other religions. Nonetheless, Ingram has rather harsh words to say about "legalists and fundamentalists" without ever offering a precise definition of who is included in these terms. He describes fundamentalists in all religious traditions as "trapped in the conventional categories of their ideologies" (p. 21), but what counts as "conventional categories" or as "ideologies" is never fully clarified.
Ingram rejects any tradition's claim to have "the final or the exclusive or the inclusive Word about God" because this would be a form of idolatry, which Muslims call shirk (p. 19). Ingram's position would appear to condemn a very wide spectrum, including traditional Christians and Muslims who believe that their respective scriptures express God's final revelation. Such a grouping would appear to be far broader than those conventionally labeled "fundamentalist." For example, Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) expresses the traditional Catholic belief that Jesus Christ is the center of revelation and no further public revelation is to be expected before his Second Coming; the constitution also accepts historical criticism of the Bible and thus does not fit the usual model of "fundamentalism." Because "fundamentalist" is frequently not a contemporary form of self-designation, it would be helpful to have more specific guidance on how Ingram wishes to apply the term, especially to contexts that are not Christian. If all those who firmly hold traditional doctrinal views are included under this umbrella, Ingram's pluralistic thesis presents itself as firmly rejecting a considerable range of the world's religious traditions.
Citing Alfred North Whitehead and contemporary physics, Ingram finds plurality and interdependence to be at the heart of all forms of existence, "from sub-atomic [End Page 201] particles to religious traditions to God" (p. 20). This is a clear rejection of the Muslim doctrine of tawhid, the radical oneness of God, which for Muslims excludes any notion of Trinity or plurality or interdependence in God. Even though Ingram clearly intends to include Islam among the community of acceptable religions, central Muslim beliefs in the oneness of God and the finality of the Qur'an appear to be unacceptable to his position.
If we ask about the criteria for distinguishing acceptable and unacceptable forms of religion, much in Ingram's discussion seems to turn on intuition and emotion. He tells us that the basis for a person belonging to one religious tradition rather than another is not rational argument; rather, "It all depends on what or who 'speaks' to you" (p. 31). While admiring a wide range of religious leaders, Ingram admits, "I don't 'experience' them. They don't 'speak' to me" (p. 31). Ingram acknowledges that his difficulty with fundamentalist Christians is strongly emotional: "Whenever I listen to fundamentalist Christians describe Jesus as a kind of best buddy, I feel a little creepy" (p. 32). Ingram is distrustful of claims of reason regarding religion: "You find yourself in a state of faith, that is you 'get...