Oprah had a captive audience as she spoke on faith and belief. Referencing the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn she states "One of the mistakes that human beings make is that there is only one way to live, and that we don't accept that there are diverse ways of being in the world. There are millions of ways of being a human being and many paths to what you call God…"
I'm certain that many in the studio audience as well as at home agreed with her. The idea that the Christian faith could be the exclusive path to God usually spurs discomfort on the part of people who hear it explained that way. They don't like the idea of only one way and their immediate reaction is to think the Christian who holds to exclusivity is being biased in his or her own favor. But is this so? Let's take a look at a few reasons why people believe in Oprah's understanding of multiple paths to God and see if they make sense.
Exclusivity is BigotedIn the Oprah quote above, you can immediately see how the television host reacts to the audience member who stated there is only one way to God. She called it a mistake and she tied the idea of communing with God to the diversity of human living on the globe. Many others I've spoken to have similarly challenged me, claiming that I was being bigoted by proposing my way as the only way to God. This concept has become even more prominent as we strive to become a more diverse and multicultural society.
Yet multiculturalism in and of itself tells us nothing about the truth value of any belief. For example, different belief systems vary greatly in how they understand even the fundamental aspects of who God is. Theraveda Buddhism doesn't hold to any kind of personal God at all while Judaism believes in a God who interacts with men. Islam is strictly monotheistic while Hinduism holds to a multiplicity of gods. How could these all be true?
All religions make exclusive claims about God. The fact that these claims exist tell us at least two things: not all religions can be right sine their claims about God stand in contradiction to one another and a claim of exclusivity does not automatically disqualify any belief from being right, lest they all be disqualified. The last point is simply logical and we recognize it in other areas. A lot of people wish to have children, but there's only one way to create a child and that involves combining male and female reproductive cells and gestation inside a womb. The process is exclusive. Men cannot become pregnant, but because it is exclusive doesn't mean that it is incorrect.
An All-Loving God Would Be More Accepting than MeThe second objection offered against an exclusive way to God is that an all-loving God would be more willing to look past the faults and flaws of individuals and see the desire to please him as enough. Such a position emphasizes one aspect of God's character at the expense of another; it touts God's grace and forgiveness without taking into account God's justice and holiness. It is very common for people to believe that all God needs is a sincere belief and a level of basic morality to please him. Of course, what counts as basic morality is left out of the discussion. Certain traditional Hindus would see the practice of sati (throwing a dead man's wife on his funeral pyre so she will burn with him) as proper. The word "sati" (sometimes transliterated "suttee") even means "good wife".1 Saudi Muslims believe that it is immoral for women to not be cloaked in a veil or in any space with a man that isn't an immediate relation. I'm sure that Oprah would see these kinds of subjugations as immoral, so the assertion strikes me as question-begging.
How do you know which actions done ion sincerity are the ones that would please God? Should God be angry with those who inflict female genital mutilation upon young girls? Would a just God allow that to "slide"? Does a perfectly holy God allow ANY sin a free pass or do they all need to be dealt with so that justice may be fully realized? Interestingly, only Christianity offers the solution to God's absolute holiness, God's full justice, and God's loving grace in the atoning death of Jesus.
The idea of many paths to God sounds good to our 21st century ears, but such a position usually shows the person who asserts such hasn't truly thought through the position carefully. God is not only forgiving, but holy and just. Any path to God must take those attributes into account before it can be considered viable.