January 17, 2007

Only Two Religions: Meditations on Religious Pluralism

It has often been said that all religions teach basically the same thing, or are just different paths to the same God. This idea of religious pluralism comes both from the mouths of those who have made a career of "religious studies" and from those who simply mean to brush aside the whole question of truth in religion. The claim itself can be answered in several ways, but I think that behind this idea stands a common presumption about the nature of God and what He expects from us.

For most, this claim is simply a matter of ignorance about what the various religions actually teach, or consider to be essential truths, but when the most foundational doctrines are taken into account, irreconcilable differences immediately surface. For example, Islam says that Muhammad was the final and greatest prophet of God and that Jesus was a mere human prophet, while Christianity says that Muhammad was not speaking for God and that Jesus was actually God incarnate. Islam claims that the Christian's divine view of Jesus is a mortal sin (the sin of "shirk"), while Christians say that you must accept His deity for salvation – there is no harmonizing these views. Other examples that could be cited would be the Buddhist idea of a non-personal God (in fact, Theravada Buddhism is essentially atheistic) vs. the eminently personal God of Christianity; or the Hindu/New-Age idea of reincarnation vs. the one-life model of Christianity.

Another thing pluralists are often guilty of is being selective about what religions to include in order to make this alleged harmonization. The religions that most modern people are aware of are relatively tame (especially from a distance), but there are many diverse and eccentric religions out there, and many more that could be added if we took historical inventory. Does the pluralist mean to say that the child sacrifices of the Canaanite priests were simply an earnest effort to reach out to the same God that Christians worship with offerings of praise and thanksgiving? Is the pluralist willing to accept all religions and all sincere expressions of those religions, or are they willing to admit that God is not likely to be impressed when a "sincere" believer flies a hijacked jet into a skyscraper?

In reality, the case for pluralism is most forcefully made by those who deny the orthodoxy of any particular religion (i.e., theological liberals), and often are not, themselves, devout people. It is an outsider's claim; they do not believe that God has clearly spoken through any of these religious systems. These are the people who are not so hostile to religion that they would brazenly claim it all a fiction to be discarded. There is a somewhat commendable (though misguided) spirit of mediation at work here. Unfortunately, in the attempt to reconcile the individual faiths they only succeed in misunderstanding each, and alienating those who take them seriously and would be unwilling to yield their distinctive doctrines. The pluralist is actually proposing a new vanilla religion to which he expects the world to convert. In practice, he is simply adding yet another one into the mix.

Religious pluralism is a bit like saying that all sports are basically the same because they use a ball. But this neglects the puck, the pool, the track, and the mat. Perhaps they might be tempted to say that it is all about prevailing over competition, but that would be both too narrow (many participate for the sheer love of the game) and too broad (capitalism then becomes a "sport" as well). So, again, we come back to the idea that details and distinctions matter.

Yet, pluralism rests on the idea that there is some common element or point of unity between the various religions. So, what is the "ball" for the religious pluralist? When all the world's religions are surveyed, the common denominator of choice always seems to relate to "morality."

I think at the deepest level the pluralist's conclusion is its own theological claim about what God is like, or what He wants (assuming He exists at all). I don't think the conclusion is merely based on observed similarities in the religions being sampled. If this were so then one could claim that God just wants us all to congregate in large halls, or sing songs to Him, or chant prayers – all things found in diverse religions. I think that certain assumptions guide the selective process in what is considered to be a relevant similarity.

It is instructive both that all religions do have something to say about morality, and that the pluralist would pick this out as the key ingredient. In our postmodern age there is much debate over the existence of objective morality, but here we see affirmed the fact that the peoples of the world are all preoccupied with the idea that morality is real and essential. It is both an irony and a further testament that so many moral relativists also happen to be religious pluralists. Even atheists reveal their appreciation of morality when they – as they often do – object to the idea that you need to believe in God to live a moral life. There is something worth exploring here.

So, what do the religions of the world have to say about morality?

Buddha says to "be lamps unto yourselves; work out your salvation with diligence." The path to salvation, according to Buddhism, is through the personal pursuit of "enlightenment" facilitated by such moral guidelines as the Five Precepts and the Eightfold Path. Hindu (and New Age) salvation depends on the idea that one advances upward to the Godhead through cycles of incarnations, where one is rewarded or punished in the next life according to the good or bad deeds in this one. Islam teaches that one's good deeds must outweigh the bad ones, and credits are earned through obedient living, especially by application of the Five Pillars of Islam. The ancient Greeks believed that the dead were judged in the underworld, and the good could ascend to the Elysian Fields while the evil descended to fiery Tartarus. In ancient Egypt, eternal life was achieved if the burden of sin and evil in one's heart weighed less than the feather of Ma'at. And the list goes on and on.

The common theme seems to be one of personal striving for self-righteousness or a level of virtue acceptable to the divine judge. While there may be differences in where that striving lands you, or who/what does the judging, there is still the hope and expectation that the goal is yours to achieve. And the religious pluralist joins them in spirit: he says that if there is a God, then surely all He wants is for us to be "good" people. But there is one religion that is not a good team player, and is often bypassed because of it.

Christianity teaches that it is true in principle that we are justified by our works, but that it is a losing proposition. If there is one thing that is clear from the testimony of history, our social experiences, and our own hearts, it is that humans are fundamentally and deeply flawed creatures. To deny this one would first have to declassify a host of sins. Additionally, even our "good" deeds are suspect when we consider factors such as motives and standards of comparison. But even assuming we have managed some righteousness pleasing to the Judge, how good is good enough? Does He grade on a curve? Maybe just 51% goodness is enough? Yet even that would be found optimistic if we examine ourselves and meditate long on the idea of perfection.

In what sense can we call the Judge "just" if He winks at so much sin? There is certainly nothing in our experience that reflects this sort of attitude toward law and crime. We are not entitled to knock off a bank for our retirement fund even if we've been law abiding for the balance of our lives. Anyone who is looking for a God of unconditional loving tolerance has not been a parent, or has neglected all lessons of child rearing. If absolute holiness is not required, or imparted to us, then heaven will be filled with a great many persons with marginal credentials, and that is no heaven at all.
Christianity is absolutely unique among the religions of the world. It turns these ideas of morality and merit on their head: salvation comes before works. It teaches that it is the height of arrogance to think that our goodness can match God's holy standard, or that He owes us anything for our petty deeds. Christianity demands that you repent not only of your sin, but of all your labors to bury it, and your presumption that you can impress God.

God has already provided the perfect righteousness in Jesus Christ; we have merely to put our trust in this provision. It is both the hardest and easiest religion to follow. Hard, in that one must first yield up the ego. Easy, in that one has but to "enter the Sabbath rest." And those moral motions, which every other religion is so keen to affirm, spring inevitably from a genuine faith.

At the end of our days when we stand before God and He asks why He should receive us, the answers will fall into two categories. On the one hand the proud will say, "I performed the rituals and festivals and prayers," or "I was basically a good person." On the other hand the humble will say, "I am unworthy and filled with sin. Even my good deeds are as filthy rags before your Holiness. I throw myself solely on your mercy." One seeks to be judged on his own merits; the other throws himself on the mercy of the court. Scripture tells us how this will play out. For those not covered by the atonement of Jesus, the books will be thrown open and everyone judged according to his works. The results leave no room for optimism.

Ultimately, there are only two religions: man's religion of self-righteousness vs. God's righteousness and His provision for sinful man. One must be surrendered to the other, and the religious pluralist says it must be the latter. This is why classical Christianity is implicitly excluded in talk of pluralism. It is the black sheep (or I should say, the spotless white lamb) in this pasture. If the distinctive doctrine of the atonement of Christ is removed from play, as liberal theology seeks to do, then Christianity becomes just another moral system founded by just another man telling us how to get to God. We may just as well recall the missionaries; there is already enough "religion" in the world.

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50 Comments:

At 1/18/2007 4:08 AM, Blogger John Bryden said...

