Friday, April 17, 2009

One religion is the same as the next?

The most respectful atheist I’ve ever encountered, anywhere on the net, left a couple comments in response to yesterday’s post. Because I’m so long winded, I told him that I’d address his comments in the following post.

This gentleman said, “An accident of your birth--being born in a country whose predominant faith is Christianity--is the principle reason you have found Christianity the answer to life's complex questions.”

Well, I think being born in Canada is one reason that I was able to understand Christianity. But even that is not quite right as any atheist who is born in Canada still finds Christianity incomprehensible.

However Christianity being the principle answer to life’s complex questions, if that's true, remains true regardless of where I am born and regardless of what I believe. The same could be said, regarding knowledge of any kind, of someone born in a developed country versus someone born in a third-world country. For example, one could say, “An accident of your birth, being born in a country with advanced biology departments, is the principle reason you understand truths about biology.” That’s true but it doesn’t render the knowledge any less true. I know that’s not exactly what you meant so let me explain further in response to your next comment.

“The same sorts of religious sentiment are felt by Muslims, Hindus, Animists, Pagans ad infinitum. Christianity is far from being in a unique position.”

Well, I’m not sure how I could disagree more strongly. I’m not trying to be rude, but it’s been my experience that people who say that all religions are the same, simply have not looked at all religions. It’s true that all OTHER religions offer an escape from the shackles of individuality and physical embodiment into some kind of transcendent spiritual existence. However, as Vinoth Ramachandra has said,

“Biblical salvation lies not in an escape from this world but in transformation of this world . . . You will not find hope for the world in any of the religious systems or philosophes of humankind, not even in atheism. The Biblical vision is unique. That is why when some say there is salvation in other faiths too, I ask them, “What salvation are you talking about?” No faith holds out a promise of eternal salvation for the world - the ordinary world - that the cross and resurrection of Jesus do.”

In my search for a way out of the abysmal hole of naturalism, some of the things that struck me as unique to Christianity and its “fit” for what I was looking for are as follows:

In the Bible the word love is used almost 400 times and about 75% of those times it’s talking about God’s love for us. In the Quran, the word love in not used even once, NOT ONE SINGLE TIME to describe Allah?
. God in the Bible is described as a personal, knowable God who is intensely interested in the joy and the well-being of you the individual. The Quran describes Allah as distant and unknowable.
. The Bible teaches that God loves everyone equally, even enemies and sinners. In fact the whole purpose of Jesus coming to earth was to make peace with his enemies and to invite them to an eternal home in the presence of God’s Love. The Quran teaches that Allah loves only faithful Muslims. The Quran teaches that Allah hates sinners and infidels. In fact the Quran teaches that Allah hates them so much that faithful Muslims are encouraged to kill infidels “where ever they may be found.”
. The Bible teaches that through Jesus and because of His love we can have assurance of salvation. The Quran teaches that while only Muslims will have salvation, no individual Muslim can know if s/he will be saved. The faithful Muslim can only hope that Allah will find h/her worthy of paradise. In fact the only way for a Muslim to be guaranteed paradise is to die while killing non Muslims.
. Unlike Christianity, there is no Saviour in Islam and no promise of salvation.
. Unlike Christianity, Islam has no means of or basis for forgiveness.
. Perhaps most relevant to our time is the difference between Islam and Christianity regarding the term martyr. In Christianity a martyr is someone who is killed by others for what s/he believes. In Islam a martyr is someone who dies while killing others because they don’t believe what s/he, the Muslim, believes.
. Christianity and Islam, God and Allah are not anything alike.

The biggest difference between Christianity and other religions, and you know this, is Grace. The chasm that Grace creates between Christianity and other religions is literally impossible to cross.

Unlike any other teacher before or after Him, Jesus not only taught about life and relationships and spirituality, He lived what He taught. Buddha, for example is practically the polar opposite to Jesus. Unlike you and I, no charge of hypocrisy could be brought against Jesus. In fact, the only charge that was brought against Jesus, the only charge that got Jesus killed, was His claim that He was and is Creator God. Down through the centuries, the only charge that has gotten Jesus’ followers killed, is their belief that Jesus is Creator God.

