We’ve presented five arguments for the existence of God and answered atheism’s objections about suffering in the world, God’s origin and his hiddenness.
As Christians, we’ve already borne the burden of proof in presenting five arguments for God. In raising their objection about Jesus’ claim to exclusivity, it is atheism’s turn to bear the burden of proof and make their case that such a claim by Jesus of Nazareth makes it more probable that God does not exist, or at least that Jesus was not the Son of God. After all, agnosticism merely says “we don’t know,” but atheism makes the claim “we know that God does not exist.
ALL RELIGIONS MAKE CLAIMS TO EXCLUSIVITY
Very simply, it is logically impossible for the teaching of all religions to be true at the same time. There is a mutually exclusive quality to all of them.
Hinduism and the Bahai faith have challenged the idea of a single way to God for centuries. The Hindu religion is a multifaceted system of belief that would not countenance Jesus’ claims to exclusivity. Buddhism is a nontheistic religion that would deny Jesus’ claim to be the way to God. Islam considers Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God to be blasphemous.
Originally, Buddha was Hindu until he rejected fundamental teaching like the Vedas and the caste system of Hinduism. Islam is considerably different from Hinduism.
At its core, every religion makes claims to exclusivity. The bumper sticker “COEXIST” is a naive appeal that ignores the mutally exclusive nature of world religions.
JESUS’ CLAIM TO EXCLUSIVITY: SALVATION BY CHRIST ALONE
Now we would like to address the objection of Jesus’ exclusive claim that salvation could only come through him and no one else. This concept of salvation through “Christ alone” or in Latin “sola Christos” is explained in these passages:
In John 14:6, Jesus himself said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes unto the Father except through me.”
In Acts 4:10 & 12, Luke records the words of Peter, who when asked in whose name he healed people, told the Sanhedrin, “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified . . . Salvation is found in none else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
In 1 John 5:12, the apostle John wrote a letter in which he stated, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
CHRIST’S CLAIM TO EXCLUSIVITY UNDERMINED BY AN EXPANDING AWARENESS OF OTHER CULTURES
In the first three hundred years after Christ, Christianity was viewed as an arrogant upstart religion and many Christians were tortured in gruesome ways or died horrible deaths for not submitting to pagan gods that the citizens of the Roman Empire had worshiped for centuries.
With the conversion of Constantine, Christianity quickly became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church constantly pointed to its universality or universal dominance of the known world as evidence that it was the only true religion.
However, from 1450 to 1750, new exploration by men like Marco Polo, Columbus and Magellan uncovered new civilizations that had previously been unknown. This was called “The Expansion of Europe.” The world became a bigger place with other beliefs in places that had never heard of Jesus Christ. This impacted Western civilization in two major ways:
1. Cultural Relativism – Christianity could no longer make a claim to universality and each religion began to be viewed as simply a product of its own culture designed to meet the needs of its culture.
2. Christ Alone – Jesus’ claim to be the exclusive means of salvation for all of mankind began to be viewed as narrow and cruel. After all, what would happen to all the people who died and never heard of him?
RELIGIOUS PLURALISM vs. RELIGIOUS PARTICULARISM
This heightened awareness of other civilizations and beliefs has resulted in a more pervasive “religious pluralism.” The pluralist finds it almost immoral for any one religion to make the claim that they are the only true religion and that all other religions are false.
Claiming to be the only true religion is called “particularism.” This entire blog is about the battle between religious pluralism and Christian particularism.
There are two kinds of religious pluralism: sophisticated and unsophisticated.
“All Roads Lead To Heaven”
“Unsophisticated religious pluralism” says, “There is some truth in all religions, they are basically teaching similar things, and it’s probable that ‘all roads lead to heaven.’” So let’s all get a bumper sticker that says, “COEXIST”, hold hands and sing Kumbaya.
This is a naive perspective because it ignores the fact that there are irreconcilable differences between any two of the world’s great religions that the unsophisticated pluralist chooses to overlook. Those outright contradictions would be immediately apparent to anyone who took a course in comparative religion.
For example, the worldview of Islam and that of Buddhism have hardly anything in common with one another.
Islam believes that there is a personal God who created the world who is all-powerful, all-knowing and holy. Islam believes that man is sinful and needs God’s forgiveness and that there is a heaven and hell in eternity after this life. Islam believes that we need to earn our salvation by putting our faith in God and by performing righteous deeds.