Paul -- If pluralism means anything goes, without discernment between true and false, then I agree that its foundations are weak. But there is a kind of pluralism that is much more rigorous. It is based on the premise that there is a whole lot of genuine truth out there in the world waiting to be discovered, through the hard work of investigation and reflection. If we stay within the safe confines of our own existing worldview (religion), not willing to listen to others, we miss out on the opportunities to discover a greater portion of truth. We are not with Columbus, sailing to a New World, but we are sticking to the safe coastal routes around the shores of Europe. (After all, the world is flat!)

A deeper investigation of the supposedly contradictory beliefs of different religions reveals that they are often addressing the same issues in different language, suited to the modes of thought of the people among whom the religions evolved. For instance, Buddha downplayed the concept of God in a milieu where a pantheon of gods was worshipped. It seems that he wished to lead his followers away from the prevailing illusions surrounding these gods, and draw their attention to the complete mysteriousness of Ultimate Reality. Upon reading the account in the Old Testament of Moses’ encounter with the Almighty, one notices a distinct similarity in its emphasis on the awesome unknowability of the true God, so utterly far removed from the idols of wood and stone, that the surrounding peoples worshipped. The God of the Israelites was hidden in a "thick cloud", beyond the sight of human beings.

Turning to the supposed contrast between Christianity as a religion of faith, and the others as religions of works, this is a false dichotomy. On the one hand, there is much in the New Testament emphasising that faith without works is dead. The interplay between faith and action is much more subtle, even in orthodox Christian doctrine, than the picture put forward when Christians wish to highlight the distinctiveness of Christianity. On the other hand, taking Islam for an example, faith in God is the foundation for everything else in that religion. After all, the act through which a person enters the Islamic fold is to utter a declaration of faith. Speaking more generally, the grace of God is the most basic, inescapable fact of life. Without it, we would not exist. But upon recognising and acknowledging the origin of our existence, we are called upon to act accordingly. These are universal principles, not confined to Christianity.

These points are made as observations in response to your post. I expect that you may wish to answer these points, but I will not make any further comments. I am not wanting to enter into “debate”, but merely wish to offer this alternative viewpoint for consideration. I admire your efforts to put forward your beliefs with clarity and conviction. Best wishes. -- John

 
At 1/18/2007 2:05 PM, Blogger Paul said...

I don't expect John to be back, but I wonder how he knows what is true and false in the various religions from which he assembles his beliefs (he is Baha'i)? Especially given that the most devout adherents to each of these religions would take issue with many of his personal interpretations, and that he believes that each religion merely "evolved" to suit its culture.

What is this higher standard for discernment by which he plots his course to "Ultimate Reality?" Is it some true and unequivocal revelation from God? If so, then I should like to throw away my old Scriptures, since they claim very emphatically to be just that. And if they are not what they advertise themselves to be, then they are authored by insidious liars and I am not inclined to pick through the rubble for questionable tidbits of wisdom. I would sooner look for groceries in a landfill.

How this book (the Bible) and others like it (or I should say, unlike it) could be said to jointly contain divine wisdom and inspiration eludes me. Unless, of course, the divine thing to which they refer is an indecisive, indifferent, or ineffective communicator. But I know that "mysterious" sounds so much more user friendly and it safely cloaks a host of fallacies.

 
At 1/18/2007 4:09 PM, Blogger ephphatha said...

As I was reading your post, I got to remembering some of the things I used to think when I was a teenager. I remember distinctly saying that all religions say basically the same thing, but in different languages. Then I read John's post, and he said what I said almost verbatim. Looking back on it, I can honestly say that my position was based mostly on wishful thinking. I really wanted it to be true. The more I learned about other religions and my own, the more difficult it became for me to hold on to that belief. Even as I began to abandon the belief, I still got excited whenever I'd find similarities between religions. I remember chatting with a Wiccan one time, pointing out all the things we had in common and marvelling at it.

A year or so ago, I took a test in my comparative religion class, and there was a bonus question that asked if it was possible to be both a Christian and a Buddhist at the same time. If he had asked whether Buddhism and Christianity are compatible, I would've said no and then listed where they contradict. But since he asked about possibility I wanted to see if I could reconcile them. I argued by reducing Buddhism to its most basic essentials and doing away with everything else. Life is suffering, the cause of suffering is desire, to get rid of suffering, you have to get rid of desire, and to get rid of desire, you just follow the eight fold path. Then I began to argue how you could reconcile these things with Christianity, depending on how you interpret the above statements. I don't remember what all I said, but I remember at the end saying basically that I had kept all the words, but poured completely different meanings into them, and even then, I arrived at one irreconcilable difference. I don't remember what it was, but I think it was the Buddhist view of personhood. Changing the meaning, though, entailed that I really wasn't talking about Buddhism at all. I was talking about Christianity using Buddhist terminology and Buddhism with Christian terminology. I had not really reconciled the two religions.

The other day, I downloaded a talk by Frank Beckwith from Stand to Reason called "Sects in the City." I think you would enjoy that if you haven't heard it already. He addresses some of the same issues you deal with in this blog.

 
At 1/19/2007 5:38 AM, Blogger John Bryden said...

Paul, okay, no doubt to your ironic amusement and that of other readers, I’ve changed my mind and decided to come back with further comments. This is because you’ve raised some astute questions that I feel I should answer to the best of my ability. I hope you will charitably tolerate my reappearance here. I note that you have done your research and found out, no doubt from my blog page, that I’m a Baha’i. Whereas before I was simply putting forward general observations on religious pluralism, it is now appropriate that I address the implicit challenges you’ve made to the Baha’i teachings. I guess this is an apology (double meaning intended), to the apologist.

As to the standard that I draw upon in seeking or evaluating truth, in general terms I aspire to the same standard as that which is vigorously upheld in many of your articles on this site (which I have taken time to read since posting my previous comments). Namely, truth should be verified by reason and rational enquiry. And again, most definitely yes, as a follower of Baha’u’llah, I consider His teachings to be a true and unequivocal Revelation from God. I have come to this belief through reason, combined with spiritual conviction.

Many people who have only a cursory knowledge of the Baha’i teachings suppose that they are an amalgam of the teachings found in other religions. This view seems to be hinted at by your reference to beliefs that are “assembled”. Rather, the teachings of the Baha’i Faith come from the original writings of Baha’u’llah, which Baha’is accept as the Word of God revealed anew. This being the case, committed Baha’is, although promoters of religious pluralism, do not belong among the group which you described thus: “In reality, the case for pluralism is most forcefully made by those who deny the orthodoxy of any particular religion (i.e., theological liberals), and often are not, themselves, devout people. It is an outsider's claim; they do not believe that God has clearly spoken through any of these religious systems.” By contrast, a Baha’i who adheres devoutly to the orthodox teachings of the Baha’i Faith, promotes reconciliation between religions in obedience to what he or she understands to be a Divine command. So we are coming at this from a different angle from the aforementioned “liberals”, albeit we respect their good intentions and tolerant outlook. Baha’u’llah wrote:

“There can be no doubt whatever that the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God. The difference between the ordinances under which they abide should be attributed to the varying requirements and exigencies of the age in which they were revealed. All of them, except a few which are the outcome of human perversity, were ordained of God, and are a reflection of His Will and Purpose. Arise and, armed with the power of faith, shatter to pieces the gods of your vain imaginings, the sowers of dissension amongst you. Cleave unto that which draweth you together and uniteth you.”

This matter of overcoming religious conflict is a real and serious problem for the world, as anyone who follows current events will be well aware. A congent body of thought that proposes solutions to this problem, such as the Baha’i teachings, ought to be given a hearing.

The question of how to reconcile the divergent teachings of the religions is answered for Baha’is from two different perspectives: the human and the Divine. From the human perspective, we engage in the independent investigation of truth. In our efforts to discover truth, we sometimes reach erroneous conclusions. This was nicely put in one of your posts:

“Science is only as infallible as the humans who apply it. Just as we believe Scripture to be reliable, so too is science when rightly applied and interpreted. And just as theologians can make unwarranted conclusions from Scripture, so too can scientists make significant errors regarding nature. Some errors have even endured for centuries before being corrected.”

