Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Four Gifts

In chapter 8 of How to Know God Exists, Ray Comfort offers his best case for the proposition that Christianity is more like Christianity than any other religion is.  I would have to say that in general he succeeds in this, despite some questionable assertions about what the other religions he discusses believe.  For example, while Guatama Buddha himself made no claims to supernatural status and discouraged theological dogma and speculation, many Buddhists do indeed worship a God or gods (many, indeed, worship Buddha himself); atheist Buddhists are mostly a western phenomenon.  Many Buddhists, like many Hindus, accept reincarnation, and those of both faiths who do see the analog of salvation in ending the cycle of reincarnation, not simply being reincarnated into some better lifestyle.  Muslims do stress good works, but also stress the importance of faith (which in both religions is supposed to issue in good works) and repentance; the distinction between the Muslim position and the Christian comes down to whether human beings are even capable of doing anything pleasing to God.  Ray in general ignores the diversity of theological positions in all these faiths.

Ray has, in the previous chapter, argued that humans of all cultures and backgrounds tend to accept that there is good and evil, and tend to agree on which is which.  From this, he rather too neatly and easily proceeded to the view that everyone in his heart accepts the Christian verdict of humanity's problem: that we are born corrupt, that all of us (at least once we reach the age of accountability) are incapable of behaving properly, and face God's eternal and implacable wrath for our sins (none of which are trivial or lightly forgivable).  Given this diagnosis, he proclaims confidently that only Christianity offers what we need to be saved: reincarnation and nirvana are myths, simply doing God's will on our own is impossible, and we need Someone to pay the infinite price of our sins.  He dismisses without even considering the fact that, e.g. a Muslim would have a slightly but significantly different diagnosis of our condition, while a Hindu would have an even more different one, and a Buddhist a different one yet.  Ray insists that he has the right answer because he refuses to consider that he might have the wrong question.

The title for the chapter comes from one of Ray's analogies: if you're on a plane that's about to crash, and were offered any one of four gifts, which would you accept: the original Mona Lisa, a brand new Lamborghini, ten million dollars, or a parachute?  Of course, if the plane represents our life and the crash represents the end of that life and whatever comes after it, then we don't get to use the parachute until after we crash; under such circumstances, perhaps we'd prefer a nice car to drive away from the crash site, or some money to spend on new clothes to replace our lost luggage, or something nice to hang on the wall of the hotel room.  By the same token, Ray is too quick to mock the idea of reincarnation; he presents it as the belief that after you jump out of the plane, you get sucked into a new plane and assigned seating according to how you behaved on the first plane.  It should be, you crash, and then the Christian holds that your parachute will bear you safely to the ground, while the believer in reincarnation thinks you just get onto another plane.  Make the details of the analogy consistent, and it's harder to see why one faith is stranger than the other.

1 comment:

  1. "...Christianity is more like Christianity than any other religion is."