Philosophy of Other Religions

Posted: October 23, 2010 by Cory Tucholski in Philosophy of Religion, Religious Diversity

Many Christians regard other religions as purely false. But that, former preacher-turned atheist philosopher John W. Loftus believes, begs the question:

That although there are many other similar mythological stories told in Ancient Near Eastern Literature that pre-date what we read in the Bible, the stories in the Bible are about real events and real people.

And:

That although a great number of miracles were claimed to have happened in the different superstitious cultures of the ancient world, only the ones in the Bible actually happened as claimed. (source)

What we are here lacking is a philosophy of other religions. How are we, as Christians, to deal with the claims of other religions in a way that doesn’t cast dispersions on the claims of our own? If, for example, I claim that only the miracles of the Bible really happened, what makes me discount the miracles of other religions so readily, when the same evidence for them is available as for the ones in the Bible? By the same token, if the creation story in the Bible parallels ANE creation myths, what makes me so sure that the one in the Bible is true while all of the others are counterfeit? Read the rest of this entry »

C.S. Lewis wrote about religious diversity in several places throughout his work. There is debate over whether he was an exclusivist or inclusivist. One work in which he discusses the problem is The Last Battle, part of the Chronicles of Narnia. The scene is in Aslan’s country (heaven). In it, Emeth, who is not from Narnia, find himself in Aslan’s country, along with all of those who have believed in and been lead by Aslan (Jesus). Emeth has worshiped Tash (false God/satan/demon). This is how he describes his meeting with Aslan in Aslan’s Country.
Our next posts will be focusing on the problem of religious diversity and presenting our own views on how Christianity handles it. Some posts will respond to this scene, others will simply write about the problem. The scene is below (Emeth is speaking):

“So I went over much grass and many flowers and among all kinds of wholesome and delectable trees till lo! in a narrow place between two rocks there came to meet me a great Lion. The speed of him was like the ostrich, and his size as an elephant’s; his hair was like pure gold and the brightness of his eyes like gold that is liquid in the furnace. He was more terrible than the Flaming Mountain of Lagour, and in beauty he surpassed all that is in the world even as the rose in bloom surpasses the dust of the desert.Then I fell at his feet and thought, ‘Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him.’

“But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, ‘Son, thou art welcome.’

“But I said, ‘Alas Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash.’

“He answered, ‘Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.’

“Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, ‘Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one?’

“The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, ‘It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child?’

“I said, ‘Lord, though knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days.’

“‘Beloved,’ said the Glorious One, ‘unless they desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what the truly seek.’

“Then he breathed upon me and took away the trembling from my limbs and caused me to stand upon my feet. And after that, he said not much, but that we should meet again, and ‘I must go further up and further in.’ Then he turned him about in a storm and flurry of gold and was gone suddenly.

“And since then, O Kings and Ladies, I have been wandering to find him and my happiness is so great that it even weakens me like a wound. And this is the marvel of marvels, that he called me Beloved, me who am but as a dog-”

At my church we’re currently hosting a cricket tournament.

Basically, a few friends were bored in the wet and cold winter months, and decided to convert the church hall (which was already carpeted) into an indoor cricket facility. One thing led to another, and suddenly we were hosting a tournament with 10 teams from all over the city and had sparked a community of over 100 people (and probably a dozen nationalities) who get together up to three times a week to hang out and play some friendly (but very competitive) cricket.

Which got me thinking about denominations.

See, although most of the matches take place on Wednesday and Thursday nights, we sometimes use Sunday as a make-up day. One of the other teams involved in the tournament is from another local church, and they are the only team which doesn’t play the Sunday games – because their pastor said they shouldn’t. On the other hand, my church is actively running a competition on Sundays.

And that is why I love the diversity of denominations in the Church.

The defining criterion for inclusion into the Church is pretty simple: if you affirm the three ecumenical creeds, you’re a Christian church. This benchmark for inclusion does two important things:

Firstly, the creeds describe the primary doctrines which define Christianity. They set the minimum requirement: if you are not willing to sign on to everything in the creeds, you’re not a Christian church.

Secondly, the creeds set the limits as to which doctrines may be considered primary. If it’s not in the creeds, it does not affect inclusion into the Church.

This is incredibly important.