A great deal of the divergences between religions, the Baha’i teachings assert, arises from unwarranted conclusions from Scripture, many of which have "endured for centuries". We believe in the Divine authority of the Scriptures (including the Bible and the Qur’an), but not in some of the interpretations that are derived from them by followers of the religions. I should clarify that the Word of God that we believe in fundamentally is that which was uttered by the Messengers of God, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha... the Founders of the great religions. This, Word of God, by and large, has been transmitted faithfully by the Scriptures. The verses of the Gospels cited by some Christians in support of an exclusive interpretation of their Faith, are interpreted quite differently in the Baha'i teachings. I will not go into details now on these verses, as I want to focus at this point on broader considerations behind the Baha'i approach.

From the Divine perspective, God renews His guidance from age to age, correcting the misconceptions that have grown up in preceding centuries.

I do not believe, then, that religions “evolved” to suit their culture. Rather, God gave guidance that was suited to the requirements of particular times and places. If we would expect any competent human teacher to adjust his methods to the age group and capacity of his students, how much more might we expect that the Divine Teacher will do likewise on a global scale. This is not the mark of an “ineffective communicator”, but a supremely effective one.

And to use another education metaphor, will a Harvard scholar discount the findings of a scholar from Princeton? Multiple universities increase the sum total of knowledge. So it is with religions. The efforts that the followers of different religions contribute to the general good, are not mutually exclusive.

Changing the metaphor again, it would be better to be sure that plot of ground you thought was merely a landfill, is not a mine rich in gems.

A side note to ephphatha – it is beyond me to understand how a conception so sublime as the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path can be dismissed as a valid expression of truth. If it doesn’t seem to square with Christian belief, as you understand it, then at least suspend judgement for a time. These are things to be pondered, explored. Not everything worth knowing is readily apparent.

Some last comments on the pathway to truth. Reason in its highest forms is not a blunt instrument, but a tool of incredible subtlety. How uplifting it is to read the words of a distinguished scholar, who sifts through the many facts of his subject with judicious care. But reason alone is insufficient. Also needed is experience, and above all, that certitude which the Holy Spirit alone can confer.

Conclusion. As a Baha’i who was formerly a Christian (likely you will say I can’t have been, really) -- by no means have I had to “throw away my old Scriptures”. Instead, I have found them amplified and confirmed by Baha’u’llah. And why do I believe in Baha’u’llah? Briefly, because of the extraordinary richness of His Writings, His superhuman moral courage in the face of appalling adversities, and the nearness of His Spirit in prayer. Volumes could be written, but I shall stop here.

 
At 1/19/2007 2:08 PM, Blogger Paul said...

John,

Thank you for caring enough to make a follow-up visit (several, according to my logs) and to take the time to comment further. I will agree that the Baha'i beliefs do not fit neatly into the categories of those who I suggested to be typical religious pluralists. However, it does present itself as the very embodiment of the concept, which is backed by a claim to divine truth. Apparently, even God says (at least most recently) that all roads lead to Rome and that our own striving is the key to our destiny.

I will have to admit that I, like Sam (ephphatha), once held to a fairly pluralistic view, and I must admit that most religions do hold to some common moral principles. Of course, this is easily explained by things like the common moral nature instilled into us by God, so even uninspired religions can be expected to make some lucky guesses.

One of the things that cured me of my pluralism was to finally read the Bible from cover-to-cover (without the baggage of much theological preconception); at which time it became abundantly clear that Christianity was not a good team player. And the fact that my own "interpretation" of its contents turned out, on further investigation, to align with classical Christian doctrines spoke volumes to me. Now, whether those Scriptures are actually inspired and uncorrupted is another question, of course, but as they stand, one must do great violence to them in order to support Baha'i's conclusions.

I would love to respond to each of your points, but I will not presume that you are looking for that, and I would like to avoid my unfortunate tendency to escalate dialogs into essay-length exchanges. For that reason, I'll only ask one thing in case you have further interest in my objections to Baha'i's brand of pluralism.

According to Baha'i teachings, there have been many Manifestations of/from God. These include characters like Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ, and Muhammad (not to mention the Bab and Baha'u'llah). These, supposedly, taught various things that were accurate and inspired as far as they go. I know that each was supposed to be offering truths understandable and digestible to their time and people, and that Baha'i teaches that revelation is "evolving" in some sense with the spiritual growth of mankind. However, is it reasonable to say that the truths so far delivered could be fundamentally contradictory or false?

For instance, Jesus taught that there was one life and then the judgment. Krishna held to reincarnation and Nirvana. Buddha's teachings were essentially atheistic and he seemed to hold to soul extinction. Something is clearly amiss here, and these are just some of the areas of major difference. Which path do you propose to take in order to reconcile such discrepancies?

1) People have historically gotten the teachings of the various Manifestations all wrong, and they really look a lot more similar to each other than what was recorded?

2) These are not really contradictions, because logic is just a human (or illusory) construct? There can actually be one life and multiple lives; there can be one god and no god.

3) These Manifestations sometimes got things wrong, and the contradictions are to be ignored.

4) These different things are true for the people who believe in the different religions.

5) They are indeed contradictions, but religious fiction is sometimes necessary in the evolution of human spirituality.

 
At 1/19/2007 6:43 PM, Blogger John Bryden said...

Paul. The genial tone of your response is heartwarming, and your intelligent summary of the issues is refreshing. Clearly you do not have the "combative" disposition that I've seen among some other bloggers of all stripes. Your point about not getting involved in excessively long discussions is well taken. I agree, although the opposite extreme, of brief point-scoring exchanges seems entirely fruitless by comparison.

Turning to your main question, your alternative #1 is closest to what I believe. Regarding #2, logic is a basic tool for discovering truth and is not illusory, but it has its limitations, e.g. something which appears to be logically the case on experience proves incorrect. This usually leads to checking of the logic. Assertion #3 is out of the question. The Manifestations, by definition, never get it wrong. Item #4 has a degree of validity, insofar as different minds operating in different environments will describe their experiences in different language. But this fact does not justify subjectivist extremes. Truth is ultimately one and indivisible. ("Truth is one, but the foolish have multiplied it." - Islamic tradition.) Concept #5 could be acceptable in a limited sense. For example, I think it is reasonable to argue that primitive man's worship of the sun contained rudiments of the worship of God, the sun being a tangible symbol of the life-giving sovereignty of the Creator. A more mature approach leaves this kind of "fiction" behind.

The major share of differences in religious teachings can be attributed to differences (errors) in interpretation. A religion as we encounter it consists of the original teachings of its Founder, and the activities, including intellectual investigations, carried out by the respective community of followers. Over time, great superstructures of ideas are erected on the basis of the original teachings. Some of these ideas are sound and worthwhile, others not so sound (putting it politely). But in learning about other religions, one should not rush to judgement on what is sound or unsound, because the other religion has built up a vast system of thought wherein its concepts need to be understood. To take an analogy, a person trained in western classical music will not be able to play Indian classical music without undergoing intensive new training to understand that whole system. Upon learning the new system, if he wishes to play the sitar well, he will not be constantly trying in his head to make a mental correlation of every note to the western scale. He will adopt the Indian system and use it on its own terms. Yet there are certain commonalities between Indian and western music. There is a universal basis to music, and truth. (I'm not satisfied of putting this across adequately, but time is short.)

I have digressed essentially so as to highlight the need for intellectual humility and open-mindedness, and having due regard for the complexity of things. Back to point #1. The teachings of various religions do not necessarily “look” similar on the surface in the sense of being easily correlated, but as a Baha’i one expects to find similarities by digging deep enough. Some differences are reconcilable by this approach, but not all. For instance, the Baha’i teachings do not accept the theory of reincarnation. We believe in the immortality of the soul and its continued existence after death in another realm. In this connection, we would say that the historical record of Krishna’s teachings is very ancient, and it is difficult to determine exactly what He taught. We would rather go by the teachings of Baha’u’llah, which are recent and readily available to us in His own exact words. A different problem exists in regard to such statements of Christ as, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father but by Me.” (I’m quoting from memory. Please excuse any small errors.) We do not deny that Christ made this statement and other similar statements. But we interpret the “I” in this statement to be Christ, the Divine Logos, the Word of God. It is the eternal Reality of the Word of God that makes this statement, not the man, Jesus of Nazareth, in his temporal capacity as a human being. All the Manifestations have been entitled to make the same statement. In one of His books, Baha’u’llah quotes these words of Muhammad from an Islamic tradition: “Manifold and mysterious is My relationship with God. I am He, Himself, and He is I, Myself, except that I am that I am, and He is that He is.”

