I would like to thank you for your article. I found it interesting and I would try to the best of my abilities to answer your questions; have my answers been found unconvincing simply makes me a bad defender of my faith (in which case I would need to learn more); it does not make your answers true.
To begin with, I am a Christian who has a deep interest in religious issues (whether it concerns society in general or other religions contentions).
I will answer your questions in point forms to make things easier. It seems to me that in your article, you question mostly the Judeo-Christian faith and not other religions as I would have expected from your article title.
Why are people religious?
Your questions are personal and space does not permit me to relate my own experience here. Each religious person can narrate how he comes to choose and hold on to his religious belief.
Isn’t interesting that you’ve addressed the questions to all religious people (Christians, Hindu, Muslim…) but you’ve answered them from the Christian standpoint. Furthermore, you haven’t provided any reason why you believe what you are asserting “People are Christians because they grew up in a Christian community and as a result were only exposed to Christianity… ”
How one comes to his religious beliefs (Christian, Hindu…) says nothing about the truth of those beliefs. You are committing a genetic fallacy (invalidate a belief by attacking its source rather than evaluating the argument on its merit). A typical example would be: I was brought up to believe in God, and my parents told me God exists, so He must.
In your case, you are saying that Christians believe what they believe not because of evidence but because the way they have been brought up. If you are a sincere seeker (as I believe you are), you should evaluate all religious claims (from the different religions) based on the evidence offered and whether those claims correspond to reality. For instance, Hinduism does not believe in personhood. Rather, we are all part of an impersonal entity called Brahman meaning it is illusory for you to believe you are a person endowed with free will. (I hope you wrote your article freely, smile…)
As to your question: “How can Christians then believe that they, and they alone, are right and everybody else is wrong?” .Please be advised that all religions make exclusive claims so they cannot all be true. Judaism believes in a personal God while Hinduism does not. Even Baha’ism by being all inclusive ends up excluding other religions. Therefore exclusivism is not the feature of Christianity only. I will encourage to do a bit of comparative religion studies and you’ll see how different World religions are (though they do share some common values such as the love of others). Once again, you need to evaluate all religious claims sincerely based on the evidence offered.
A Faith Divided?
It is a sad truth that we have so many denominations and Jesus Himself has prayed for the unity of His Church (John 17). However, let me tell you that Christian denominations may differ in some of their teachings but the core pillars of Christian denominations are the same (whether Catholic, protestant…). For instance, no denomination cannot be Christian if it does not believe in the deity of Christ (another topic I will spare you for now), the Trinity, the death and bodily resurrection of Christ, the immortality of the soul..
You should evaluate the core teachings of those denominations based on the Bible and I strongly urge you to study a bit of church history in order to see what the Apostles and the Church fathers believe in.
A Cruel God?
I do not know where you get this from i.e God will send people to hell (I am paraphrasing you) based on their places of birth. I will not worship such as God myself if that is true and believe me, that is not what the Bible says. You rightly question the fate of those who are born before Christianity. Here I will simply refer you to the epistle of Romans (Romans chapter 1and 2) as well as Acts 17:24-28. The point of Romans chapters is that God endowed human beings with a conscience that approves or disproves our deeds so men are without excuse. In other words God moral law is written in every human being heart. That’s why we feel guilty when we break it. So those who live before Christ still have to give account of their deeds before God based on how they measure up to God moral law. I strong encourage you to study the epistle of Romans.
Acts 17 particularly verses 26-27 says that God Himself decides on our place of birth and from wherever we come from, God Himself can reach out to us. So your birthplace cannot be an impediment to your salvation. I have heard testimonies of many Muslims or Hinduists who came to Christ through visions. God indeed has His ways of saving us if we are sincerely seeking the Truth…The sad fact is that men choose darkness and evil instead of choosing light and God ways.
The Power of Prayer?
Much has been said and written about the topic of prayer and that’s one subject I would not say much about because I believe I still need to learn more. To begin with, prayer is a communication (two-ways process) between a believer and His loving Father. Buddhists do not pray; they meditate because it is believed that Ultimate Reality/Truth is inside them. It is only because of our ignorance we do not know Reality so meditating will help us achieve our true selves (according to Buddhism).