The primary articles of faith give us a common understanding on which to base our discussion. If I accept the divinity of Jesus and you insist that he was merely human, we are starting from fundamentally different points, and until that division is reconciled we can go no further.

But having accepted the primary articles, the Church can tolerate disagreement on any other issues. There is space within it to discuss, to debate, and even to diverge. We don’t need to have common consensus on everything, and Christians do not need to be carbon copies.

Because we all accept the primary doctrines as a common foundation, there is diversity without division.

Infant baptism or adult?

We can agree to disagree.

Purgatory, annihilationism or universal reconciliation?

We can agree to disagree.

Transubstantiation or symbolic fellowship?

We can agree to disagree.

Young-Earth creationism, guided or Darwinian evolution?

We can agree to disagree.

I’ve prayed in ancient cathedrals, and had communion on top of a mountain.

I’ve had attended church services with incense and Latin liturgies, and also services consisting entirely of freestyle drumming.

I’ve been to churches where they use grape juice for the Eucharist, and churches where they’ll buy you a beer after the service.

I’ve experienced the inspiring beauty of monastic Taizé singing, and I’ve worshipped with electric guitars.

Within the sprawling, expansive, vibrant and all-embracing Church, there is space for the traditionalist and the radical, for the poet and the scientist, for the broken and the lost.

There is space for me.

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Note: This essay was originally posted on Spiritual Meanderings.

Greetings. My name is Lee (aka Disciple) and I’ll be representing the Catholic view on our new site, Christian Diversity. Our first topic is Original Sin. Key to understanding the Catholic doctrine on Original Sin is the teaching of St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans (especially Chapter 5) in which he gives us a profound meditation on Original Sin and its effect on all of creation, and in which he also presents us with a view of Adam as the father from which all humankind is descended and by whose sin all were wounded; and Christ as the Second Adam Who came to give us new life and by Whose obedience all were redeemed.

A common objection to the doctrine on Original Sin is that no one should have to pay for the sins of another, for being condemned through no fault of one’s own. On the other hand, I have rarely heard anyone object to being redeemed by Christ through no effort of one’s own. The problem seems to be one of viewing Original Sin as punishment and as unjust punishment, at that. Let us realize that Original Sin is not so much an act as a state, the state which we inherit when we are born into the world as descendants of Adam. All of us are born into this state of Original Sin; all of us humans are born as infants; therefore, all human infants are born into this state of Original Sin. We are not talking here of personal sins of infants. No infant has the ability or opportunity to commit a personal sin of any kind. But all infants inherit human nature from their parents, who inherited it from their parents, and so on, all the way back to the beginning.

Now the following is a very imperfect analogy and it wouldn’t do to take it too far, but consider this. Suppose I have the misfortune to live near a site filled with harmful radiation. And suppose that this radiation is capable of damaging my genes and that it does so. Suppose that I marry a man who also lives in this neighborhood and that he is similarly damaged by the same radiation. Now suppose that we have children. Our offspring will be born with the same damage in their genes. That’s not so much fair or unfair but, rather, the way nature works.

In the case of Original Sin, human nature itself was changed, not merely Adam and Eve experiencing change on a personal level. Human nature itself was changed, and all humankind would be born ever after in that changed state. This is not fair or unfair but simply is, and also is just. But even then, while God’s Justice was at work, so was His Mercy. For already God was preparing to mend the rift between Himself and His creation, preparing to send His Son into the world. Preparing to give us greater gifts than those our father Adam had lost.

14 And the Lord God said to the serpent: Because thou hast done this thing, thou art cursed among all cattle, and the beasts of the earth: upon thy breast shalt thou go, and earth shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.

15 I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.

16 To the woman also he said: I will multiply thy sorrows, and thy conceptions: in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power, and he shall have dominion over thee.

17 And to Adam he said: Because thou hast hearkened to the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat, cursed is the earth in thy work; with labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life.

18 Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou eat the herbs of the earth.

19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.

20 And Adam called the name of his wife Eve: because she was the mother of all the living. 21 And the Lord God made for Adam and his wife, garments of skins, and clothed them.

(Genesis 3:14-24, Douay Rheims version.)

Sentinel posted about original sin and how it extends even to infants a few days ago, and the general topic as of late has been original sin. I’d like to offer a quick summary of the Scriptures on original sin, and then discuss how an infant is saved. Just as infants are not automatically saved because they have not reached an age where they can reason, they also do not become believers outside of the normal means – namely that they come to faith in Jesus Christ through the Word.