A believer in Christ may assert: “I am convinced of the truth of Christ, with good reason. [Insert reasons here.] Christ states that He is the only way to God. Therefore, if I am to accept Christ, I must also accept He is the only way to God. Therefore, it is untenable for me to accept that others who claim to be Divine Messengers also provide a pathway to God.” However, a Baha’i asserts: “I accept Baha’u’llah as the Mouthpiece of God, and do so with good reason. [There are many good reasons.] Therefore, I must accept what He says about the other Messengers. He states that Christ, Muhammad, and Baha’u’llah are one and the same, in their relationship to the Almighty. His interpretation of the Bible and the Qur’an shows how this is so.” Now, since I personally am convinced of the Truth of Baha’u’llah’s claim, and indeed because of this I am convinced of the claims of the Bab and Muhammad too, shall I abandon my love for Them, to place credence in a contrary interpretation, by fallible men, of Christ’s words? Shall I prefer the Divine interpretation, or the human one?

“O leaders of religion! Weigh not the Book of God with such standards and sciences as are current
amongst you, for the Book itself is the unerring Balance established amongst men. In this most perfect Balance whatsoever the peoples and kindreds of the earth possess must be weighed, while the measure of its weight should be tested according to its own standard, did ye but know it.”

(Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 56)

Sooner or later, this discussion will of course have to come to an end, and probably sooner, unless aiming for a Guinness Book of World Records title for "longest discussion on a blog page". Take care. John.

 
At 1/19/2007 7:48 PM, Blogger ephphatha said...

John, I once had over 60 comments on one of my blogs, so y'all have a way to go before breaking any records.

 
At 1/20/2007 5:51 PM, Blogger Paul said...

John,

Thank you for your thoughtful reply and the opportunity to take my thinking on this to the next level.

I suspected you would lean toward option #1. Most religions with some affinity for Christianity take this route, e.g., Islam, Mormonism, and Christian Science. Since the face-value contradictions are obvious, some explanations must be given. Do you see that it is very easy to make the claim that each doctrine that does not agree with your own is the very thing which has been corrupted? And the fact that this kind of reworking must be done to each religion makes it all the more questionable. I see several more difficulties with this idea.

1) If you remove the conflicting doctrines, then it tends to make a meaningless puddle out of the whole system. For instance, if you remove the atonement, resurrection, or uniqueness of Jesus, it's kind of hard to make sense of all the fuss about having faith in Him for salvation, the meaning of the sacrificial system, and so many O.T. events and prophecies that foreshadow Him. And removing the idea of reincarnation for eastern thought makes hay of their whole metaphysical construct and the objective toward which they claim to be working.

2) We have very good and very early records from the students of Jesus as well as the Church Fathers which give no hint of the unique "interpretations" of Baha'i. In fact, even the cults don't seem to go in your direction. If Jesus is one of the Manifestation, and these events are orchestrated by a powerful, knowing, and sovereign God, then what use was it for Jesus to come if He was either such a poor teacher or His teachings were misconstrued from the outset?

3) What makes you think that the teachings of Baha’u’llah have not also been corrupted or misunderstood? Maybe you have misinterpreted them and they are really telling you that Jesus is the only Lord and Savior. If you will tell me that it is plain to any who read what they are trying to say, then I will say the same to you about our Scriptures.

4) Why should I not instead believe Muhammad, Joseph Smith, or Mary Baker Eddy instead of Baha’u’llah, who each make similar claims to be the final prophet presenting the true religion? There are many religious leaders that have come along in history to give us interesting ideas and scriptures, many of which are not acknowledged by Baha'i. Why should I not think that the leaders of Baha'i are just more of the same? What would a dialog look like between you and a Mormon or Christian Scientist as each tries to convince the other that their writings are more sublime and their leaders more virtuous? Which leads to my next point.

5) Why should I be impressed with any of the other "Manifestations," which do not even compare with Jesus? The blaze of miracles surrounding Jesus' ministry is quite unique among these figures. It is even affirmed by the Qur'an, which calls Him virgin born, a miracle worker, sinless, and the messiah. Muhammad seems to make no such claims about himself. I don't think Buddha did either. If I am looking for divine revelation, artful language and interesting moral/metaphysical philosophies cannot be my criteria — there are many who can and have met that standard. I would expect divine truth to need a divine seal. The miracles of Jesus, and especially the resurrection, meet that criterion impressively.

6) What do I risk by holding on to my Christianity? If I do not follow the Baha'i way, is my salvation in peril? But if I reject the Biblical view of faith in the substitutionary atonement of Christ, then I risk everything if I am wrong. If the Baha'i view is ultimately about living the moral life in humility before God (I may be wrong here), then it would seem that I may certainly qualify as a Christian.

You have quoted Jesus and attempted to make a revised interpretation of that passage. I could certainly heap Scripture upon you in counter-example to your meaning, but I think that may be unfruitful unless I had clarification on something:

Do you think it is our interpretation of the Scriptures that is in error or the manuscripts themselves? If you believe that it is primarily the interpretation, then we have some hope of dialog. But if you believe that the manuscripts themselves have been corrupted or badly authored, then we will find little common ground in an appeal to them. This is because any point I might successfully press will ultimately find you escaping down the hatch of the corruption defense. To gain my sympathies, you would first need to give me reason for thinking that the manuscripts are in error — not just theories or assertions from Baha'u'llah. And please note that I have a good understanding of the documentary evidence, the making of the canon, and Gnosticism.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and time with me.

 
At 1/20/2007 6:02 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Yeah Sam, you may have the record on the # of comments, but I bet I've got you beat on total text length ;-) But that's no advantage. I think you tend to keep the discussion better focused than I do, and you probably know better when progress can or can't be made (or act more consistently on that knowledge). I'd probably post more often if I didn't get so caught up in essays in the comment section. BTW, you're welcome to jump into my dicussions any time if you see points that need to be explored or emphasized. I get the feeling that sometimes you don't simply to be polite.

 
At 1/20/2007 11:07 PM, Blogger ephphatha said...

Paul, it's true you have me beat with the longest length in one post, but you have to keep in mind that when I post something long, I always post it in parts for the purpose of keeping it short. :-Þ On the other hand, I have always gotten the impression that you put more into your posts than I do in mine.

You have to keep in mind that even if you can't make progress with the person you're arguing with, other people reading the discussion can still get something out of it. The main reason I don't comment more is just laziness. I appreciate the invite, though.

 
At 1/21/2007 1:44 AM, Blogger John Bryden said...

Paul, I'm finding this discussion worthwhile as it is being conducted in a disciplined and courteous manner. I hope to get back to you on your latest questions. However, it's Sunday evening in my part of the world, and I'm not sure how soon I will have the time for writing a satisfactory response. (On the other hand, if the brain kicks into gear late at night, I may be back sooner than I think.)

Sam, thank you for your friendly comments. I was exaggerating, of course, about going for a record. I'm conscious that Paul's site exists for a particular purpose, and I don't want to wear out my welcome. So I was indicating that I'm content to call it quits, whenever this seems appropriate.

 
At 1/21/2007 4:08 AM, Blogger John Bryden said...

At this juncture, the first thing I need to do is take stock of what I’m hoping to accomplish in this dialogue. Until very recently, I’ve not been much involved in internet discussions, except for a few exchanges of compliments with fellow YouTube video posters. I’ve been very occupied with fatherhood for a long time, but my children having grown, I have more time to spare. In recent weeks, I’ve made a handful of forays in making comments in response to blogs, but none of them developed very far. When I came upon your blog, I did not arrive with a systematic agenda. My initial comment was a spontaneous reaction. But I need to be clear about my aims now, or risk going off in some direction that does more harm than good.

