TruthMedia has started a new blog to discuss movies, Movies at TheLife.com. Currently the focus is on The Nativity Story, a film that "follows the life of the Virgin Mary and Joseph over the two-year period immediately prior to the birth of Jesus and several years afterward" (from the Wikipedia article). After watching the trailer, I'm excited to see this movie. While The Passion of the Christ was rather disappointing (for both style and theological reasons, although there were some great moments in it) The Nativity Story looks like it should be a great film, and early reports seem to confirm this. Search out this film when it opens in theaters December 1, or if it's not playing in your country, find a way to see it!
I do believe that in the other world there are neither Hindus, nor Christians nor Mussalmans. They all are judged not according to their labels, or professions, but according to their actions, irrespective of their professions. (Mahatma Gandhi, source)
Do Christians believe they have a monopoly on religious truth? They shouldn't. Truth should be accepted wherever it is found; be it in the Bible, the Qur'an, or in secular writings. That's why on the About this Site page of WhyFaith.com I state that "I will search for and accept truth wherever it is found". I think that Mahatma Gandhi was in many ways a wise man, and we could learn much from him.
However, note carefully that I'm not in any way implying that all religions are equally true. Since they teach very different things, the claim that "there are neither Hindus, nor Christians nor Mussalmans" is insulting to Hindus, Christians, and Mussalmans. This view seems tolerant, but actually is quite intolerant to these groups. What if the same rule was applied to political groups? What if we were to say "there are neither Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, or Communists"? The absolute view of religious inclusively necessarily excludes the exclusitivists (that is, the vast majority of people around the world). It may be easier to wave a dismissive hand at religions and say they are all basically the same, but that is, IMHO, lazy and inaccurate.
Note too that Gandhi has, perhaps due to his desire for religious harmony, apparently misunderstood or has mistakenly stated Christian belief. Unlike other faiths, Christians do not believe "They all are judged … according to their actions", at least not how Gandhi seems to mean it. The Christian concept of grace says that we cannot save ourselves, but rather God has taken the initiative to save us, if only we will accept His offer: "God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners" (Romans 5:8) The Four Spiritual Laws do a good job of explaining God's grace in a very succinct fashion. Gandhi's quote makes it seem like we are saved by our own actions in a sort of spiritual bank account, which is not the Christian belief.
I don't know if this one particular quote reflects Gandhi's beliefs accurately, but this attitude is prevalent in western society nonetheless. And I do know that if you, like millions (billions?) of people around the world are relying on being "good enough", hoping (but never quite sure, honestly) if you're meeting your own standard of goodness (let alone God's!) that perhaps there's another way … (see the resources below for more on this topic)
I do not plan to read Sam Harris' lamentable book "Letter to a Christian Nation", the content and ideology of which I have commented on previously. J. P. Holding however is working through a detailed response: Letter to a Maladjusted Misotheist. Granted, Holding's acidic tone is, in many contexts, inappropriate. And I would prefer if our response as Christians to hateful material would be one of unyielding love and kindness. But in this case I am somewhat easier able to appreciate the tone of Holding's reply, given the content of Harris' original and the fact that Holding's article is backed up by careful research. (Wish he'd stick to regular black text on a white background with normal fonts though. Something about Comic Sans just erks me.)
What can we know, if anything, about God by "natural theology"? That is, how much can we know about God without revelation? To put it another way, what is available to us via general revelation, not special revelation?
I think we can know quite a bit about God via general revelation. I'll base the following comments on three assumptions:
1) God exists.
2) God is much greater, in all respects, perhaps infinitely greater, than we are.
3) God created the universe.
To clarify point #2, when we describe God we are, as finite, limited creatures, seeing God "imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror", as Paul says (1 Corinthians 13:12). So I am not claiming to be able to know everything about God, nor even fully comprehending any particular facet perfectly, only that we are able to know certain things about God's nature, albeit imperfectly. Now strap yourself in; this post will be a little longer than usual, but I think it'll be worthwhile.
