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Ask a Theologian

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, Feb 13, 2007.

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  1. C~G

    C~G Untouchable

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    I have a question, which is a subject that I remembered discussing with my high school teacher (theologian also) years ago. Don't remember into what conclusion we ended up. It bothered me also during my younghood and it was one of the reasons I left the church.

    I thought making thread about it but since there's theologian aboard I might well ask from you.

    What is the reason given in Christian theology why God created other religions?
    If we look people who are born into certain religion, isn't it quite "unfair" maybe to expect them turn into christians during their lives?
     
  2. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I don't think Christians normally believe that God "created" other religions: rather, other religions have sprung up for normal historical reasons, the same as any other social phenomena.

    But different Christians have had very different ideas about the status of other religions and their followers. It's usual to distinguish between three main different views, but I think there are really four main different views:

    The first is exclusivism, according to which anyone who is not a Christian won't be saved, so tough luck, basically. And yes, the major objection to this is that it's terribly unfair. I suppose the response to that would be to say that there are many things in life which are unfair, and where God seems to have treated some people worse than others: for example, if one person is born into poverty while another is born into wealth, then things are very different for them through no fault or merit of their own. So if God can allow that, he might allow people to be born into the wrong religion through no fault of their own too.

    So, for example:

    Exclusivism is probably most associated with Augustine, because his endorsement of it helped to make it the mainstream view for many centuries. Augustine argued that because all people have sinned, it would be good and just of God to damn everyone. The fact that he chooses to save some people just shows how amazingly merciful he is. Since he isn't obliged to save anyone at all, and everyone deserves to be damned, we can't complain that he chooses to save only a few.

    The second major position is pluralism, which basically says that all religions (or at least most of the major ones) are equally valid routes to salvation, and it doesn't really matter which one you follow as long as you do it sincerely and act morally. This is a much more common position today. John Hick is especially associated with it. He argues that Christians need a new Copernican revolution: instead of putting their own religion at the centre and judging others according to its standards, they ought to put "Reality" (his word for God) at the centre and see all religions as revolving around it, though in different orbits.

    Probably the major objection to this is that it seems very woolly, almost to the point of inconsistency: different religions disagree with each other on fairly important points, so they can't all be true; so how can they all be equally valid routes to salvation? Moreover, you must have some standards to say some religions are better than others, otherwise you can't say that Buddhism or Christianity are preferable to satanism. Now in response to this, Hick suggests that the "great" religions are those which have certain features:

    But as soon as you introduce standards such as this, you seem to be drifting away from pluralism altogether. And it seems to be getting close to the third major position, which Hick rejects.

    That third major view is what I'd call realised inclusivism, according to which you do need faith in Christ to be saved, but you don't have to be explicitly a Christian. Justin Martyr argued for this in the second century AD. He believed that Christ is the Logos, that is, the divine Reason; so anyone who follows reason is really following Christ, although they might not know it. So he thought that the pre-Christian prophets, and pagan philosophers, were saved because of this.

    This view retains the traditional belief that Christ is essential to salvation, but it aims to remove what it regards as the overly parochial insistence upon the Christian religion. So someone who holds this view might think that, say, a good and sincere Muslim could count as a Christian (even if they don't know it) because they are following that element of Christ that is present in their religion. In the twentieth century, the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner put forward a version of this.

    Rahner said that it is true that, when someone has heard Christianity preached and really understood it, explicitly becoming a Christian really is essential for their salvation. But that moment (the personal Pentecost moment) comes at different times for different people, and for many people, it never comes at all. Until it does, they may be following Christ in their own way. Once it has come, if they are really a follower of Christ, they will choose to follow the fully revealed version. Just as a fan of the Stones will go to a tribute band in the absence of the real thing, but if the Stones themselves come to town, the true fan would never be content with an imitation.

    The major objection to this is that it's rather patronising to say that, for example, sincere Muslims are really Christians even if they don't know it, and even if they deny it themselves. The response to that is that something can be true even if it is patronising to say it; moreover, the idea isn't that you go around saying this to members of other religions. Rather, it is something to help Christians themselves reconcile their faith in divine mercy with the

    The fourth major view on this is unrealised inclusivism. On this view, you do indeed need to be a Christian in order to be saved, but ultimately, everyone will become a Christian - if not in this life, then after death. The most famous proponent of this view was Origen of Alexandria in the third century. Origen believed that those who reject Christ will end up in hell, but hell is only temporary, because the purpose of punishment is reformation and rehabilitation. Moreover, good is infinite, but evil is finite, so no-one can persist in evil forever. Ultimately, everyone will turn to God.

