(Recycled) One of the most powerful arguments I have encountered in the atheist literature pertains to the diversity of religious systems. The Jews think they are God's people, the Christians quote "there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved," The Muslims believe the Koran is the latest divine revelation, and there are Eastern religions and philosophies of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, etc. They can't all be right, can they? It gives the impression of everyone grasping at straws trying to make some sense out of the madness of life. Because I am most familiar with the Christian scriptures, I thought I would look at this issue from a Biblical perspective. The first thing that comes mind is that the Christian scriptures make it clear that one can know God without hearing the scriptures:
"since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities; his eternal power and divine nature; have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." (Romans 1:19-20)
"For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)" (Romans 2.13-15)
"Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come." (Matthew 12.32)
I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin." (Mark 3:28-29)
"And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven." (Luke 12.10)
Sin against the name of Jesus, but don't sin against the spirit of his message which is about forgiving others and loving others. According to Jesus, it is the spirit that counts most. Jesus won't transform your life if you don't believe him; but what does that belief mean? There were those during Jesus' lifetime that believed Jesus without believing in his death and resurrection. He said to one of the criminals that was hung with him that this day he would be with Jesus in paradise. Apparently believing in Jesus command, to love one another, and recognizing God was more important than doctrine. Apparently his sheep recognize his voice. If Christians believe all Hindus and Muslims are going to hell, it seems that they have misunderstood Jesus.
And if Christianity lends itself to religious toleration, as I believe most Eastern religions / philosophies also do, it may be that all religions that come from God do. If the religions are not incompatible then it could be that God has spoken to different groups in ways that would make the most sense to them. Communication from parent to child can be difficult, I imagine the gulf between God and man is even wider. God may have felt that a different approach was needed with different groups. This would explain the more or less homogenous ethical framework underlying most major religions.
The problem is that even if the religions lend themselves to toleration, the adherants often do not. Faith is scarce and rather than struggling with their own doubts, many believers would rather receive confirmation of their beliefs by spreading them to others. What is needed is for believers to comfortable enough in their own beliefs to accept the disbelief of others. Evangelism, if it must occur, should be motivated by a genuine concern for fellow humans rather than out of a need to confirm one's own beliefs.
(addendum) - it is funny how cyclical the Bible is and how the mistakes that repeat themselves (as they always do, there is nothing new under the sun) surface over and over again. The analogies are endless. As Israel constantly fell away from God' grace, was restored, fell away, was restored, ad infinitum - so it is with most of our relationships with God. We fail, we turn towards God, we fail again, turn towards God again, etc.
It is also worth noting that in most cases the blind did not realize that they were blind. Jesus did not look as the pharisees thought he would look and so they, with full knowledge of the scriptures and prophecies that told of his coming, did not recognize him as their fulfillment. In the same way, the scriptures above are normally dismissed by contemporary Christians as explaining that non-Jews could be Christians - they do not realize that just as Jews were challenged to accept Gentiles, Christians are challenged to accept non-Christians. Forever hearing but never understanding! Do they think that the illustration is so limited in its meaning? They do - but everything in their scripture and all they know of their lord should make it clear to them that the scriptures that were written about the pharisees in their day are now written about the pastors and bishops of today.
"you cross over land and sea to win a single convert ... and when you win him you make him twice a much a son of hell as you are." - Jesus
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