Baha’is have a duty to make their faith known to those who wish to know about it, but, Baha’u’llah has warned his followers:

“In the Book of God, the Mighty, the Great, ye have been forbidden to engage in contention and conflict. Lay fast hold on whatever will profit you, and profit the peoples of the world.”

He also called upon the Baha’is to:

“Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.”

In this new environment of the internet, where a Christian from Tennessee can readily engage in daily discussion with a Baha’i in New Zealand, how should I approach discussions that I would not normally engage in? For I would never enter a Church building (uninvited) in order to present the Baha’i teachings. This would be rude and provocative. But I guess that a blog is a kind of invitation to discussion, so it is reasonable to respond to the invitation.

I would assess the likelihood of “converting” you to the Baha’i Faith through these discussions as rather low, and vice versa. Neither one of us is seeking a new religion for ourselves. So is there some benefit to be obtained? Sam alluded to one benefit, in pointing out that such a discussion may be of interest to other readers. I agree with him there. Besides this, I think that it is useful for me to share information with people about the Baha’i teachings, if they want to know, even if these people have no intention of embracing the Baha’i Faith. At least they will be better informed if in future they have some reason to discuss the Baha’i teachings with others, e.g. in the course of their “apologetics” This is supposing that I’m reasonably accurate in my presentation. Caveat: what I write is my personal understanding, and a grossly deficient source, by comparison with reading the authoritative writings of the Faith. For me, the discussion is also helpful in clarifying my ideas, sharpening my wits, and learning about the issues of concern to others. This will hopefully make me a better communicator of the message of the Faith I love.

Another possible benefit is to engage in “interfaith dialogue”. This is widely regarded as an avenue to help reduce tensions in the world, that are arising from religious disagreements. The particular dialogue that we are engaged in is of a rather intense type. We are delving into challenging core issues of our respective beliefs. It appears that we have a similar mindset that draws us towards this type of discussion. I personally enjoy the intellectual stimulation. I’m not sure if it qualifies as interfaith dialogue, but perhaps it can be steered in that direction somewhat. Anyway, I shall endeavour to make the most of the opportunity for interaction, bearing in mind that in the end, goodwill is paramount.

On the substantive issues, I’ll come back later. Warm regards. John.

 
At 1/23/2007 2:11 PM, Blogger Paul said...

I'll reply to these thoughtful comments shortly. I have very little time and I'm using what I have to finish up another reply to Psiomniac (on another blog thread) right now.

 
At 1/24/2007 10:07 PM, Blogger Paul said...

John,

I understand your concerns and reservations.

After becoming a Christian I spent many years on messageboards and in email dialogs, so I am accustomed to "debate." But it really seemed fairly fruitless to me in that no one, so far as they admitted, was converted to my way of thinking on just about any topic. It's really quite incredible that even those whose beliefs can be clearly shown to be false or incoherent would rather believe that they are just being intellectually bullied than that they might need to reconsider their position. And no matter how graciously one offers a critique it still is considered by many to be an act of intolerance and arrogance to do so.

While I learned quite a bit from all my exchanges, even if sometimes only how to sharpen my arguments, it seemed to me that the most I was doing was to dispel the stereotype of Christians as faith-blinded anti-intellectual puppets. Now, I don't think I am wrong to seek out the debate and press my way into venues in search of opportunities to share my convictions, given biblical passages such as Matthew 28:19, which says to go and make disciples of all the nations, Jude 1:3, which says to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, and 2 Corinthians 10:4, which says we should destroy speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God. Of course, 1 Peter 3:15 says we should make our case with gentleness and respect, but we are commanded to be ready to make it nonetheless.

Having less time to do this than previously, and being more sensitive to the fact that I can only impact those with "ears to hear," I finally opted to make my case on a blog (which is public enough), where those of interest might find and engage me. For this reason, I invite response. And being a Christian, I expect nothing other than criticism from non-believers — sometimes strong and vehement, though the time and effort I put into reasoning through my topics has paid dividends in raising the caliber of those willing to offer rebuttals.

The bottom line is that I welcome any exchange, no matter how vigorous. But my hope is not in my ability to persuade by wit or reason. I look to another for that.

"I would assess the likelihood of 'converting' you to the Baha’i Faith through these discussions as rather low, and vice versa. Neither one of us is seeking a new religion for ourselves. So is there some benefit to be obtained?"

Perhaps not seeking a new "religion," but I would hope you would agree that we are seeking truth, whatever form that happened to take. I also hope that if it could be demonstrated that you had mistaken personal preference or human cunning for divine revelation, then you would surrender such beliefs out of intellectual honesty.

"Another possible benefit is to engage in 'interfaith dialogue'. This is widely regarded as an avenue to help reduce tensions in the world, that are arising from religious disagreements."

I'm afraid that not many religions are in practice merely seeking to get along in an egalitarian fashion. You see, in spite of what the Baha'i claim is the true state of each religion, they all happen to believe that their system is the real deal and others have it wrong. Even the Baha'i are not content to have all parties live in harmony. I suggest they are really only interested in each religion so far as it strips itself of the doctrines which makes it distinctive from all other players. For this reason I have something more in common with, say, Islam than I do with Baha'i: we take each other's theology at face value, claim the other is simply following false teachings (superficial similarities aside), and seek the ultimate conversion of the other. The difference, as it relates to interfaith relations, is what each group's revelation teaches should be done about its opponents. Perhaps Baha'i is willing to remain gracious toward those who will not give up their view that the Bible is accurate and clear in what it claims about Jesus, but it certainly has no ecumenical room for such a view.

In any case, you are welcome to stick around to share your views. If you have no interest in defending the veracity of Baha'i teachings, then you are just as welcome to remain in order to answer some questions about your belief system, since I, for one, know less about this religion than I do about most of the others.

 
At 1/25/2007 1:27 AM, Blogger John Bryden said...

Paul,

Thank you. I think we understand each other.

My daughter (22), had a look over the exchange that you and I have been having. She said: “You are both VERY polite.” She also said: “Its well-written, for a blog.” I mention these things by way of responding to your latest comments, which I welcomed (despite there being a couple of barbed fish-hooks among them). It seems we are on the same page, at least in manner of approach – and tendency to go on at length!

Talking of going on at length, I have it in mind to now post three successive entries.

1. An observation on the practical benefits of inter-religious dialogue.

2. A summary of the discussion so far.

3. A reply to your posting that ended with the question: “Do you think it is our interpretation of the Scriptures that is in error or the manuscripts themselves?”

John

 
At 1/25/2007 1:56 AM, Blogger John Bryden said...

INTERFAITH DIALOGUE

This is an example of the practical benefits that can come from interfaith dialogue.

The “Dominion” newspaper in Wellington, New Zealand, ran a story on 23 January 2007, headed: “How faith links foiled hate mail”.

The story reported that a man had been jailed for six months after sending hate mail to Wellington Muslims, made to look like it came from Jews.

This story reported that due to close links among members of the Jewish and Muslim communities in Wellington, the two communities were able to join forces to foil religious friction that some the man had tried to provoke. The links between Jews and Muslims had been formed over a period of about 15 years, through a Wellington interfaith organisation with members who are Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Baha’is, Buddhists, and Sikhs.

As soon as the letters were received by Muslims, a Somali Muslim member of the interfaith group phoned a Jewish member, saying that he knew it wasn’t the Jews behind this. He invited Jewish representatives to hold a joint media conference with Muslim representatives on the issue.

In 2004, when Jewish graves were desecrated in Wellington, the first people to ring up the Jews and express their sorrow were the Muslims. Likewise, when a mosque was desecrated last year, the Jews immediately phoned the Muslims to express their concern.

A Muslim member of the interfaith group said: “All of our faiths are really striving for the same thing, and that is peace, harmony, and a righteous way of life. Our common enemies are ignorance and bigotry.”

[The above has been rewritten from the newspaper article, except for the quotation at the end which is reproduced directly.]

John

 
At 1/25/2007 1:59 AM, Blogger John Bryden said...

SUMMARY OF DISCUSSION SO FAR

Paul, first please allow me to offer this review and restatement of the discussion so far. (I say “restatement” because this is more than a simple summary. It is aimed at putting the issues into somewhat clearer focus, from my perspective, at least.)