Unlike any other teacher before or after Him, Jesus taught, “There is nothing that you can do to earn your salvation. There is no behaviour, no ritual, no string of things to say, no number of prayers or hand washing or good deeds that will qualify you for Heaven. Your salvation is by My Grace and by My Grace alone.”

There is no another religion or religious teacher anywhere in the world that has or ever will copy this teaching of Jesus. The concept of salvation by Grace alone is a teaching or concept that is totally foreign to the human mind. There is not a human being on earth that would or even could invent this single most important aspect of Jesus’ teaching. All other faiths and all other religious and philosophical teachers including Richard Dawkins or Oprah Winfrey have been, are today and will remain in the future openly hostile to this singular teaching of Jesus the Christ and the religion that bears His name.

Unlike any other teacher Jesus is rooted in hisory. The facts of His life can be researched and a judgment based on historical facts can be made.

Unlike any other teacher before or after Him, Jesus taught, “I am God.”

Unlike any other teacher before or after Him, Jesus taught, “I am the Creator of the Universe.”

Unlike any other teacher before or after Him, Jesus taught that He has been alive forever; that He is an eternal being.

Unlike any other teacher before or after Him, Jesus taught, “I came to earth to let you reject Me, mock Me, ridicule Me, torture Me and ultimately kill Me.”

Unlike any other teacher before or after Him, Jesus taught, “I came to earth with the sole purpose of dying for you. My death is sacrificial in nature. If you place your faith in Me, if you trust Me to forgive your sins, My death will defeat the power that sin has over you, including the consequence of sin which is death.”

Unlike any other teacher before or after Him, Jesus taught, “No one comes to Heaven except through Me.”

Unlike any other teacher before or after Him, Jesus taught, “Not only will I rise from the dead, when I return to earth I will also raise from the dead everyone who has ever been born. Some I will bring into eternal paradise. The rest I will send to everlasting punishment.”

Unlike any other teacher before or after Him, Jesus taught, “I have the power and the authority to forgive your sins, free you from guilt and change your character. I can change you from someone who worships yourself to someone who worships Me. It’s not by obeying My words and not by emulating My behaviour that you will be changed. That kind of teaching comes only from earthly teachers. True inner change comes through Me. I’m the One who will inhabit your being and change you from the inside out.”

Unlike any other teacher before or after Him, Jesus taught, “Whoever gives up everything that this world considers important in order to follow Me, that person will find real life and real living. But whoever remains dependent upon the things that this world considers important and does not follow Me, that person will lose h/his life.”

Unlike any other teacher before or after Him, Jesus taught “You are going to stand before Me and Me alone on Judgement day and I will declare to the universe who is to spend eternity in Heaven with Me.”

Unlike any other teacher before or after Him, Jesus taught that eternal life in Heaven, or salvation is not found by searching and learning and practising. It is not found in austerity or asceticism. Eternal life is found via the gift of faith from Him to us.

Unlike any other teacher before or after Him, Jesus taught that He would be killed and He prophesied exactly how and by whom He would be killed. Jesus taught that He would rise from the dead, return to Heaven and that one day He would return to earth to judge the living and the dead.

Unlike any other teacher before or after Him, Jesus taught that He and He alone was worthy to not just be followed but to be worshipped.

Unlike any other teacher before or after Him, Jesus taught, and then lived - “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you, forgive those who sin against you.” Again, Jesus not only taught this, He lived it!

Unlike any other teacher before or after Him, Jesus taught, “I didn’t set out to find enlightenment. I came to earth to give you enlightenment.”

Unlike any other teacher before or after Him, Jesus taught, “The greatest and the most important thing to do in life is to worship Creator God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.”

Unlike any other teacher before or after Him, Jesus taught, “Even a little child can understand My teaching well enough to be granted salvation. Neither intelligence nor desire nor education nor graduating from level to level to level in your spiritual journey have nothing at all to do with gaining the forgiveness of your sins.”

Unlike any other teacher before or after Him, Jesus taught, “I, your teacher, don’t expect you to serve Me. I came so that I could serve you.”

