Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Theological Thoughts

M's post on Mormonism reminded me of a recent religious epiphany that I struggled with. I haven't fully resolved my dilemma either, except to say that I suppose it's one of those faith things.

It occurred to me not too long ago that to an "outsider," the message of salvation - specifically the whole exclusivity thing - can appear petty. Seriously. What we Christians say is - you need to believe thus and so to be saved. What you did in this life doesn't matter. If you don't believe, you're going to hell.

Now, if I'm a nonchristian but generally good person, I hear this and think to myself - well, if that's so, gee, God seems rather petty, now doesn't he? I mean, consider the ramifications of our belief. If Hitler/Stalin/Dahmer/(insert favorite embodiment of evil here) recanted at his deathbed and "truly" believed, they'd be saved, and be with God now. Conversely, your atheistic aunt and uncle, who give to every charity known to man, are kind to strangers and animals, and would pretty much throw themselves in front of a bus to save your life, will go to hell.

And all because they didn't believe one little thing. Hmmm... seems.... petty. What we do on earth accounts for nothing, except for some promise of cosmic "rewards" when we die, provided we believed? It's not suprising to me that nonchristians can have a hard time!

***** Comment from Miriam:*****
{sorry, i jumped into your post because I wasn't sure links would work in the actual comment window thingy.}
Well, I looked around in my head and couldn't find nuthin' worth posting. So I asked my good buddy Ravi Zacharaias and he said:
One of the most fallacious ideas ever spawned in Western attitudes toward truth is the oft-repeated pronouncement that exclusionary claims to truth are a Western way of thinking. The East, it is implied, accepts all religions as equally true.

This is patently false. Every religion, without exception, has some foundational beliefs that are categorically nonnegotiable and exclude everything to the contrary. You see, truth by definition is exclusive. If truth were all-inclusive, nothing would be false. And if nothing were false, what would be the meaning of true? Furthermore, if nothing were false, would it be true to say that everything is false? It quickly becomes evident that nonsense would follow.

Truth, very simply stated, boils down to two tests: Statements made must correspond to reality, and the system of thought that is developed as a result must be coherent. The correspondence and coherence tests are applied by all of us in matters that affect us.1

When Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), he was making a very reasonable statement by affirming truth’s exclusivity. The question one may legitimately ask is whether he demonstrated that claim rather than just stating it without any reasonable defense. Hence it is very important when making truth claims before an audience to clarify them. This task is the first and most important step in apologetics.

Then I found an article by Dr. Alan Scholes (from Intervarsity & stuff)
The Artful Dodger: A Skeptic Confronts Christianity
Here he’s discussing what he read in Francis Schaeffer’s writing on the “unfairness” of exclusivity in faith.

Schaeffer then explained the passage with the following illustration: Imagine that each baby is born into the world with an invisible tape recorder hung around his neck. Imagine further that these are very special recorders that record only when moral judgments are made. Aesthetic judgments such as "This is beautiful" are not recorded. But whenever a person makes such a statement as "She's such a gossip," or "He's so lazy," the recorder turns on, records the statement and turns off. Many times each day the recorder operates, as the person makes moral judgments about those around him, recording dozens of judgments each week, hundreds every year and thousands in a lifetime.

Then the scene shifts, and we suddenly see all the people of the world standing before God at the end of time. "God, it's not fair for You to judge me," say some. "I didn't know about Christ. No one taught me the Ten Commandments, and I never read the Sermon on the Mount."

Then God speaks. "Very well. Since you claim not to know My laws, I will set aside My perfect standard of righteousness. Instead I will judge you on this." And as He pushes the button on the recorder, the person listens with growing horror as his own voice pours forth a stream of condemnation toward those around him..."She shouldn't be doing this." "He was wrong in that"-thousands upon thousands of moral judgments.

When the tape ends, God says, "This will be the basis of My judgment: how well have you kept the moral standards you proved that you understood by constantly applying them to those around you. Here you accused someone of lying, yet have you ever stretched the truth? You were angry at that fellow for being selfish, yet have you ever put your own interests above someone else's needs?"
And every person will be silent. For no one has consistently lived up to the standard he demands of others.

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