PAUL: The overall heading is: “Only two religions: meditations on religious pluralism”

PAUL: The original post that you wrote, proposed that the religions are fundamentally incompatible with one another in their foundational doctrines. Examples of this incompatibility are the differences between the Christian and Muslim views of Christ and Muhammad, and the incompatibility between Buddhist “atheism” and Christian belief in a personal God. A common element that you identified among religions is morality. However, you observed: “Christianity is absolutely unique among the religions of the world. It turns these ideas of morality and merit on their head: salvation comes before works.” The conclusion: “Ultimately, there are only two religions: man's religion of self-righteousness vs. God's righteousness and His provision for sinful man.”

JOHN: The first response I made suggested that it is worthwhile to look for truths beyond the confines of one’s own religion, if this is done with rigorous discernment. There are pathways towards resolving incompatibilities such as those that you identified. The religions address the same issues in different language. The exalted nature of Ultimate Reality is expressed differently in Buddhism and, say, the Books of Moses, but there is a common acknowledgement of its awesome and mysterious nature. The alleged difference between Christianity and other religions on the question of salvation by faith, I held to be a false dichotomy. Christianity, although emphasising faith, also teaches that faith without works is dead. [“But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” James 2:20] On the other hand, the Islamic concept, for example, puts faith at the heart of what it means to be a Muslim. [“Verily, those Who believe and do what is right, their Lord guides them by their faith...” Qur'an Sura 10 – Jonah]

PAUL: You raised the question of what standard of “discernment” I would apply. “Is it some true and unequivocal revelation from God? If so, then I should like to throw away my old Scriptures, since they claim very emphatically to be just that.” You pointed out that I am a Baha’i.

SAM made some observations regarding difficulties he had encountered in a comparative religon class, in relating the Noble Eightfold Path of the Buddha, to Christian doctrine.

JOHN: Responding to your question on the standard for measuring truth, I wrote that it should be verified by reason and rational enquiry. I also confirmed that I believe the teachings of Baha’u’llah to be a “true and unequivocal Revelation from God”. I pointed out that the Baha’i teachings offer insights that are helpful towards resolving the serious global problem of religious conflict. A great deal of the problem of religious differences arises from erroneous interpretations of Scripture that have developed over the centuries. I stated: “We believe in the Divine authority of the Scriptures (including the Bible and the Qur’an), but not in some of the interpretations that are derived from them by followers of the religions.” The Word of God revealed by the Prophets has by and large been transmitted faithfully to us. (By this I meant that generally the text has not been corrupted and overall the Divine Message is still present in the words.) The Baha’i teachings offer interpretations that put a new light on passages from the Scriptures that have traditionally been interpreted to justify exclusivism. Those who accept the Baha’i teachings do not have to “throw away” their “old Scriptures”, but instead find them amplified and confirmed.

PAUL: Your next response indicated that your own reading of the Bible led you away from a pluralistic view, as you found this to be incompatible with the plain meaning of certain statements therein. You also put forward some further examples of incompatibilities between religions, such as Hindu views on reincarnation in contrast to Jesus teaching that there is “one life and then the judgement”. You asked whether Baha’is resolve these contradictions by asserting that people are mistaken about what the Manifestations of God taught – or perhaps by using a number of other alternatives you mentioned that more or less depart from a unitary concept of truth.

JOHN replied that one needs to have due regard to the complexity of things, but truth is ultimately one and single. Logic is therefore a basic tool in the discovery of truth. But in evaluating the truths of other religions, we should not rush to judgement on what is logical, because we are encountering whole vast systems of thought. We would need to learn the language of the other religion on its own terms, to see how its logic fits together, and how it relates to the religion that we belong to. Nevertheless, there are some outright contradictions between the beliefs of the followers of different religions, e.g. reincarnation vs. belief in the soul going to another world beyond the grave. These types of contradictions are mostly unresolvable by means of interpretation. (I say mostly, not completely, because even this kind of problem can be helped by explanations that put things in a new light. For example, the individual soul of a person who has passed is held by the Baha’i teachings not to “return” in a new body, but his qualities might reappear in another person. Genetically, this is so, through the passing on of traits from generation to generation. Mystically, John the Baptist was the return of Elijah. Perhaps the idea of reincarnation has arisen from a misunderstanding of this principle.) Some of the original teachings of the Manifestations, especially those Who appeared far in the past, are difficult to determine. In the end, as a Baha’i, in cases of outright contradiction, one takes the teachings of Baha’u’llah as the final authority in this present day. Now, regarding contradictions such as those regarding the Divinity of Christ, based on His statements recorded in the Gospels, such as John 14:6, the Baha’i teachings address these by interpreting them in the sense that Christ is speaking as the Divine Logos. This Divine Logos also speaks through the other Manifestations of God.

PAUL asked whether John believes the manuscripts of the Scriptures have been corrupted, or the problems lie primarily in the interpretation. (Essentially, I had previously answered this question.) Your post also posed six broad objections to the unity of religions and the validity of Baha’u’llah’s claim. (1) The removal of doctrines at the heart of each religion, that conflict with doctrines of other religions, makes a meaningless puddle of each religion. (2) There is no warrant for the Baha’i interpretations to be found the teachings of Jesus as recorded by His early students and in the writings of the Church Fathers. (3) The Bible should be taken at its plain meaning. Otherwise, why not suppose that Baha’u’llah did not mean what Baha’is believe He plainly meant. (4) Why is belief in Baha’u’llah any more reasonable than belief in Joseph Smith or Mary Baker Eddy, for example? (5) Related to the previous point, Jesus stands out for the blaze of miracles surrounding His ministry, His virgin birth, and above all, His resurrection. Muhammad does not even claim for Himself (you state), the exalted qualities that He attributes to Jesus. (5) Pascale’s wager. “If I reject the Biblical view of faith in the substitutionary atonement of Christ, then I risk everything if I am wrong. If the Baha'i view is ultimately about living the moral life in humility before God (I may be wrong here), then it would seem that I may certainly qualify as a Christian.”

[An exchange followed about the process of discussion itself. Near the end of this you reiterated your stance that there is irremedial conflict between religions at the core. “Even the Baha'i are not content to have all parties live in harmony. I suggest they are really only interested in each religion so far as it strips itself of the doctrines which makes it distinctive from all other players.” You also affirmed that a common interest in discovering truth is good grounds for further dialogue.]

 
At 1/25/2007 9:53 PM, Blogger Paul said...

John,

Those are very nice stories about interfaith relations, and I wish all religions would behave as graciously. However, I don't think it requires interfaith organizations to foster such charity, especially if the religion itself teaches that one must have a loving concern for outsiders. And if the religion is not so gracious to outsiders, then it will likely avoid what it sees as consorting with the enemy.

Unfortunately, I think many of these organizations go beyond the obvious charter of facilitating peaceful relations and move into the realm of facilitating syncretistic beliefs. For this reason, it is generally the liberals of each religion who are most comfortable with these interfaith activities; for as soon as these organizations begin doing such things as opening their proceedings with prayers to the great nameless and unknown He/She/It in the sky, the conservatives will run to the nearest exit in disgust.

All this puts the Baha'i in a unique position, as they are the ones most dogmatically inclined to see all parties shed their differences and come to a theological consensus. For this reason, either a conservative or liberal Baha'i can get on-board with such an organization. As Suzanne Mahon said at the 3rd National Interfaith Forum in Wellington, "Tolerance is integration at a very superficial level, where an honest openness to all people is often absent. In contrast to this, the interfaith experience must be marked by a commitment to achieve genuine unity, where people of diverse religious backgrounds regularly serve, socialise and worship together, willingly and freely associating at all levels."

As a committed Christian I can agree to the concept of tolerance (in its classical sense), and can link arms with those of different beliefs to get certain political and social programs accomplished. But to suggest that I engage in worship with those of other religions is to impose a foreign theology upon me. This is because an authentic Christian worship service brings its theology to bear in its liturgy. This would be offensive to those of other faiths in attendance, and to strip our prayers and verses and sermons of all specifics is an offense to us (and, I would think, to God). I had sooner address my wife as "that thing with which I am in a domestic relationship." There must surely be some line of demarcation; else there would not be need of different names for each party involved.