Unlike any other teacher before or after Him, Jesus taught, “To receive enlightenment:
. Don’t withdraw from the world, take hold of my hand and with your eyes wide open enter fully into the world of pain and suffering;
. Don’t empty your mind, instead fill your mind to the brim with the thoughts that My Spirit brings to you.
. Don’t empty yourself of desire, trust Me and then watch Me fulfill your deepest desires and longings;
. Don’t aim for nothingness, trust Me and then watch Me bring you into the most abundant, full and complete life possible;
. You will never find peace and joy and love from within yourself, you will only find those things within a healed and forgiven relationship with Me.

I’m sure there are more singular teachings of Jesus, but the fact is this. Any claim that Jesus’ teachings weren’t original or unique in nature is a claim that has no basis in truth. It’s a claim that should be discarded as less than useless, worse than unreliable.

The Christian teaching regarding “the fall” of human kind, our separation from our Creator because of the fall, our inability to reestablish this relationship and to heal our brokenness on our own, the offer of forgiveness and a healed and forgiven relationship with our Creator made sense to me. It fits. It feels more true than any other philosophy or belief system, including atheism.

6 comments:

The Cogitator said...

Consider:

“An accident of your birth-- being born in a country whose predominant worldview is Newtonian-Einsteinian-Darwinian-- is the principle reason you have found quantum mechanics, general relativity, and natural selection the combined answer to nature's complex questions.”

Isn't this objection just a big genetic fallacy? The conditions of our accepting truth claims are not the same thing as the truth of those claims. ¿Sí o no?

Keep up the good work, in Christ,

Joshua said...

Many of your claims here are factually incorrect. To use just one example you state: "Unlike any other teacher before or after Him, Jesus taught, “I am God.”"

Many people before and after Jesus claimed that they were divine. This claim was made by Egyptian pharaos, Roman Emperors and Chinese Emperors.

In modern times the claim of being God and the creator has been made by a variety of people such as charsimatic cult leaders George Baker and Hulon Mitchell Jr.

Moreover, even if your claims were correct they are in no way evidence for anything other than that the fellow made a series of claims that were unique. In so far as every religion is somewhat unique this isn't at all helpful.

Frankly, I find the Islamic equivalent argument far more persuasive. The point is made that Mohammed never claimed to be God or to be the Messiah, merely a prophet. An individual interested in starting his own religion would be inclined to make self-aggrandizing claims which he did not do.

Every religion can play these apologetic games.

Makarios said...

You're absolutely correct. And that is why Jesus said, "You don't need to believe Me because of what I say. But you should believe me because of what I do."

Why would He say that? Because what He was doing was natually impossible. Not only was He forgiving sin, which only God could do. He was healing people with the spoken Word, which was clearly supernatural.

Joshua said...

I'm confused. So you are agreeing with my point that many of the things you imply are unique to Jesus are not?

Makarios said...

There's no need to be confused. Just read all of my reply. Jesus, unlike the others you've mentioned wasn't just talk. He followed up his talk with two very powerful demonstrations. One was "signs" as John describes them (and isn't it interesting that John was convinced that only seven signs would be enough "so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ").

And more importantly, and this is something that no one else has ever done, Jesus lived what He taught. He loved His enemies. He prayed for them. He forgave them. He didn't come to be served but to serve etc. etc. etc.

As far as Mohammed is concerned, why would you find his story more credible when no one wrote about him until 400 years after his death? I thought you were one of those atheists who complain when accounts like 1st Cor. 15: 1-10 are two months old.

M. Abdulsalam said...

The Islamic view of Jesus lies between two extremes. The Jews, who rejected Jesus as a prophet, called him an imposter, while the Christians, on the other hand, considered him to be the son of God and worship him as such. Islam considers Jesus to be one of the greatest and most forbearing of prophets, in addition to Noah, Abraham, Moses and Muhammad, may God praise them. Jesus is also considered to be the Messiah as well. This is in conformity with the Islamic view of the Oneness of God, the Oneness of Divine guidance, and the complementary role of the subsequent mission of God’s messengers.

Read the complete article at:

http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/31/