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Thought provoking questions we have received, with our responses

Part 2

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This topic continues from the previous essay

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Topics discussed in this essay:

bulletInteresting Emails discussed in this essay:
bulletWhat religion should I choose?

bulletChrist: Lord, liar or lunatic

bulletI am being harassed; what do I do?

bulletThe cause of religiously motivated conflicts and genocides

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Which religion should I choose?

Incoming Email: I was brought up as a fundamentalist Christian, but became an agnostic during my teenage years. I'm older now and am interested in finding a new religious path. Christianity is not an option; I can't believe that everyone who is not a born-again Christian will go to Hell. Eastern religions don't appeal to me. I am considering Judaism.

Our response: It is important to realize that the definitions of the word "Christianity" found in most dictionaries cover a wide variety of beliefs and practices. The religion is composed of fundamentalist, Roman Catholicism, other conservative, mainline and liberal wings. They differ greatly over the existence of Hell, and its inhabitants:

bullet It is mainly within the fundamentalist minority that you find the belief that most humans are going to spend eternity being punished in Hell.  Fundamentalists are simply accepting, as literally true, many Bible passages which talk about the horrors of Hell and others sections which proclaim trust in Jesus to be the only way to achieve salvation. They largely ignore passages that seem to imply that salvation is earned by good works or by some combination of works and beliefs.
 
bullet The more liberal wings of Christianity reject, or at least deemphasize belief in Hell. They feel that a kind and loving deity would be incapable of creating a Hell where people would be tortured for eternity without any hope of mercy or relief. Few humans would be that cruel. If one interprets certain biblical passages literally, then many people who did not trust Jesus during their lifetime on earth would end up in Hell because they had never heard of Jesus, the gospel, or Christianity. Religious liberals generally reject such passages. They believe that it would be fundamentally immoral for God to punish people for what is, in essence, a thought crime. Also, they consider an infinite punishment for a finite crime to be unjust. Those beliefs imply that God is an intolerant, unforgiving, hate-filled deity. They would place God in the same category as Genghis Khan, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, and other extreme human pariahs.

Non-fundamentalist Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and many religions may still be options for you to consider. See our religious menu for links to essays on many dozens of Christian faith groups and other religious traditions.

You might wish to try the Belief System Selector by SelectSmart.com and SpeakOut.com. It tries to link individuals to religions that meet their beliefs.

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Christ: Lord, liar or lunatic:

Incoming Email: I read about the "Trilemma" in Josh McDowell's book "The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict." He argues that the New Testament record permits only three logical choices: that Jesus is either Lord, or is a liar, or is a lunatic. He then proceeds to show that the second and third alternatives are unreasonable, and that the only conclusion one can reach is that Jesus is Lord. Is this a valid approach?

Our response: C.S. Lewis created a slightly different trilemma. He wrote in Mere Christianity that Jesus was either Lord, a lunatic or "the Devil of Hell."

As with almost every other question in Christianity, one must first decide whether the the Bible authors were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write text that is inerrant -- free of errors. There are many passages in the Gospels in which Jesus claims to be Lord. This is particularly true of the Gospel of John. If the Bible is without error, then Jesus must be Lord; the other two options in both trilemmas are impossible.

However, other alternatives exists. A liberal Christian might start with the assumption that the Bible is not inerrant. They might view the Christian Scriptures as a religious text like many others in the world -- written by authors who were motivated to promote their own faith group's evolving belief systems. Most theologians recognize Mark to be the first of the gospels which became part of the official canon of the Bible. Luke and Matthew are largely based on Mark, a lost Gospel of Q, and some material unique to Luke and Matthew. Mark presents Jesus as a 1st century CE charismatic rabbi, prophet and healer, some of whose sayings can be traced back to a liberal tradition within Judaism and in particular to Hillel, the great Jewish rabbi from the 1st century BCE. Other sayings by Jesus can be traced back to a Pagan Greek "cynic" philosophy. The other two synoptic gospels, Matthew and Luke, also mainly present Jesus as a human; however, since they were written a decade or two after Mark, they include more of the evolving tradition within the Christian movement and less of Jesus' actual life.  Meanwhile, the Gospel of John represents an entirely different Christian tradition -- one which was written about 70 years after Jesus' execution by the occupying Roman Army. It treats Jesus as Lord. The differences between John and the synoptic gospels are immense. If one accepts the Gospel of John as being an accurate picture of Jesus' life, death and resurrection, then Jesus must be considered to be Lord -- one of the options in both Lewis' and McDowell's trilemma. But if a person assumes that the Bible is errant and selects the synoptic Gospels as much closer to the historical Jesus, then the trilemma needs to be expanded to a quadlemma. The fourth option is that Jesus was a charismatic prophet, a teacher and healer about whom a tradition evolved after his death that eventually presented Jesus as a deity.

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I am being harassed. What do I do?

Incoming Email: Help! I am a Humanist who has a good friend who recently became a Baptist. She is sincerely and heavily involved in her faith, and is trying to save me. She believes that repenting of my sins and trusting Jesus as Lord and Savior is the my route to salvation and to Heaven. I'd like to keep her as a friend.