 
At 1/25/2007 9:55 PM, Blogger Paul said...

John,

Thank you for the summary. Your efforts are appreciated, as I often allow myself to neglect the flow of a dialog. I think that our difference boils down to this statement here:

"I believe the teachings of Baha’u’llah to be a 'true and unequivocal Revelation from God.' I pointed out that the Baha’i teachings offer insights that are helpful towards resolving the serious global problem of religious conflict. A great deal of the problem of religious differences arises from erroneous interpretations of Scripture that have developed over the centuries."

I do not admit the teaching of Baha’u’llah as revelation, or that other religions are based on direct revelation, or that Christianity labors (substantially) under an erroneous interpretation of its founder's teachings. I can affirm certain incidental similarities between the religions (whatever their origins), but only because certain truths are incorrigibly stamped upon our souls and because no fiction was ever sold without being papered in some veneer of truth.

For these reasons, and others, I am not inclined to overrule my natural understanding of the texts of my Scriptures, with which the earliest Christian communities agree and which even unbelievers implicitly acknowledge when they take their offense from them (the Baha'i interpretation being rather less offensive).

And the suggestion that it takes a mystical late-arriving interpreter (like Baha'u'llah, Emanuel Swedenborg, or Mary Baker Eddy) to unlock the revelation of God, who is supposedly intent on making himself known to humanity, only counts against your position in my view. Someone could just as well come along today and claim to reveal to you what Baha'u'llah was really meaning to say and insist that you Baha'i had gotten things wrong all these years. The claim itself is not enough, and the grace and eloquence with which such a claim is made adds little to its veracity.

As charitable and inclusive as Baha'i presumes to be, it ultimately serves to insult all of the religions that it spreads its arms to embrace by telling their most ardent members that they are in fact cultists and heretics of the true religion. It is one thing to say that one's religion is wrong; it is another to say that one has gotten his own religion wrong.

As to the other major point, most relevant to my original article, I am tempted to respond to your assertion that the Christian scriptures do indeed teach works-based salvation (via reference to James 2:20). Perhaps I would begin by pointing out that James is appealing to works as evidence of faith, not as the grounds of it; or I would reference some unequivocal passages teaching against such an idea, like Romans 3:20; 4:1-8, Ephesians 2:8-9; or I might point out that whenever Jesus was asked by someone what they must do to earn the Kingdom, He offered an impossibly high standard and they went away dejected. However, because of your prior commitment to the Baha'i interpretations of our Book (and the presumption of its corruption) I have no reason for optimism that we could simply approach the text man to man and exegete it on its own terms, which is what it would take to turn me from any belief I have derived from it. That is, unless it could be demonstrated that Baha'u'llah exhibited the kind of supernatural authenticating signs that Jesus is purported to have done.

 
At 1/26/2007 5:54 PM, Blogger John Bryden said...

Paul,

Greetings again, and thank you for the time and thought you have given in responding to my rambling contributions.

The discussion is now zooming in on key issues, and I welcome this.

Under consideration is your proposal that there are “only two religions”, i.e., Christianity and the rest.

The position I am presenting is that there is ultimately only one religion, which Baha’u’llah called, “... the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future.” The appearance of Jesus on earth, and His teachings, and their outcomes in the Christian Church, constitute one of the chapters of this religion.

I’m happy to proceed on the assumption that the Bible is Divinely inspired and the main substance of it has come down to us intact. I’m sorry for not making this more clear before, although I did state: “We believe in the Divine authority of the Scriptures (including the Bible and the Qur’an), but not in some of the interpretations that are derived from them by followers of the religions.” I also said, “...generally the text has not been corrupted and overall the Divine Message is still present in the words.” These statements should give you considerable optimism “that we could simply approach the text man to man and exegete it on its own terms”. I can see how one or two of my statements could have led to your pessimism on this aspect, and I apologise for causing the misunderstanding. If in any particular case I happen to know of some scholarly evidence that casts doubt on the authenticity of a Biblical passage that is under discussion, I might mention it, but I don’t anticipate wanting to do so very often in forthcoming discussions that we might have. Interpretation is the big deal. The possible non-authenticity of some of the texts is a much smaller matter.

Nor do I expect you to accept Baha’u’llah’s teachings as a common standard of truth. This would be unreasonable of me. They are a standard (the primary standard) for me, because I have accepted them. You had asked me as to my standard of truth, and as to whether it was based on “a true and unequivocal revelation from God.” I had replied that indeed it was. The point is that we are each responsible for our own lives and for discovering those truths that can guide us in living. Naturally, I have not spent 30 years following Baha’u’llah without being satisfied (for myself) on the validity of His claims. At this stage in our discussion, I have only given a brief indication of the evidence that satisfies me. If the opportunity arises, I will offer more on this topic in due course. But it seems to me more progress can be made by first becoming clearer about our respective understandings of Christianity. My prior commitment to Baha’i interpretations will not be a problem, if I am willing to look at what the Bible actually says, in its own context, literary and historical, which indeed I am more than happy to do.

While on the subject of clarifications, please note that I did not assert that Christianity is a “works-based” religion. I had said that there is a “subtle” “interplay” between faith and works. I also stated, “... upon recognising and acknowledging the origin of our existence, we are called upon to act accordingly.” What I intended by that statement is virtually identical to your statement that “... those moral motions... [for a Christian] spring inevitably from a genuine faith.” This same principle is upheld by Islam and the Baha’i Faith. Further, I wrote that “Christianity, although emphasising faith, also teaches that faith without works is dead.” In other words, faith not demonstrated in action is no faith at all. I also wrote: “.. the Islamic concept, for example, puts faith at the heart of what it means to be a Muslim.” What I am asserting boils down to this: not that Christianity teaches salvation by works – but that Islam and the Baha’i Faith teach salvation by faith, and that all three religions teach that genuine faith is demonstrated in action. “Demonstrated” is the key word. Faith comes first. It is demonstrated in action.

A FEW DIRECT ANSWERS

Here are a few direct answers to matters that you raised previously.

PAUL: “I would hope you would agree that we are seeking truth, whatever form that happened to take. I also hope that if it could be demonstrated that you had mistaken personal preference or human cunning for divine revelation, then you would surrender such beliefs out of intellectual honesty.”

Yes, I agree that we are seeking truth here, if we are sincere, and I am pleased to encounter someone such as yourself who takes truth seriously.

Yes, absolutely, intellectual honesty is important to me and I am prepared to change any of my views that are proven false and to accept new views that are proven to be true. (But I am the final judge of any such proof, for me, since it is my life alone that I must ultimately answer for. By the same token, I must respect your right to believe as you think best.)

PAUL: “If you have no interest in defending the veracity of Baha'i teachings, then you are just as welcome to remain in order to answer some questions about your belief system, since I, for one, know less about this religion than I do about most of the others.”

I have every interest in defending the veracity of the Baha’i teachings, wherever there is an open forum to do so:

“Teach ye the Cause of God, O people of Baha, for God hath prescribed unto every one the duty of proclaiming His Message, and regardeth it as the most meritorious of all deeds.” -- Baha'u'llah

PAUL: “What do I risk by holding on to my Christianity? If I do not follow the Baha'i way, is my salvation in peril? But if I reject the Biblical view of faith in the substitutionary atonement of Christ, then I risk everything if I am wrong.”

Supposing an individual adheres to Christianity to avoid the flames of hell, and for this reason is afraid to accept truth wherever he finds it -- will Christ, the Truth, accept such insipid faith?

“Worship thou God in such wise that if thy worship lead thee to the fire, no alteration in thine adoration would be produced, and so likewise if thy recompense should be paradise. Thus and thus alone should be the worship which befitteth the one True God.” -- The Bab

It is an honour and a privilege to risk everything for what I believe to be true. But in risking everything, I gain everything, for I would exchange nothing for the heaven of nearness to Baha’u’llah.

