Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Problem of Geography

All religions share a single huge flaw: they all claim to be the only way to God. The religious distribution of the world is in stark contrast to what we would expect if any one of these religions were true.  For starters, let's take a look at a map of the worlds different religions from Wadsworth:

I don't question the source or accuracy of this map too much, based on the fact that every map I've found has essentially the same distribution, with a higher or lower granularity

Christianity (and therefore salvation) seems largely geographically dependent.  Moreover, as responsible thinking adults, aren't we forced to acknowledge that where you are born plays a much larger role in your salvation than anything else?  It matters more than your reasonableness, your goodness, your capacity for logical thought, your desire to know God (for each of these religions claims to offer God, in some sense of the word), your intellectual honesty, even how hard you try to find God.

How can you justify this in the paradigm of a loving God?  How can a loving God condemn his creations- WHOM HE LOVES- based almost entirely on where they were raised?  This problem is further exacerbated when you realize that, prior to the last 100 years or so, people not native to the "true" religion had literally no way to discover the true God.  Some still don't.

C.S. Lewis gives an interesting argument for this in Chapter 5, book 2 of Mere Christianity: "The truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are.  We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him."  His point is essentially that someone following God with a true spirit might yet be saved, even though he doesn't know the name of Jesus.  From what I understand, this is a sentiment echoed in two of Lewis' most famous works, The Great Divorce and The Chronicles of Narnia (though I haven't read them myself)

I'm not really sure how I feel about this argument.  On the one hand, it seems reasonable that a just God would care a lot more about which "side" a person was on (to use Lewis' terminology) than about whether or not he got the details just right.  Who's to say that a true dedication to God, the moral law, and truth isn't enough?  After all, if we require a belief in Jesus, then what exactly is the standard?  Must you say his name out loud?  Or must you simply think his name?  Or is his name not so important, just the idea that someone or something has paid for your sins?  Or must we realize that it was God incarnate, who came down as a man, but his name is not so important?

But this leaves something wanting in my view.  If God can and will save those who have not explicitly invoked the name of Jesus, then why not save us all?  If he loves us all, that seems the reasonable thing to do.  I have a hard time imagining that, faced with his glory and grandeur, those of us who did not believe will still harbor any doubts.  What is to be gained by sending us all to hell, if he has the ability to save us?  (again, here I am told The Great Divorce is an interesting read, and runs counter to much of what modern Christians say about Hell)

The truth is that the reasonable Christian will admit (and here I include Lewis, for he does admit this) that he simply doesn't know.  God has not revealed to us the standard by which we are judged- only that Jesus is a necessary part of that standard.  Or perhaps to put it better- the Bible has revealed A way to God.  It is not clear that it has revealed the ONLY way to God (this is a statement that most Christians would call heresy, but I believe Lewis would agree with.  That is not to say that Lewis does not think Christ a necessary part of salvation- he clearly does- but merely that the knowledge of the story of Jesus and the totality of the doctrines of the church may not be)

In the end, this seems to me a difficult problem to overcome.  I can see where a Christian could make the argument that to force a normalization of religion would be an infringement on free will, which seems to be the whole point and purpose of why we are in this "sin" mess to begin with.  As Lewis puts it, "If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will...then we may take it it is worth paying."

But in trying to decide if there is a God at all, this does not look good.  It seems like if there is a God, and if his glory and power and right-ness are so obvious as to be self-authenticating and apparent to all humanity, then how is it that over half of the world simply disagrees?  And it is well over half- according to wikipedia (I know... official, right?) over 1.6 billion of the world population are Muslim, and between 1.5 and 3 billion are Christian.  So that's a minimum of 4 Billion or so people who are dead wrong about God.  Not only dead wrong, but absolutely convinced that they are correct.  And this seems to me the most damning evidence of all.  This is proof- incontrovertible proof- that it's possible to be absolutely full of religious conviction and be totally, completely wrong.  So how can we possibly trust ourselves, much less others, when we experience such conviction?

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