Our response: I suggest that your first step would be to try to get into the mind of your friend. She sincerely believes that God has created two destinations in which people will spend all eternity: Heaven, where a small minority of people will receive immense rewards, and Hell where the vast majority will be tortured -- not for an hour, day, week, or year, but for all eternity. To imagine her motivation, suppose you were at a hotel at the top of a mountain and you saw a crowd of people loading onto a large bus. You know for a fact that the brakes on the bus are defective, that the road from the hotel has a steep grade downwards, and that the bus would undoubtedly crash and kill everyone on board. Imagine how anxious you would be to inform the bus driver of the defective brakes, and save all those people who otherwise are headed to certain death. She is experiencing some of these same feelings. She may well be absolutely convinced that of the seven billion people in the world, only a fraction of the one billion or so Protestants have a chance to avoid Hell. Most of them are not saved and are headed away from Heaven.

Your second step is to realize that it is probably impossible to change her beliefs to the point where she will accept the possibility that her concepts of Heaven, Hell and salvation may be wrong.

I would recommend that you explain to her that:

bulletYou are convinced that Humanism is the optimum spiritual path for you.

bulletYou understand her concern for your salvation.

bulletYou don't want to be the subject of her continual religious conversion efforts.

bulletYou want to continue your friendship, but without the salvation message.

If she insists on promoting salvation, you might have to terminate the friendship.

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The cause of religiously motivated conflicts and genocides:

Incoming Email: Civil conflicts, mass murders and genocides are caused by "dark religions" that promote hatred. Those are the ones to look out for.

Our response: I disagree. If we look at the countries of the world where massive loss of life has recently occurred or is ongoing, we see that the main religious involved in the murders are Christianity and Islam. Consider Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Cyprus, Nigeria, Sudan, Middle East, Iraq/Iran, Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, etc. The strife is not caused by small, obscure, hate-motivated, evil religions; it is mostly seen within the two leading religions of the world: Christians constitute about 33% of the world's population, a number which has remained constant for decades. Muslims total 20% of the world's population and is growing rapidly. The problem, then, is some serious defect in the world's main religions. I think that much of the problem lies in their teaching of their Ethic of Reciprocity.

My personal belief is that almost all religions teach that one's primary responsibility is towards God -- viewed in different ways as:

All of these religions teach some form of Ethic of Reciprocity like the Golden Rule. Unfortunately, this is often interpreted as applying mainly to fellow believers, and not to believers in other religions. This is a fatal flaw. It is too easy to discount the rights of non-believers; to treat them as sub-human because they deny the "true" God.

Much of the world's population belongs to a denomination, sect or tradition within a religion that teaches that a Hell exists after death for non-believers. The message implied by the existence of Hell is that God hates non-believers so much that he is going to torture them for all eternity without any hope of mercy or cessation of the pain. Thus, if a believer treats a non-believer as sub-human, they may see themselves as simply doing God's work on earth.

The end result is that too many Christians treat Muslims as sub-human and have even mounted wars of genocide against them, as in the case of Bosnia and Indonesia. Also, too many Muslims treat Christians as sub-human and have even mounted wars of genocide against them, as in the case of the Sudan, East Timor, and now Iraq and Syria. In fact, the minority Christian population in many countries in the Middle East are now a fraction of the size that it was a few decades ago. We have Jewish-Muslim, Muslim-Jewish, Hindu-Muslim, and many other combinations of inter-faith conflicts. We also have had intra-faith conflicts such as is caused by past Roman Catholic - Protestant hatred in Northern Ireland, and Sunni- Shi'ite hatred in most predominately Muslim countries.

It is our belief that a solution is for all religious groups to:

bullet Soft-peddle the hatred of God (generally called the wrath of God in the Bible) towards non-believers that is written into their religious texts. It is quite possible for faith groups to do this. They have largely ignored biblical passages related to human slavery, the execution of non-virgin brides executing followers of other religions who are proselytizing, executing spouses who commit adultery, and other biblically mandated behaviors now considered to be immoral.

bullet Emphasize that their religion's Ethic of Reciprocity applies to all persons, not just for fellow believers.

bullet Emphasize the passages in their holy book that refer to tolerance of persons of other religions.
bullet Emphasize the importance of human rights, including the freedoms of religious belief, religious speech, religious assembly, proselytizing, etc, to all persons -- believers and non-believers alike. Also emphasize the right of individuals to change their faith at any time.

bullet Advocate for the repeal of blasphemy laws wherever they are in place. As the blasphemy laws in some countries are now written, a follower of one religion who reads or writes a sincere statement of their belief can be tried for blasphemy if she or he happens to live in a country with a different state religion.

bulletEngage in inter-faith and ecumenical activities with "non-believers."

Until the religions of the world realize that they are a main cause of hatred, strife, and genocide, the slaughters will continue.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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Copyright © 2000 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-SEP-23
Latest update: 2014-OCT-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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