Buddhism denies everything we’ve just mentioned! Instead of a personal God, classic Buddhism asserts that the ultimate reality in the universe is impersonal.The world was not created. There is no heaven. There is no enduring self or soul and no afterlife. Life’s ultimate goal is not immortality, but instead to be re-absorbed into the “all” or “absolute”. Sin and salvation have absolutely no role to play in this religion.
Even though “unsophisticated religious pluralism” is popular among people who’ve never examined various religions and is frequently intended to be an expression of compassion for others, it cannot be taken seriously. It’s logically indefensible.
“No Roads Lead To Heaven”
“Sophisticated religious pluralism” takes the position that: “EVERY world religion is actually FALSE. None are true. It’s more like ‘NO roads lead to heaven.’ Each religion is simply a product of the culture it arose from, and each one misleads its adherents regarding ultimate reality.” Think of John Lennon and his lyric, “Imagine there’s no heaven . . .”
In fact, such pluralists would say you cannot legitimately describe ultimate reality as “God.” Heaven doesn’t exist. Each religion might make its adherents better people in this life, but there is no destiny in eternity. To claim that there was a heaven or destiny would be to abandon this view and become an unsophisticated religious pluralist.
The questions we have to ask are:
• Why should we think that religious pluralism is true?
• What is wrong or illogical about Christian particularism (i.e., Christianity is true; others are wrong)?
MATTERS OF FACT, NOT TASTE
In effect, pluralists simply do NOT believe that the differences between religions are matters of FACT; pluralists believe that these differences are really matters of TASTE.
Suppose that I take a strong stand on the issue that chocolate ice cream tastes better than vanilla ice cream. It tastes better to me, but it might not to you. And so who am I to go around telling everyone that chocolate tastes better than vanilla?
Pluralists believe that religious beliefs are more like that. They’re matters of taste (e.g., chocolate vs. vanilla) rather than matters of fact (e.g., gravity, theory of general relativity).
However, in this blog we’re talking about religious beliefs in terms of their factual content. Is there really a creator of the universe? Do we have an immortal soul? Is there any kind of existence after we leave these bodies on earth?
If these actually are matters of fact, then you can’t simply dismiss them as “true for you, but not true for me” because they are NOT matters of TASTE. We’re not talking about matters of taste, but rather matters of fact.
THE AD HOMINEM FALLACY AND GENETIC FALLACY
Ad hominem Fallacy
Regarding Christian particularism, pluralists will sometimes say, “It’s arrogant and immoral to claim that one religion is true and all others are false.”This is a logical fallacy called “argument ad hominem,” Latin for “against the person.” It seeks to invalidate your view by attacking your personal character.
However, I could have the lowest possible character but still be correct in my assertion, so character has nothing to do with whether my view is correct. That’s why this is identified as a logical fallacy. In addition, if I have conducted a thorough examination and have given hours of study to all existing religions and perhaps prayed for years about which one is correct, what is arrogant or immoral about saying that I’ve come to the conclusion that a particular faith is correct?
Regarding Christian particularism, pluralists will sometimes say, ““If you’d been born in Pakistan, you’d probably be a Muslim. But if you had been born in northern Ireland, you’d probably be a Catholic. Therefore none of these particular religious beliefs can be true because they are all culturally relative. In other words, they’re each just a product of that culture.”
This fallacy is called the “genetic fallacy.” This is the idea of trying to invalidate a person’s view by showing how the person came to hold that view — by identifying the origin of that view.
It doesn’t make sense to say that if you’d been born in a different place or time that you’d believe something else, therefore the beliefs you presently hold are unjustified. You cannot logically invalidate a belief on the basis that you can identify its cultural roots.
Besides, if it had any legitimacy, the same argument could be directed at pluralists: “If the religious pluralist had been born in Pakistan or Ireland, he’d probably be a religious particularist!”
FREEDOM OF RELIGION
Finally, we need to distinguish “religious pluralism” as a political term. In politics, “religious pluralism” simply refers to the freedom to choose any religion and choose your manner of worship, as long as it doesn’t infringe on others’ rights. At this website, we are strong supporters of religious pluralism in a political sense. At the same time, we are Christian particularists who have given careful thought to this subject and have determined that there are not many roads to heaven. Everyone should have the right to freely practice their religion, again as long as it doesn’t infringe on others’ rights. So it’s important that we do not confuse “Christian particularism” with “religious intolerance.”