First of all, Christians believe God is good in all His ways and though we might not always (even most of the time) understand His ways, we can rest assured in His love, a love He revealed by sending His only Son to die on the cross. So when some of our prayers may go unanswered, we can still confidently say “God loves us” and always desire our best. (This does not mean He will spare from all our troubles. Rather, His grace will always be there to sustain us). I am not here appealing to the “God ways are not our ways” argument (which is true). Rather, I am contending that as limited beings, we cannot understand all the tragedies of the World. The person who wants rational answers to all these questions from an omnipotent God is implicitly saying he can do a better job than God. Please be advised the problem of pain/suffering has been asked by Biblical authors (Job, Jeremiah…). Jesus Himself died a shameful death.
We Christians believe as Jesus taught us that we are all brothers and should pray for each other. Jesus also taught us that we should pray for God’s will to be done and His kingdom to come. God can heal through what you call (and I don’t like it) a “faith healer”. In fact, only Jesus heals. He uses whoever He chooses as a medium. I know there is a lot of debate about healing/miracles especially from the televangelists. Nowhere in the Bible is it said that God cannot heal today but we are asked to test all spirits (it needs maturity) and not be after miracles. God endows some of His servants (as we are all servants) with gifts of healing, others with prophecy (1 Corinthians 12) for the good of the whole Church not for a private use. Hence, no one is greater than other but we have been designed for different purposes according to God’s sovereignty. God can heal if He wills but even if He does not, He is still God!
Your opinion of heaven is short-sighted to say the least. The Bible uses many images to portray heaven but that should not be taken literally! When approaching the Bible, one needs to exercise caution and wisdom (guided by the Holy Spirit). The sad truth is that many denominations sprang from a misinterpretation of the Biblical texts and contexts. (That’s a debate for another day).
In short, heaven would indeed be boring if it is as you depicted it. Thanks God, it is not that.
a) God does not need to create anything or anyone to be God. This view could only make sense if God is Unitarian (one person in the Godhead as Muslims believe). In this case, He could create us because He is bored and needs companionship. Rather, the traditional understanding of Orthodox Christianity is that God is a Trinity (3 persons sharing One essence: Father, Son and Holy Spirit). In this view, God the Father is in loving relationship with the Son and the Spirit and vice-versa. Please, “Son” does not mean that God has a sexual intercourse. I encourage you to do more research on the Trinity). Please read John 17 particularly verse 24. God created us out of love so we could love Him and enjoy Him while we are on earth and continue this loving relationship after we die. Of course God has a special plan for each of us individually and you need to find out why He has sent you here on earth.
b) Well this question is based on a false premise, namely God has created flawed beings. According to Christian Theology (Genesis 1-3), God created Man and Woman as sinless, innocent, “perfect beings” and endowed with free will. Man and woman freely choose to disobey God by listening to the devil (they choose to do as they were tempted by the devil instead of obeying God; in essence that’s sin: choosing to do one’s will instead of God’s will. There could not be true love without free will. If you love somebody, you should also accept the fact that the person might not love you back. God did not create automatons, robots that will only do as God wills. In fact, it is a contradiction to make somebody to freely do something. Adam and Eve choose their ways and this brought heavy consequences upon the entire human race. If you study the Bible seriously, you’ll see that since Man fall, God has been working through our disobedience and our free choices to redeem us. That’s why He sent prophets, multiplying covenants and lastly sent His only Son. God was not passive as you are claiming. He is working daily to redeem us. To the problem of pain and suffering, He took our human condition in the person of Jesus and went through a shameful death and for those who accept the sacrifice of the cross, the vicarious death of His Son, God offers forgiveness and eternal life. That’s the beauty of Christianity: at the cross, we are forgiven and restored to a new life. Though pain and sufferings still exist, God has done something about it and one day, at the second coming of Christ, all things will be made new and there won’t be any suffering and death. Does all this sound too good to be true? Well, that is the Christian hope, that is God for you. (Romans 8:18-39; Revelation 3:20; Revelation 7:17)
May God bless you!
PS: I strongly advise the below websites for more resources:
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