    Others who accepted this view in antiquity include Titus of Bostra and, more significantly, Gregory of Nyssa, who was far more explicit about it than Origen himself. But the opposition of Augustine meant that it lost popularity after the fifth century. Most later inclusivists have been of the "realised" kind rather than "unrealised".
     
  3. C~G

    C~G Untouchable

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    Thank you for your answer. Should had expected this kind of comprehensive report. ;)
    I'll read it more closely later and maybe comment it.

    This however struck me immediately:
    So based into christian theology what God exactly has created?
    (like you say God didn't create them but they sprung up?)
    What is the difference?

    And finally, do you think the view that christianity sprung up as other religions but ultimately is the only and true religion can be supported by christian theology or is it actually what you are saying?
    (That all other religions with christianity just sprung up but it's christianity that is true manifestation of God's will while others are more and less copies/fakes of it.)

    The question regarding this is how you could blend together the idea of possible darwinian evolution of religions among with individual's christian faith.
     
  4. Fifty

    Fifty !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    Thanks! I didn't actually read it in the bible. It is an epigraph in my favorite book (The Brothers Karamazov). In passing, what's the AV?
     
  5. MayNilad Man

    MayNilad Man Chieftain

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    Sorry, forgot to qualify it. I was asking about how Theology has affected modern society in the realm of ethics, science, etc.
    To get get even more specific (and also to help give you a better gist of my more general one): can we say that Atheists are Christian, even though they believe not in Christ, by virtue of the fact that they grew up in a culture steeped in Christianity?

    Another question: what is the basis for the Protestant claim that the RCC is not consistent with the Bible?
    Why do they [Protestants] see it so important to base everything on the Bible?
    And why do I get the feeling just by Googling that Protestants have a bone to pick with the RCC?
     
  6. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I think most Christians would accept a distinction between things that God directly created and things which are brought about by creatures such as us. For example, God directly created the universe, but human beings created the Eiffel Tower. Now Christians will no doubt disagree over where to draw the dividing line, as it were. Some think that God directly created pretty much anything natural, or at least the first ones - so God created cats, dogs, trees, and so on (the first ones, at least - their descendants have been creating each other according to God's original blueprints). Other Christians (the sensible ones, not that I'm biased of course) would think that God directly created fewer things: the universe and the physical laws which govern it, and everything else has developed along the lines which he set out.

    But I think they would all agree that human institutions are created by human beings, with the possible exception of the church itself. And they would all agree that God is ultimately responsible for everything. Of course, Christians who believe in predestination will think that God is more directly responsible even for human institutions, because he predestines everyone to do everything - so although human beings built the Eiffel Tower, they did it only because God predestined them to do so. Those with such a view will think that God must have had some reason for wanting that to be done, and also that he must have had some reason for wanting non-Christians religions to exist.

    It's not what I'm saying, but it's something many (perhaps most) Christians would believe. But as I tried to explain, there are also Christians who would reject that view.

    I think the best way to do that would be either to trust that God has seen to it, one way or another, that Christianity has arisen and held on to the truth (perhaps by miraculous intervention, perhaps by predestination or more subtle influence); or to hold that different religions are equally valid and refuse to privilege Christianity.

    The Authorised Version of the Bible (the one which Americans tend to call the King James Version).
     
  7. phoenix_sprite

    phoenix_sprite Chieftain

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    Does religion take the humanity out of humanity?

    Would we be better off without religion?
     
  8. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    To say that religion takes the humanity out of humanity, in my opinion, and given the prevalence of religion among human society throughout hiswtory, is to say that humans should have been something other than we were, which is to me a meaningless statement.
     
  9. onejayhawk

    onejayhawk Afflicted with reason

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    Since you are an historian, what are, in your opinion the handful of most important secular political actions vis a vis the Church. And conversely, what are the most important ecclesiastical actions with relation to secular political development.

    J
     
  10. CCA

    CCA Chieftain

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    Sorry if this has been asked before.

    Do you consider scientology a religion?
     
  11. GenMarshall

    GenMarshall Ghost Agent

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    Are there any historical proofs that Jesus existed?
     
  12. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I'd agree with what Eran said. I can't see any reason to give an affirmative answer to this.

