World Religions

A few weeks ago a guy named Jeff Bethke posted a short spoken-word piece on YouTube entitled "Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus". It unexpectedly became a minor sensation, gathering over 19 million hits. I can understand why some people are critical of it, but I can also understand where he is coming from; so much of what is called "religion" today is misguided or even hateful.

That's why I appreciate this video called "Religion – Why Isn't it Working?" by David Nasser, who was raised in Iran until his family was forced to flee the country. This 17 minute video is a powerful exploration of the subject of religion in the world.

O RLY?A great blog by Tom Gilson, Thinking Christian, has an equally great post dismantling a Washington Post article that epitomizes the double-standard of "tolerance" applied against the Christian faith (and often other faiths too, but most often the Christian faith) in modern western society:

“All Beliefs Welcome, Unless They are Forced on Others”

There is a weasel word used here: "forced". The original article title mentions "forcing" beliefs on others, while the article itself is really talking about when people "take their theology out in public". Of course we would never want anyone to try to "force" their religious beliefs; but what's wrong with sharing our faith (in love) with others?

If Christians truly believe we have found the greatest love, greatest hope, and greatest truth in the world, why would it be wrong to winsomely share that faith? I might argue it would in fact be wrong to keep such a wonderful thing secretly to ourselves!

The title of Thomas Harris' still popular book "I'm OK, You're OK" came to mind today. (I can almost hear my high school English prof: "OK is not a word! The word is spelled OKAY!") I have never read the book, but according to the always reliable (*coughs*) Wikipedia entry (linked above) the four basic "life positions" explained in the book are:

  1. I'm Not OK, You're OK
  2. I'm Not OK, You're Not OK
  3. I'm OK, You're Not OK
  4. I'm OK, You're OK

Which of these life positions best describes the various world religions?

One of the most prevalent today, IMHO, especially in secular society, is #4: I'm OK, You're OK. This is the pluralist approach … all roads lead to Rome, all paths lead to the top of the mountain, etc. "You believe in and worship Jesus?" someone might say, "That's great … for you." Or "You believe in Muhammad, Krishna, or Adi Da? Wonderful … for you." This life position often takes the colloquialism "Whatever makes you happy …" Of course, even here there are limits … ex, "You believe and worship Satan? … Um. That's … um, great … *cough* … <changes subject>"

#1 is less prevalent but still abounds: I'm Not OK, You're OK. This is a self-depreciating position. It imagines that everyone else is good, and I am markedly inferior to them. I must admit sometimes I fall into this sort of thinking myself, and this sort of unhealthy guilt is sometimes unfortunately common in Christian circles. After all, doesn't the Bible even say "consider others better than yourselves"? (Philippians 2:3) More on that in a moment.

#3 is also prevalent: I'm OK, You're Not OK. In fact, this is the view of most religions in the world. There is a specific set of requirements that you must pass in order to qualify. If you do those things, you pass the test and are "in". If you, for example, pray the confession, pray five times a day, tithe 2.5%, fast, and go on the pilgrimage, you're in! At least, pretty sure you're in. Kinda sure. Well you don't really know but you hope you are. And this view is seen as being pretty "intolerant" and not at all politically correct, not to mention it's not exactly very humble.

#2 is probably the least prevalent: I'm Not OK, You're Not OK. This, in fact, is the view of biblical Christianity, where we read that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) and "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves" (1 John 1:8) … moreover, "everyone who sins is a slave to sin" (John 8:34). Wow! Isn't that just excessively negative?

Actually, I'd say #2 is accurate. Real Christianity does not encourage people to wallow in self-pity or negativity, nor is it encouraged to gloss over our sins and failings, nor is it taught to think we're "all that" (OK) and point the finger at others (not OK). Instead it recognizes that we're all in the same boat. At least, initially.

The full text of the verse which contains the previous quotation ("consider others better than yourselves") actually reads "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." When we are honest with ourselves, we know that we don't even meet our own self-imposed standards of morality. (See "Good People?" for more about that.) How much more do we not live up to God's standards?

But that is only stating the problem. God also provides the solution: Jesus. Christianity is utterly unique in that we are not saved because we are "OK". We are saved by our acceptance of the fact that we are NOT, and our acceptance of the One who is strong enough, and merciful enough, to carry the weight for us that we cannot bear on our own, as Paul explains: "God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners." (Romans 5:8)

Are we all OK? No. We're all NOT. As John Piper might say, "John Piper … is … bad!" And that includes me. But I hope I never become complacent in remembering the price that Christ paid for my freedom from sin, not by my own works that I might become conceited and prideful, but instead entirely by the grace of God. And that makes the Christian message unique, and uniquely true, among all world religions and "life positions".


(Image credit: striatic, who of course does not necessarily endorse any of the content of this post!)

God is Great (Hitchens)Today on Thinking Christian there is a post regarding "Defending the Church" which asks how Christians should respond to the challenge that the Christian church has quite a sordid past. The usual suspects like the crusades, inquisitions, and pedophile priests are mentioned. How should Christians respond to Christianity's sordid past?

Already some worthwhile comments have been made to the original post; a comment from Tyler is, I think, on the right track:

The simple answer is that we don't have to defend Christians, or so called Christians, or the church of the past, we defend Jesus Christ and the gospel, and say that if anyone claiming to be a Christian did not act in accordance with what the Scriptures teach then we don't defend those actions, we simply believe in Jesus Christ and His Word and what He did on the cross and what He is doing in our lives today. (Tyler / Thinking Christian site)

Well said. But let's just say, for the sake of argument, that all of the charges regarding misdeeds of Christians of the past and present are entirely accurate. What, exactly, does that prove about the truthfulness of the Christian faith? Absolutely nothing.

Atheists, Muslims, and Scientologists do bad things too, sometimes institutionally, and sometimes individually, but this doesn't prove that these worldviews are wrong. Nor do past misdeeds of Christians (regarding which we should be deeply sorrowful and sorry) do not disprove the Christian faith. Such misdeeds, by Christians and all people, prove something about people: That we are sinners to the core and in need of God. But it proves nothing about the Christian faith itself, as I've previously commented.

Related reading: Good People? – What makes a person "good"? Is your definition of the word built upon a firm foundation, or is it floating in thin air?

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