Category Archives: Christianity
Here is a surprisingly good article, by today’s standards, from a secular publication that touts the virtues of tolerance as consistently applied. It regards Wheaton professor, Larycia Hawkins, who has gotten into trouble with this evangelical Christian college for showing her solidarity with Muslims on something of a theological level. What it doesn’t do, however, is touch upon the interesting question of what is so wrong with claiming that Christians and Muslims all worship the same God.
The problem is that “God” is simply a word, and words have meaning. The meanings of most words are pretty uncontroversial and agreed upon by all parties. Some are not as well defined, though. For instance, the meaning of the word “liberal” depends upon the country or historical time-frame to which one is referring. The definition of the word “God” is perhaps the most controversial of all, and is the very reason why there are different religions to begin with. Some take “God” to be the universe, or an impersonal force, or a physical being, or an immaterial person, or a plurality of beings. If “God” were a pitcher, then each religion fills it with a different fluid.
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It has often been said that all religions teach basically the same thing, or are just different paths to the same God. This idea of religious pluralism comes both from the mouths of those who have made a career of “religious studies” and from those who simply mean to brush aside the whole question of truth in religion. The claim itself can be answered in several ways, but I think that behind this idea stands a common presumption about the nature of God and what He expects from us.
For most, this claim is simply a matter of ignorance about what the various religions actually teach, or consider to be essential truths, but when the most foundational doctrines are taken into account irreconcilable differences immediately surface. For example, Islam says that Muhammad was the final and greatest prophet of God and that Jesus was a mere human prophet, while Christianity says that Muhammad was not speaking for God and that Jesus was actually God incarnate. Islam claims that the Christian’s divine view of Jesus is a mortal sin (the sin of “shirk”), while Christians say that you must accept His deity for salvation. There is no harmonizing these views. Other examples that could be cited would be the Buddhist idea of a non-personal God (in fact, Theravada Buddhism is essentially atheistic) vs. the eminently personal God of Christianity; or the Hindu/New-Age idea of reincarnation vs. the one-life model of Christianity.
Jesus is a real authoritative guy. Apparently, even what He didn’t say carries weight and defines the moral standards for some people. In support of homosexuality, I often hear that “Jesus never spoke against homosexuality.” Let’s assume that those who say this are not just trying to stop the conversation and let’s unpack it.
What’s the argument?
My first thought is, “so what?” What’s really the argument here? Whenever people make general claims like this I think it’s helpful to break it down into what’s know as a syllogism. Since the point of those who use this argument is clearly to affirm homosexuality in some way, then I think the syllogism must be something like the following.
- Anything Jesus did not speak against is morally permissible
- Jesus did not speak against homosexuality
- Therefore, homosexuality is morally permissible
I have had numerous conversations with non-Christians where the truth of Christianity is dismissed by pointing out its diversity. The charge usually goes something like this: “How can you argue for what is true when you Christians can’t even agree amongst yourselves?” Below is a recent answer I offered for this objection to someone claiming that there were “40,000 Christian sects.”
It should first be pointed out what a “sect” actually is. Applied to Christianity, a “sect” is different than a “denomination.” Denominations share essential beliefs, but differ in non-essentials (e.g., Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran). In general, they hold the other denominations to be legitimate expressions of Christianity, and the differences are due to ecclesiastical preferences or conclusions on things not explicitly covered in Scripture. A sect is a group that tends also to share most essential beliefs, but adds some distinctives that they think essential and/or think of themselves as the pure church (e.g., Seventh Day Adventists). Additionally, there are “cults.” These are groups that deny one or more essentials held by all these other groups, usually due to the teachings of some “prophetic” leader, and who usually think of themselves as the true, restored church where others have gone critically astray (e.g., Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science).