    Probably in some ways we'd be better off and in others we'd be worse off. I think we'd be worse off, on balance.

    That's very hard to say. I suppose the most important political actions from the church's point of view was the series of decisions by various Roman emperors in the fourth century which led to the church becoming the official religion of the empire. But if you're asking about non-religious political decisions which affected the church, I'm not sure. Off the top of my head, I'd say the "scramble for Africa" on the part of the major European powers in the nineteenth century was possibly the most significant non-religious political action from the point of view of the church - at least in modern times - since it was a major force in the spread of Christianity into that continent. Conversely, the independence of many African nations in the couple of decades after WWII had huge ramifications for the churches there.

    Probably most of the non-religious political actions which had big implications for the church would be other invasions/conquests/etc of that kind. For example, when Rome was forced to hand over Edessa to the Persians in the fourth century, large numbers of Syriac-speaking Christians fled west and impacted the churches there. This sort of thing is always happening.

    As for the question about which ecclesiastical policies have had most impact upon the secular world, I think that is impossible to answer because so many of them have had so much impact. The religious dimension of various wars is an obvious candidate, although it's questionable in many cases to what degree Christianity really made much difference there, or whether it was simply a handy rallying call. For example, pretty much every European nation involved in WWI claimed to be fighting for Christian values, but I think the war would have happened much as it did anyway even if they hadn't. Other wars such as the Crusades were obviously more directly influenced by ecclesiastical policies. However, if I had to choose, I'd say that the church policies that most influenced the world were the educational ones: the attempts by church leaders in the ninth century to educate as many people as possible, the rise of cathedral schools and then universities in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and the founding of many excellent schools and universities by the Jesuits, Lutherans, and Calvinists in the sixteenth century. These policies not only led to a massive increase in learning and general education by early modern times, but also helped to create the ideal of education itself, especially the principle of free education available to all.

    I don't see why it shouldn't be considered a religion. Of course "religion" is notoriously hard to define, but I think most people would class scientology as one.

    You can't prove any historical claim, you can only produce evidence of variable quality. But there is considerable evidence that Jesus existed, to the degree that it is very unlikely that he didn't.
     
  13. Fifty

    Fifty !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    Was Kant really the first philosopher to attempt to reconcile the new scientific view of the world (via Galileo, Copernicus, Newton) with the traditional Christian metaphysics of heaven, via his business about the supersensible domain where God could live? How did the Christian church respond to Kant's theory?
     
  14. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    No, he wasn't the first at all, as you ought to be able to guess given that the scientists you mention were also all Christians. And virtually all Christian philosophers of whatever stripe would have agreed that God dwells in a supersensible realm, long before Kant. The innovative thing about Kant, from this point of view, was that he said (roughly) that you can't reason about anything beyond sensory experience, so not only can you not sense God, you can't reason about him either. Which itself was hardly a new thing, but he said it in a new way. And it was a major attack on the various attempts to construct a Christian metaphysical philosophy/theology which had been made over the previous couple of centuries.

    Pretty much all the major philosophers of the seventeenth century - especially Descartes, Gassendi, Locke, and Leibniz - had been trying to reconcile the new scientific view of the world with traditional Christian metaphysics, though in very different ways. In fact "reconcile" is really the wrong word here, because most of them wouldn't have regarded them as contradictory at all; on the contrary, the consensus was generally the traditional one that natural philosophy and theology converged nicely. The eighteenth century saw them begin to diverge, but really most Christian thinkers didn't perceive any need to embark on a sort of rescue project of reconciliation until the nineteenth century. What Kant did was basically deny that you could have any metaphysics of heaven or anything like that. So really his project was an assault upon the unified understanding of science and theological metaphysics which had been common before. Of course, Kant believed that in this way he was insulating religion from philosophical criticism, rather as Wittgenstein would later.

    Kant was enormously influential on Christian theology in the nineteenth century. The greatest nineteenth-century theologian, Friedrich Schleiermacher, was very deeply influenced by him, and so was Kierkegaard, though in a different sort of way. At the time, and certainly for the first half of the nineteenth century, Hegel was probably more obviously influential, to the extent that there was a whole school of Hegelian theology; but Hegel became less fashionable over time while Kant's ideas proved more enduring, I think. In the later nineteenth century, his view that religion is entirely about ethics and not metaphysics at all was especially influential on German liberal theology.
     