What the Bible Says About Original Sin
The Bible teaches that no one is righteous (Rom. 3:10). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). The human heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9). The natural man is dead in trespasses and sin (Eph 2:1). By nature, we pass “our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). We are inclined toward evil (Gen 6:5), conceived in sin, and “brought forth in iniquity” (Psalm 51:5). All of us “like sheep have gone astray” (Isa. 53:6). Even “our righteous acts are like filthy rags” before the Lord (Isa. 64:6). We are by nature not just morally tainted, but “children of wrath,” deserving of God’s punishment, even before we actually sin in our flesh (Eph. 2:3). Even on the best of days, we are divided, doing what we don’t want to do and failing to do what we know is right (Rom. 7:18-19). Because of the Fall, we are hardwired toward evil. We sinned in Adam and died through his trespass, inheriting his guilt and a corrupt nature (see Rom. 5:12-21). In other words, we all deserve hell from the moment of our conception. We are morally stillborn, including infants.

What God Has Done About Our Moral Stillbirth
But God has provided a means for salvation, For “all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death[.] We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom 6:3-4). Baptism is a way that infants can come to saving faith in Jesus.

How is this possible? Does baptism in and of itself have the power to save? No, God alone saves through His Word working in and through baptism to create saving faith in the heart of the infant. The Bible records several instances of infants expressing saving faith. Think of John the Baptist, who leapt for joy while in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:44). Remember also that Jesus said that “if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42). Notice that He said little ones “who believe in me,” indicating that these little ones possessed genuine faith in Christ. The Greek for little ones in both of these passages is μικρων (mikron), which implies children under the age of three. Psalm 22:9-10 says, “Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God” (some argue that since this passage is prophetic it only applies to Christ, but it is still an instance of infant faith nonetheless). 2 Timothy 3:15 points out “how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” The word used for infancy in this passage is βρέφος (brephos), which means an unborn child, embryo, baby, or infant! God can clearly create faith in anyone’s hearts — even infants, mentally handicapped, and Alzheimer’s patients — because salvation does not depend on our own reasoning abilities. This might even offend our reason and sensibilities, but the Scriptures are clear that infants and children can and do have faith. A child is upheld in the Bible as the ultimate model for how to receive Christ as Lord, for Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

The Bible is careful to show how faith is a gift of God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). The gift of God is precisely the faith through which salvation comes. “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29). “You were raised with Him through faith in the working of God” (Colossians 2:12).

Faith is a gift, created by God’s Word. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). Of course, God does not do the believing for us. It is we, infants and adults, who believe, just as it is we who live, and yet just as God gives and sustains our life, so God gives and sustains our faith.

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To be sure an accurate view of our human nature is important because the Gospel is important. As J. I. Packer wrote “it is only as we acknowledge the tragedy and feel the misery of our personal ruination through original sin that we shall properly value the Good News of the Savior.” And, G. K. Chesterton noted in his Orthodoxy that original sin is the only philosophy that can be empirically verified. Just pick up the daily newspapers, says Chesterton! I’m repeatedly amazed that from the earliest age children need no training in selfishness or pride or discontent or rebellion. Every human comes fully stocked with these “qualities;” they are not accessories. Every parent labors to reverse these traits in our children while working ourselves to learn what it means to be compassionate, humble, content, and obedient.

The doctrine of peccatum originale (original sin) rightly assumes that the entire human race is an organic unity. We find that our origin or source is from the same common stock, namely the first human, Adam. Just as C. S. Lewis once pointed out that “like begets like,” so too Paul says “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). It is not insignificant that “all” stands first in the clause of Paul’s declaration “death came to all men.” Moreover, although Adam’s sin was in the past, Paul insists that “all sinned.” The context is not so much referring to individual activity (though this is implicit), but to corporate responsibility as conferred on us by the first human who sinned.

Thus, we inherit far more than just the biological nature of our parentage; we inherit their spiritual nature as well. There is a solidarity to the human race such that the original humans stand as the moral, physical, social, intellectual, psychological, and spiritual representatives of all people everywhere and at all times (Acts 17:26a). Just as our genetic makeup or biological DNA is derived from our parentage, so too is our spiritual makeup or spiritual DNA. (The concept of “generational sin” unlikely applies to believers. See my essay “Not My Father’s Keeper or What’s All the Fuss about Generational Sin?”.)

