Why are there so many religions?

Here are the Bible study notes from this morning. We will upload the .pdf version for download so check back in a day or so.

Aren’t all religions equally valid—just as long as they are sincere?

How do we explain the presence of so many religions in the world?

Aren’t the world’s religions all trying to achieve the same thing?
-Social peace
-Spiritual well-being
-A shift in focus from the mundane to the transcendent
-Curbing vices and promoting moral behavior

Aren’t they all simply different expressions of the same ultimate truth?

Two challenges which religion in our day presents to us:

1. Exclusivism—the religious systems of the world cannot all be right in what they teach.

The world’s religious systems have differing conceptions of what is true:

The world’s religious systems have differing explanations of life’s purpose:

For example, Sikhism seeks life purpose in escaping reincarnation and becoming one with God.
Zen Buddhism is all about escaping dualism to achieve enlightenment.

2. Conflict—the presence of differing religious convictions has the potential to generate social conflict.

Religious conflict is often motivated by arrogance.

When a religious group is convinced their teachings are the only source of all truth, they can easily develop an attitude of superiority toward those of other faiths.

Attitudes of religious arrogance can also stem from feelings of superior moral standards.

In some cases, religious conflict boils over into outright acts of oppression such as persecution, war, and even genocide.

The Sudanese Civil Wars—social conflicts occur between world religions (Christianity and Islam).

Europe’s Thirty Years War (1618–1648)—conflicts occurring within the same general religious tradition (Protestants and Catholics).

Can we escape the divisiveness which religious views bring?

In his book, The Reason for God, Tim Keller observes three proposed solutions to the problems of religion and evaluates the problems with each approach (Chapter One).

Would simply outlawing religion solve the problem?
Attempts in the past have only generated their own kind of oppression (e.g., Soviet Russia, Communist China, North Korea)

The problem with this approach:
Religious commitments have not diminished with advances in science and education as secularism thought. Instead, Christianity in particular has experienced exponential growth within the last century in across Africa, as well as in India, China, and Korea.

What happens if we attempt to discourage or suppress religion?
Attempting to discourage religion will be an unsuccessful undertaking.

This solution is based upon a number of problematic assumptions:
– “All religions are equal”—would you say the same of religions which practice human sacrifices?
– “Religion is simply cultural”—does an individualistic cultural vantage point lie behind this idea?
– “It is arrogant for any religion to view its beliefs as superior to others”—again does this assumption arise from its own cultural perspective, a pluralistic and egalitarian one? Isn’t this also an exclusivist claim religious claim?

What happens if we try to privatize religion by removing it from the public square?

Some have suggested that we should remove religious convictions from the public square by only working on the basis of universally accepted and religiously neutral arguments.

This approach fails to account for the fact that everyone has unprovable faith assumptions which govern their view of the world, truth, morality, and ethics.

Conclusion: diverse religious convictions in society and around the world are unavoidable.

What attitudes are reflected in the Bible in regards to these challenges: religious arrogance and exclusivism?

Arrogance—does the Bible favor religious arrogance or oppression? No.

The Bible strongly condemns all forms of arrogance and oppression, including that which is religiously motivated.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3 ESV).

“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:16–18).

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

The Bible discourages oppressive and divisive behavior among Christians, particularly its leaders. Listen to the words of Jesus:

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:42–44).

Jesus taught and exemplified a life of humility—the very opposite of arrogance.

Isaiah the prophet predicted the humble attitude that would mark Jesus’ life and ministry:

“He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice” (Isaiah 42:2–3).

Jesus said of himself, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness… he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5–8 NIV).

Exclusivism—does the Bible hold an exclusivist attitude, that its teachings represent the truth and those who disagree with it are wrong? Yes it does.

Truth has a natural quality of exclusivity: if one thing is true, its opposite must be false. True humility does not shrink from telling the truth in order to avoid offending others. The Scriptures proclaim that there is only one true God, and we find in Jesus the perfect blend of humility and truthfulness who tells us that he is the only way to God.

“There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:21–22).

“Jesus said to him [Thomas the disciple], ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6).

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Some thoughts on the exclusive claims of Jesus from the Bible:
If you have not yet become a follower of Jesus, consider the cost of being his disciple. Though disciples follow his example of humility and peacemaking, they will experience the division which truth brings, even in their closest relationships (Luke 12:53; see also Luke 14:25–33).

If you are still searching for peace with God, consider how Jesus is able to make good on his claims to being the only way