  15. Gogf

    Gogf Indescribable

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    Given that God is supposedly omniscient, what is the purpose of prayer?
     
  16. scy12

    scy12 Chieftain

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    Why and by whom Christianity created ? Why and how did it spread like it did ?

    I am more interested to ask questions to a "Ask an Historian " thread and so i am happy you hold both the theologian and historian title.

    My questions are simple ... But that is because i don't fear to expect compelling answers to come from simple questions.
     
  17. Fifty

    Fifty !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    Indeed. The reason I asked was because I read as such in a book and it jibed with a lot of what I had learned previously, and so I wanted to run it by you. Thanks a bunch!

    PS: This thread is coming close to surpassing the rest of OT combined, with regards to interesting content. :lol:
     
  18. MayNilad Man

    MayNilad Man Chieftain

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    Does th Catholic Church see Homosex as a sexual deviation? OR does it just classify it as pre-marital sex?
     
  19. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    There are a number of possible answers to that.

    One is that God's omniscience doesn't cover the future. To be omniscient means to know everything that can be known, so some theologians claim that it is logically impossible to know things about the future, because claims about the future have no truth value. On this view, God is inside time, and although his knowledge of the past and present is perfect, he can only make guesses about the future (although his perfect knowledge of past and present mean that his guesses are extremely good). So God himself doesn't know what he's going to do, so you may as well try to persuade him. This is a rather unorthodox view of God, associated with modern Process Theology, although the Socinians believed something similar in the sixteenth century, and some modern philosophers of religion such as Richard Swinburne also suggest it.

    A second response is that even though God is timeless and creates the world timelessly, and knows everything about it, when he sets it up he takes account of the prayers within it. For example, God knows that I pray on Saturday that I want something to happen on Sunday. He chooses to grant this request, so he creates the world in which the thing I want to happen on Sunday does happen. This is basically a Molinist view. It also has the interesting corollary that you could pray for past events too.

    A third response is that you don't pray in order to get God to do things; you pray to attune your own will to that of God. On this view, prayer is more like contemplation than conversation. This is a more Thomist line.

    Christianity wasn't "created", as if someone sat down and decided what it was going to be like, like scientology. It developed. No one person was responsible, but the key figures - after Jesus himself - were probably James (Jesus' brother), Peter, and Paul. James and Peter were the leaders of the first generation of Christians, a time when Paul was probably not particularly prominent, but in subsequent years Paul's ideas became incredibly influential.

    As for why and how it spread, that would take a book to answer because it's so complicated. In the early centuries, Christianity spread through the cities of the Roman and Persian empires - it wasn't really a rural phenomenon at all (despite being founded by a bunch of fishermen), and this remained the case for some centuries. It was particularly popular among the lower classes, slaves, and women. Contrast this to the mystery religions, which were very hard to get into, and Mithraism, which was open only to men and was popular among the military. Christianity inherited both the relatively austere morality and the monotheism of Judaism, which many people had always found attractive. Also, as time went on, it acquired able philosophical defenders, who began to express Christian doctrines in terms taken from pagan philosophy, which helped to make it intellectually attractive too. Finally, the intermittent persecutions by the authorities - both Roman and Persian - had the effect that persecutions of religious minorities always do: it made them far more zealous and determined and encouraged many other people to join them, impressed by their courage.

    Thanks! That's because people ask interesting questions.

    It sees it as intrinsically wrong and basically perverse, not simply a class of extra-marital sex. So the Catholic Church is opposed to the idea of gay marriage, which it presumably wouldn't be if its sole objection to gay sex were that it took place outside marriage. Of course I don't need to tell you that there are many other Christians who reject this whole viewpoint, probably including a fair few Catholics (although I'm just guessing about them).
     
  20. Fifty

    Fifty !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    Can you think of any arguments in theology that strike you as the type of thing Daniel Dennett was warning about in his paper on Chmess? Basically* the idea is that Dennett thinks that a lot of the stuff philosophers work on is like trying to discover a priori truths about "chmess", a game that's exactly like chess but the king can move two pieces in any direction, instead of one. Now there are obviously a lot of a priori truths about chmess we could discover, but that'd be a pretty pointless enterprise. Similarly, Dennett argues a lot of the stuff philosophers work on is like discovering a priori truths about chmess. So do you think anything in theology is like that? If so, what?


    *I realize there's a good chance you're already familiar with the paper but I figured I'd outline it for other people who may be reading as well.
     
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