But there’s more. Rom. 5:18-19 claims: “the result of one trespass was condemnation for all [because] through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners.” As the representative for all humanity, God counted everyone born of and from Adam morally guilty. In some sense peccatum originale could be viewed as culpa originale (original guilt, not original sin). You see it is not only true all have sinned actually (Rom. 3:23), but it is equally true that all have sinned originally in Adam.

Consequently, God judges all on the basis of one man’s sin because all are conceived with a natural inclination to do only what is contrary to God (Rom. 8:5-9; 1 Cor. 15:21-22; Gal. 5:16-17). Indeed, we have no other choice but to live predominantly from our sinful bent. The Bible calls this slavery to sin (Rom. 6:6, 16-17, 19; 7:14). Though it may not appear fair that God would judge all on the basis of one man’s sin, it is the disposition of Adam’s guilt rather than his sin per se that is inherited – just as Christ assumed our guilty status instead of our particular sinful acts (Is. 53:6; 2 Cor. 5:14, 21; 1 Pt. 2:24; 3:18).

But some may say, “It’s not fair to be represented by someone else’s guilt! Why should I be blamed for what Adam did?” Of course, if we want to play the fairness game, then in the name of fairness it is also unfair that Christ would die in my place and do for me what I should have done for myself. “Fairness” cuts both ways and it’s doubtful that any born from above would appreciate the sword slicing in that direction!

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The doctrine of Original Sin is very challenging to our sensibilities. The idea that every human is “born sinful” seems so judgmental and negative that we shy away from it. Sure, we can agree that “Everyone makes mistakes”, but Christianity maintains that every human being is inherently sinful and separated from God.

But babies? Surely someone who has spent their life crying, sleeping and occasionally soiling the odd nappy (ok, more than occasionally) cannot be considered sinful? What can they possibly have done to merit such a charge?

Augustine of Hippo wrote his Confessions when he was in his 40s, and in it he reflected on the entirety of his life thus far – including his very earliest years. Of course, like any of us, he didn’t remember his time spent as a mewling babe, but he did use keen observation of other infants to draw some general assumptions about his own behaviour. He considers the actions of a baby through the understanding of an adult, and in doing so, he raises some profound challenges to the “innocence” of children.

“Nor was it good, even in that time, to strive to get by crying what, if it had been given me, would have been hurtful; or to be bitterly indignant at those who, because they were older… and wiser than I, would not indulge my capricious desires. Was it a good thing for me to try, by struggling as hard as I could, to harm them for not obeying me, even when it would have done me harm to have been obeyed?”

God is not concerned purely with our actions, but also with our intents, and the desires of our heart. The desires of an infant’s heart are selfish and often self-destructive, and is this entirely absolved by its lack of power to act? Watching a baby flailing his arms petulantly – but ineffectually – against his mother, Augustine wryly notes:

“…the infant’s innocence lies in the weakness of his body and not in the infant mind.”

Satirist and social critic P. J. O’Rourke, reflecting on his own experiences as a father, writes:

“When Saint Augustine was formulating his doctrine of Original Sin, all he had to do was look at people as they are originally. Originally, they’re children… But it’s wrong to use infantile as a pejorative… What children display is adultishness. Children are, for example, perfectly adultish in their self-absorption. Tiny tots look so wise, staring at their stuffed animals. You wonder what they’re thinking. Then they learn to talk. What they’re thinking is, My Beanie Baby!”

Of course we should treat children differently and make allowances for behaviour that we would find unbearable in an adult. Augustine makes exactly this point, in fact:

“In what ways, in that time, did I sin? Was it that I cried for the breast? If I should now so cry – not indeed for the breast, but for food suitable to my condition – I should be most justly laughed at and rebuked. What I did then deserved rebuke but, since I could not understand those who rebuked me, neither custom nor common sense permitted me to be rebuked. As we grow we root out and cast away from us such childish habits.

“…Yet we look leniently on such things, not because they are not faults… but because they will vanish as the years pass. For, although we allow for such things in an infant, the same things could not be tolerated patiently in an adult.”

But children aren’t actually little angels – they’re human.

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