I really like Will Smith. He’s one of my favorite actors, and I almost always dig movies in which he appears. The Pursuit of Hapyness and I am Legend were both good films. His latest, Seven Pounds, is a movie I will probably go see.
Therefore, I read his recent interview in Newsweek with great interest. He said some very intriguing things.
For one, I really appreciate it that he acknowledges suffering in this life. It’s so easy to brush it off, blind yourself to it, and adopt a surfacy, self-help, motivational guru approach to life. I didn’t see that in this interview. Seems like he tries to wrestle with loss and suffering, rather than deny and run from it. For instance, he says:
“I love the origins of a story and have always been intrigued with the idea of trauma—emotional trauma and loss. Life is all about death and rebirth and how do we manage to deal with those things when they happen. And not just death in terms of life. You know when you lose your job or your house—that’s a death of something that is a part of your life. How do you manage that? What do you do the next day after it happens? How do you go on? With these characters, they’ve all experienced traumas that have changed their lives. I like that this film (Seven Pounds) shows you the options in life for redemption and finding yourself again.”
After that, however, the interview takes a strange turn. He starts commenting on religion. Though he makes some spot-on remarks about service and leading an others-centered life, most of his comments on faith and spirituality reveal a profound misunderstanding.
In response to the question, “Are you a Scientologist,” he replies:
“I love the nature of humanity’s search for meaning. For me I’m certain about my relationship with the model of perfection of human life that’s laid out with the life of Jesus Christ. I’m certain of that.”
Wow…that’s a mouthful. “I’m certain about my relationship with the model of perfection of human life that’s laid out with the life of Jesus Christ.” If nothing else, that’s an interesting way to phrase it. Hmm.
“So I’m at home and not fearful when I sit in a mosque or a synagogue or a Buddhist temple, the same way that I’m home in the Church of Scientology. I like anywhere people are searching for the truth, and I respect their path and I’m intrigued by their path. I think when you are certain in and of what you believe in, you can open your mind to seeing the ways of others. I’m not bothered when someone says “Allah” because they’re talking about God—we are talking about the same person. I was in India recently and my hotel was near the Taj Mahal. Five times a day there would be a call for prayer, and it was the most beautiful thing. I was lying in my bed thinking, no matter what your religion is, it would be great to have that reminder five times a day to remember your Lord and savior.”
This reflects an “any old god will do” approach to spirituality. What matters is not that its True in the objective sense–he might not even think objective religious truth exists–but that your beliefs are your choice, they make you happy and help you live life to the fullest. If a certain path brings you peace, then that path is “right for you.”
This is what Greg Koukl labels the “ice cream” approach to spirituality: beliefs are neither true nor false. They are a matter of personal taste and choice. It would be silly for me, a rocky road fan, to say to a vanilla fan, “You are wrong. Repent, sinner!” Just the same, its silly and “narrow-minded” for someone to criticize another’s choice of spiritual paths, especially if that path is helping that person “get along” in life.
Hence the popular phrase, “true for you but not for me.”
Many if not most religious claims and “paths,” however, simply don’t fit into that box. Its rather absurd to think that God pops into existence “for” a Christian, but suddenly pops out of existence “for” an atheist. Many religions make historical, scientific, and metaphysical claims.
Did Jesus rise from the dead or not? If not, then Paul himself admits Christianity is for suckers.
Did Muhammad really receive revelation straight from Allah? Did God really create the world?
These claims aren’t simply matters of taste. Rather, they can be evidentially investigated.
Plus, as Koukl says, when you die, you either are reincarnated, you go to heaven, hell, you rot in the grave, you catch a flight on the back of a comet, or, none of the above, or, or…but you can’t do them all!
Secondly, all religions aren’t morally neutral. Some–like the Jim Jones cult or the Branch Davidians of the 90′s–are outright crazy. Others–like Islam, advocate killing the infidel (that’d be you and me). Am I supposed to give a nod to something like that?
Thirdly, I honestly don’t know how he could say “Allah” and “God” are the same person. Yes, the words translate the same, but I’m talking about the concepts of God in Islam and Christianity. Has Will Smith actually read the Koran?
Most importantly, however, he misunderstands that religions aren’t equal on a more fundamental scale. Every religion I know of
a) attempts to diagnose what the problem is with humanity, and
b) offers a solution, or “cure” to it.
Now this is serious business. If a doctor in medicine misdiagnoses a patient and/or gives an inadequate cure, that doctor is no doctor at all. We call him a “crackpot.” If that’s the way we think about our physical bodies, why should we all of a sudden shrug our shoulders and go “whatever floats your boat” when it comes to our souls? The soul is with you forever!
The stakes are high: getting it wrong brings both temporal and eternal consequences.
Given this, Smith is asking the wrong questions. He should be asking “what religion is true?” not “what religion gives me personal meaning?” Every religion is about something. Does it accurately describe reality?
Can we all agree that Jesus was a smart man? He knew a thing or two about humanity and spirituality. He had a perspective on things that all before and since Him lack. He had real authority. Even the most ardent skeptic can acknowledge this. Any person desiring wisdom would give his perspective some thought.
What was His take? His diagnosis was that every human being sins. We are infected through and through with it. Even the best of the best sin….often. If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we fall woefully short in word, thought, and deed. We each have acquired quite a lengthy rap sheet. Because God is fully loving and just, this rap sheet separates us from Him.
This, then, is the problem…sin…and its a problem that Muhammad, Gautama Buddha, Oprah, or L. Ron Hubbard can’t solve.
Oh, yes, those others might make you feel better. They might make you behave better. They might bring satisfaction and peace. But they are only curing the external symptoms, not the fundamental disease, if you will.
Only Jesus has the goods. God, in His mercy, has given us the solution: forgiveness. It is on His terms, not ours, though. His terms? Forgiveness through Christ. Take it or leave it.
So, Will: “do-gooding” is part of it. Finding satisfaction and meaning is part of it. But that’s the surface, not the fundamentals. Thinking that all religions basically teach the same thing (I don’t know if Will Smith actually believes this, but given what he said in the interview, sounds like he might) is like saying that aspirin and arsenic are the same because they both come in tablet form. It’s the differences that matter; it’s the differences that bring eternal life, or eternal death.
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