So first, I think we can say that God is creative. This follows from the fact that God created the universe. If God is the Creator, it means God must, in some sense, be creative. Part of being creative is intelligence. (A person might accidentally end up with something we'd call "creative", without any intelligence, by acting randomly, but we wouldn't deem it creative because it was not done purposefully.) So God would be intelligent, and it would be reasonable to say God would be (at least) more intelligent than any of us, or even more intelligent than all of us put together. Thus we could say God is omniscient (all-knowing).
Next, I think we can also say that God is omnipotent, that is, all-powerful. Not only was God creative and intelligent enough to conceive of our diverse and vast universe, but God actually acted and made it happen. Thus God has the power to do things, to make stuff happen. There is no limit to what God can do, as long as it does not contradict the other attributes God possesses. Now, God would not be limited by "time", at least not the chronological progression of events that we consider time. Since God created the universe, God would not be confined by anything within it. In this sense, then, God is outside time … God is eternal.
I'll also add that God must be, in some sense, personal. "Personal?" you may be thinking. "Why couldn't God just be an impersonal force of some kind?" One reason goes back to point #3 above. It seems a choice was made to cause our universe to exist. It wasn't something God was required to do (what would God "need"?) but chose to do. That element of choice (as well as intelligence; how can an impersonal force be intelligent?) suggests that God is, in some sense "personal", though again, in some way much more awesome than we are. McLaren is helpful here:
When people think of a person, they think of rather quaint but silly images – such as God as a Santa-esque old man … Our problem in this regard is probably a matter of words – perhaps confusing "personal" with "human". To illustrate, think of the following items: gravity, helium, water, coal, a fern, a frog, a parrot, a golden retriever, a chimpanzee, a human being … I don't know any frogs very well, but with my limited experience, they seem to have a little, but not much, in the way of personality. Parrots have more, and golden retrievers and chimpanzees more still … with each step up the ladder, we didn't lose the qualities of the previous steps; rather, we added more capabilities, more depth … while we subtracted previous limitations, going from matter to form to solidity to plant life to animal life … to human life. Let's imagine we inserted a million rungs in our ladder after human beings, each rung suggesting more developed, less limited beings, with personalities as far beyond our own as ours are beyond a bullfrog's … we'd be getting some idea of the way in which we can speak of God being personal. (Brian McLaren, Finding Faith, 129-130)
If God is not in some sense personal, in some sense relational, doesn't have something much greater than but still recognizable as personality, God would be lower than frogs, parrots and golden retrievers. That won't do. I'd say God must be, in some sense, personal.
Our list so far includes eternal, creative, all-powerful, all-knowing, and personal. What's still missing? One final thought: God is good. This is may the hardest one to accept. After all, if God is good, why do things sometimes seem so bad? But it certainly seems odd that with the trouble and strife that we see around us, every monotheistic (one-God) religion proposes that God is good. To appropriate one of C S Lewis' arguments, what would cause "primitive" man from attributing such a world to a good God if none existed?
If God is, in some sense personal, as seems to be the case from the above, how could God not be good? Caring? Loving, even? After all, if God exists, our morality, what we call good and bad, are really just terms for "Godly" and "ungodly". It's interesting to note that the Bible goes farther than calling God "good". It says that "God is love" (1 John 4:8 & 4:16).
Those are just my ideas though. We can only go so far by "general revelation" alone; eventually we must venture father into the trepid waters of "special revelation" to really know God. Why wouldn't we want to know God? Certainly a personal God could not only be known, but would want to be known, and make it possible to be known. Such a God might even go as far as coming down to our level. We couldn't comprehend God at God's own level after all. History's only person, "God in the flesh", fully God and fully human in every sense of the words, who's life (and death, and resurrection) is so compelling that today there are two billion followers around the world, is Jesus Christ. In my opinion, no other "god" compares. Check out the resources linked below, see what you think!