Saturday, May 11, 2002

Mark Butterworth is an underappreciated source of wisdom among Christian bloggers. I'm not sure that I agree with him on some issues (I mean that literally; I simply haven't considered them enough), but he brings up good points. I read some recent posts (Thoughts #76 and Thoughts #75), and got into my bad habit of thinking.

I've always been receptive to the idea that Christianity as an establishment (rather than a means) isn't the only True Way. Before I go any further, I'd better do some heavy clarification. I believe that there is one God, and that this God created us and everything in the universe. I believe that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life (after his baptism, at the absolute, no-questions-possible, latest). I believe that Christ's teachings on love and attaining the Kingdom of God were correct. However, I don't know (in the same sense as above) that he was the one and only Son of God in a way distinct from what every person potentially is. I'm not sure how important that part is, either. If what he said is true, it could've come from a Ouija board and still be as correct. Having the proponent of an idea also be a follower lends some credence to it (I suspect that atheists/agnostics reading this will disagree and demand an explanation, and while I'll do so if asked, I also think it's self-evident if you stop and think for a bit). Thus, move from concentrating on the man to concentrating on the message.

Looking at the message rather than the messenger is helpful in that it removes outside influences. It's true that you can learn a lot about a book by its cover, but many false ideas have charismatic proponents (just as truths may be espoused by either the attractive or the lowly). It also means that squabbles over the virginity of Mary or the possible sexuality of Jesus are nullified, and so a stumbling block between Catholics and Protestants is removed. When looking at any claim, we want independent attestation. Absence of proof is not proof of absence, but having several witnesses improves the reliability of a claim. The major philosophies of life currently existing are Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Stoicism and Confucianism also tend to influence these belief systems, but rarely act on their own. I think that the persistence and size of these schools of thought lends them some credibility. I don't say that the bigger a following something has, the truer it is. However, if something has survived hundreds or thousands of years of questions and still has a sizeable following, the likelihood that it has some hold on the truth is far higher than if it is extinct or only has a few followers. If we are to assume that all major religions have at least some part of the truth, the best thing to do is to compare similarities, as these are probably true. What comes to light first is a sense of order and duty. The creator is above the created. Goodness is portrayed as sky and air and evil is the ground and underworld, a physical representation of good over evil. We also find that we've separated from our former union with God and fallen (a physical representation, again). Our goal is to reunite with God (or as Buddhism portrays it, an eternal energy; I'll refer to this as God for my purposes here) by following certain laws and codes of conduct. By achieving harmony with God, we are able to join him (her, it, whatever).

There are two primary manifestations of this duty and order that we see. The first is the responsibility to know one's place. If one having authority is over you, you are to obey them. This may be God, a king, a governor, a parent, etc. For those under your own authority, you are to discipline them when they fall out of line in order that they may learn their place. However, the other side is that of love. We are always encouraged to treat others as we ourselves would be treated. A master may order an underling to do something, but he should not order them to do something that is wrong. If someone needs our help, we should give it. This also applies to oneself. We're to abstain from certain practices because they're ultimately hurtful to ourselves or others, not because they violate some abstract rule. If our ultimate goal is to achieve union with God, then sins are those things which delay or prevent that from occurring.

Now, there are some parts that need more explanation. A reasonable question at this point would be to point out that Hinduism and Buddhism believe in reincarnation, and to say that a just, loving God wouldn't damn us (in other words, prevent us from joining him) and so we'll all eventually achieve union. If there is infinite reincarnation and we're destined to eventually become one with God, then why should we do anything? Eventually, we'll just stumble upon the right answer or God will get fed up with our absence or figure that, in the words of Sgt. Hartman, "if God wanted you up there, he woulda miracled your [donkey] up there by now, wouldn't he?" I think this is a very risky way of thinking. There is also a claim that we only get one shot. In the absence of full information, it's safer to assume that we need to try and save ourselves in this life, and then be pleasantly surprised if we're proven wrong by being reincarnated (sort of like Pascal's Wager). As for being miracled up to heaven, this is essentially stating the Problem of Evil. I don't have a full explanation, but it seems to me that if this were a viable option, it would've occurred by now. Since it hasn't, it's reasonable to assume that it won't happen, even though we don't know why (just like how scientists know the universe exists, but can't prove why).

In order to be reunited with God, we must fit in. Jesus said rightly that no one mends shrunk clothes with an unshrunk patch (unless they're ignorant, of course), since they'll tear after being washed. As such, to be successfully reincorporated, we must match God. Life is our chance to change our soul's composition. If we let life by and don't use our chance to change ourselves, we may never again get the chance. Thus, we'll endure the hell after we die of knowing that we're separate from God but not having the opportunity to change. We would only be able to hope that God could put us out of our misery by causing us to cease to be.

That is what Christianity is. It's a clarification of Judaism. When Jesus says that he is the only way to God, he means that only through love and duty can we change ourselves to be in God's image. Hindus who walk in love and duty will also be saved. The difference is that Christianity is the simplest of the ways to achieve this. Any belief that has part of the truth can lead to all of it, but the more extraneous material there is, the more opportunites there are for straying from the True Path.

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