JESUS’ RESURRECTION AND MIRACLES
In the blog entitled “Did Jesus Actually Rise From The Dead?”, we will discuss the historicity of the gospel narratives, how close in time to the event of his death that they were written, and how congruent the narratives are.
That blog will also make the point that the majority of Bible scholars agree about the following:
* Jesus actually died on the cross (did not just pass out for example) and was buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb,
* A group of his women followers found that same tomb empty three days later,
* There were resurrection appearances of Christ to several different groups of people,
* There was no existing tradition in the Jewish culture of that day about an individual being resurrected that would explain this narrative.
The miracles done by Jesus were a ministry to the people of that time but also a sign or indication to future generations that there was something unique about this person. The gospel narratives claim that Jesus healed the blind and lame and lepers, that he revived the body of Lazarus from death, that he walked on water, that he calmed the seas, that he claimed to be the Son of God. These set him apart from other religious leaders that we are aware of. Can we trust the accounts found in the four gospels of the Bible?
CAN THE GOSPEL ACCOUNTS BE TRUSTED AS TRUE AND HISTORICALLY RELIABLE?
Two questions are frequently asked about the gospels:
* Were the original gospel writings true, reliable and inspired of God?
* How do I know if we have the words that they penned as originally written?
We will address the first question in the blog entitled “Inspiration: Were the original gospel writings true, reliable and inspired of God?” We will address the second question in “Transmission: Do we possess accurate copies of the original gospel writings?”
To the first question, we will give a short response here: “Yes, the original gospel writings were true, reliable and inspired of God. Regarding the second question, there are about 5,483 New Testament manuscripts in existence today. There are about 138,000 words in the New Testament, and we only have questions about 1,400 of them. The rest we’re sure of. So yes, our present-day copies are very accurate.
In addition, the four gospels were all written prior to 100 A.D., much closer in time to the event of Jesus’ life here on earth. This leaves very little time for legendary embellishment.
The story of Jesus is also corroborated by many non-Christian sources such as pagan, Jewish and Christian writing outside the New Testament. The Jewish historian Josephus tells us about the high priests Annas and Caiaphas, the governor Pontius Pilate, Herod the King, John the Baptist, Jesus and his brother James.
Also, there have been archeological discoveries that continue to corroborate the gospels. The greatest skeptics can agree that there was a Jew by the name of Jesus who was a teacher in Palestine while Tiberius was king, that he was crucified.
See our five assertions about the gospels in “Inspiration: Were the original gospel writings true, reliable and inspired of God?”
So what we find recorded in the gospel narratives point us to someone who is unique among religious leaders in world history, unique in the power that he had over death and illness, unique in his claim to deity, unique in his claim that he would have to lay his life down as a sacrifice for the sins of all mankind.
We started this blog by comparing a view called “religious pluralism” with that of “Christian particularism” (i.e., Christianity is true; others are incorrect). “Sophisticated religious pluralists” say that all religions do some good in making their adherents better people, but they mislead their followers regarding ultimate reality because God and heaven and an afterlife simply do not exist.
First, we should say that religious doctrines are not neatly packaged fables and that the religion you choose is not about matters of “taste,” but rather about matters of “fact.”
Christianity is not simply a product of Western culture, and it is no more arrogant or immoral to claim that Christ is the only means of salvation than it is to insist that you know for a fact that all religions are false. Tying a particular faith to the culture that it arose from does nothing to invalidate its truth claims. Doing this would be to commit the genetic fallacy.
Jesus, the founder of Christian belief, claimed to be deity and propounded a doctrine that salvation could only occur through him. The miracles and resurrection of Jesus set him apart from every major religious leader in the history of the world. His death and resurrection are well documented by primary sources who witnessed the events and recorded them within one generation of his death.
A majority of Bible scholars living today agree that:
• Jesus actually died on the cross,
• he was buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb,
• a group of his women followers found that tomb empty three days later,
• there were post-mortem appearances to multiple groups of people, and
• there was no existing tradition in the Jewish culture of that day that could possibly explain this narrative.
For these reasons, we believe that Christian particularism is justified in claiming that Christianity is the most correct religion and that the doctrine of “salvation through Christ alone” is logically justifiable. Trying to discredit this belief through ad hominem arguments and pointing to its cultural origins does nothing to invalidate Christian particularism or Jesus’ claim to be the way, the truth and the life.
If you would like to know more detail about religious pluralism or what happens to those who are never taught the gospel, we will address those issues in future blogs.