Friday 3 February 2012

Respect other beliefs (but damn those believers to Hell)

In chapter 39 of Dembski & Licona's Evidence for God, co-editor Michael R. Licona asks, "Is Jesus the Only Way?" — and in the process gets a bit side-tracked, revealing some fundamental inconsistencies with god-belief in general and Christianity in particular.

He begins by quoting the Bible (of course):
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6)
...among other parts, then goes on to claim Jesus's exclusivity in the salvation department by means of his prediction that he would rise from the dead.
This is a pretty good test and differs from those offered by other religions.
It might be pretty good as far as Mike Licona is concerned, but isn't it, at heart, a non sequitur? Will you believe me if I tell you I can get you into Heaven? No? How about if I offer to perform a magic trick — will you believe me now? Resurrection and divinity are too tenuously related, in my opinion, for one to be a guarantee of the other.

Licona grants that literary comparisons of scriptures don't serve to place one above another, so he keeps coming back to the resurrection. This isn't surprising given he has co-written a book about it.
Space does not permit me to provide a historical case for Jesus’ resurrection. Gary Habermas and I have done so in The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. If we may assume for the moment that Jesus was truly who he claimed to be, this goes a long way toward reconciling his claim to being the exclusive route to God with the uneasiness it brings.
The "uneasiness" he refers to is the apparent arrogance of Jesus's exclusive claim. But saying "If we may assume for the moment that Jesus was truly who he claimed to be, this goes a long way toward reconciling his claim..." isn't saying much, other than "If we may assume Jesus is the only way to God, then Jesus is the only way to God." Jesus's claim is therefore not arrogant (with its concomitant "uneasiness"), but only if the claim is true — which Licona admits he's simply assuming.

Licona spends some time on the Heaven's Gate cult, extrapolating it to other non-Christian religions. (Personally I feel he could extend his scope to one more religion....)
If we can assess the truth-claims of the Heaven’s Gate religion, we can assess the truth-claims of other religions. Followers of other religions may find that their religious beliefs and practices bring them feelings of peace and hope and give them a purpose for living. In fact, here is a true statement: A number of valuable benefits have been realized by followers of non-Christian religions. However, if Jesus’ claim to be the exclusive way to God is true, then the following statement is false: Muhammad provided an effective way to be acceptable to God. In other words, a religion can be true in a subjective sense while being false in an objective one. I am interested in following religious teachings that are true in both senses.
He may say that, but I get the feeling from this chapter, and indeed the whole book, that everything he and his contributors write is geared not to truth but to confirmation.

Then comes a rather oblique section on the ethics of proselytism, attempting to justify exclusive claims with a so-called respect for other religions (and non-religion). Given the preponderance of special pleading, excuses and spurious rights to non-offence demanded by so many of the religious I find this section not just disingenuous but laughable. Licona then has the gall to come out with this:
Moreover, there are times when truth should not be sacrificed for the sake of avoiding offense. While the Titanic was sinking, since lifeboats were available, it would have been unethical for the crew, in the interest of reducing panic for the moment, to have told all of the passengers to go back to their cabins and sleep through the night because everything would be fine in the morning. Truth is important. Decisions of greater importance should drive us to discover the truth, rather than dilute or deny it in our efforts not to offend, which as we have seen is a no-win situation. However, when sharing our faith with others, Christians should remember to do it “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). We should love others and be graceful in our efforts to share the greatest news ever told.
And to tell them they're heading to Hell if they don't believe.