COMMON GROUND

I have tried to identify what might be “common ground” between us. I suggest that it includes the following:

1. There is a Creator (God).

2. God is completely independent of creation and sovereign over it.

3. God guides humankind.

4. The Jewish and Christian scriptures are inspired by God.

5. Reality has a spiritual dimension to it as well as the familiar material dimension.

6. Miracles can and do occur. (This is a logical outcome of the sovereignty of God.)

7. Jesus is the Son of God, and the Word of God.

8. Jesus is still alive today.

9. Salvation comes before works.

There are some qualifications I would make to the above (although no qualifications to points 1 and 2). It seems best if I state these qualifications, as necessary, in the course of discussion that follows, rather than listing them right off. The qualifications are subtle, and could easily be misunderstood if listed baldly.

Note: in the following, quotations from the Bible are from the King James version because I happen to have a computer text search program with this version loaded.

TWO RELIGIONS?

Are there two religions only? Is it Christianity vs. the rest? Let’s look at this proposition from the point of view of the Gospels.

A Christian concept that is at least deeply respectful of the truth in other religions can be developed from the belief that Christ is the Truth. (“I am the way, the truth and the life...”)

If Christ is the Truth, then the Truth is Christ.

Wherever the Truth may be found, Christ is present there.

To the extent that Truth may be found in all religions, whether to a small or large extent, then Christ is present in those religions to that extent.

It is untenable for a Christian to claim that there is no truth whatsoever in religions other than Christianity. Christians agree with a great many statements made by the scriptures of other religions. To this extent, whatever extent it may be, there is unity between Christianity and those religions. *

Truth being inherent in the very nature of things, it is everywhere present and has been since the beginning of time. It is the birthright of every human being to explore the truth. Science is possible because of this fact. This observation is consistent with the first three verses of John’s Gospel:

“In the beginning was the Word [Logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

Let’s take this further by looking at the teachings and actions of Christ. What did He point to as indications of a person who was responsive to the Truth? What kind of people responded to the Truth within Him? An interesting fact is that (excepting a few like Nicodemus), they were not from among the guardians of the correct, orthodox, religious doctrine of those times. They were uneducated fishermen, tax collectors, village women. The parable of the good Samaritan addresses this point. Apart from being a moral lesson on “who is my neighbour”, it is also one of Christ’s answers to those who alleged that his supporters were disreputable. The story went this way. A man was lying almost dead by the roadside in a remote place, having been attacked by robbers. People who very well knew the right doctrines, a priest and a levite, passed him by, fearing for their own lives. A Samaritan man selflessly came to his aid. Well, a Samaritan in the eyes of a Jew of those days was perhaps equivalent to a Mormon or a Christian Scientist in the eyes of a contemporary “classical” Christian (to use your term). The religious scholar whose questioning of Jesus elicited this parable, was being told that to “inherit eternal life”, he must act like that unorthodox Samaritan. There is a very clear implication here that something deeper is involved in being a lover of Truth than outward adherence to correct doctrines, or belonging to the “right” religious group. The parable is a pointed rebuke to a member of the class who considered themselves superior in their orthodoxy and their understanding of truth. The Samaritan’s heart was true, even though he presumably subscribed to the wrong doctrines (from the Jewish point of view).

Also note that in the parable, Jesus links “eternal life” firmly to certain kinds of actions. Paul -- you suggested that Jesus always demanded an impossibly high standard of anyone who asked him concerning what he must do for salvation. A high standard, yes, but not an impossibly high standard. The story of the good Samaritan was a fictional example which Jesus used to describe a person who is willing to take risks for what is right. This is the kind of person who wins eternal life. What the Samaritan did was courageous, but obviously not impossible. Regarding the rich young man who Jesus asked to give away all his wealth in order to follow Him – this demand was not impossible. In fact, Jesus’ disciples had done exactly that. Although they perhaps had less to lose materially than that rich young man, they gave up their livelihoods and their families to travel about the country with Him in poverty, sharing in a life described by Jesus: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58) The significance of these incidents of people being challenged in this way by Jesus -- is that the actions He asked of them were actions that would demonstrate faith. “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37) “Do men think that they will be left alone on saying, ‘We believe,’ and that they will not be tested?” (Qur’an, Surah 29, verse 2) Consider this account from Mark’s Gospel (1:16 - 1:20):

“Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him. And when he had gone a little farther thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets. And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.”

These were men of faith! They did what the rich young man was unwilling to do. (And apparently they did it instantly, without needing intellectual arguments, or any sort of “signs and wonders”, to persuade them.)

Now, if it was good enough for Jesus to attribute goodness to a Samaritan, why should His followers today not expect to find goodness among Muslims and Hindus? The same Spirit which motivates Christians to do good – must surely be the Spirit that motivates others likewise.

Truth and goodness are indissolubly linked. Truthfulness is the foundation of goodness. Consider these statements from the first Epistle of John:

“He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.” (2:4)

“He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.” (2:9)

The Gospel of John states (3:20 - 21):

“For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.”

St. Paul wrote: “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.”

These statements from the New Testament indicate that people who do good are lovers of Truth, and that lovers of Truth do good. When a non-Christian does good, where does this power to do good come from? According to the New Testament, the source must be Light and Truth. And Jesus Christ is Truth. But the follower of Gautama Buddha is not taking his inspiration for his good actions from Jesus, he gets it from the teachings of Buddha. Is there not a striking and basic similarity here between Christ and Buddha? The teachings of both, inspire people to do good. The extent of unity between religions, at their very foundations, is starting to look more significant.

Jesus said: “... whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.” (Matthew 12:32)

By these words, Jesus mentioned a criterion for salvation higher than acceptance of Himself, the Son of man. He made this statement after some of his priestly opponents accused him of casting out devils through the power of satan. He was doing good, but they called it evil. He said: “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.” To blaspheme against the Holy Spirit then, is to label light as darkness. To oppose Jesus, the man, is forgivable, but to oppose the light within Him is unforgivable. In this way, He distinguishes between the light of the Holy Spirit (i.e. the eternal Divine Logos), and his own personal, temporal, identity.

It follows that to say that one loves the light in Jesus, but to deny the light wherever else it shines, is not to love the light at all. Buddha does good, but we call Him satanic? We call His religion “rubble”? His teachings we describe “groceries in a landfill”? To speak this way is to ally ourselves with the opponents of Jesus, not His friends! The thought makes me tremble!

Jesus advocated openness to the light whether it was in the deeds of a Samaritan or a Jew.

Who is our neighbour today? Is there a mosque down the street? Those who worship there are my neighbours. Is there a Hindu temple in the next suburb? Those Hindus are my neighbours. This bears thinking about.

According to the Gospel of John (16:12 - 13), Jesus said:

“I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.”**

Jesus the man, who lived upon the earth, said that the measure of truth that He himself revealed was limited. That is to say, as the Word of God made flesh, He knew more than He could say at that time. More truth would be revealed in the future. The Spirit of truth would bring it. Therefore, we should be prepared to hear the Spirit of truth, elsewhere besides in Jesus. We should not make the same mistake as those who rejected Jesus as the Messiah because He did not come with the signs they expected.

The “Truth” that is “the way” to God is the eternal Divine Logos. The whole structure and argument of John’s Gospel is aimed at elucidating this idea. This Logos has always been “the light of men” (John 1:4). The Logos was embodied in Jesus. But wherever there is light, we can be sure that this is the same light that shone in Jesus. It shone brightly, too, in Muhammad, the Bab, and Baha’u’llah. But this I will explain in a future posting, God willing. The present posting is already too long.

The quotations you mentioned from the Book of Romans, concerning law versus faith, I will have to come back to later, as this post is already too long. The answer centres on the fact that salvation has never been obtained through the law, but always by faith. See the first of the Ten Commandments. All the other commandments flow from the first one.

Best wishes,

John

FOOTNOTES

* The Catholic Church has stated: “"The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these [other] religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men." -- Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church. See the Wikipedia article entitled “Nostra Aetate”.

** It is interesting to reflect on the words that “the Spirit of truth... shall not speak of himself”. These words are reminiscent of these other words of Jesus: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.”

 
At 1/26/2007 11:13 PM, Blogger ephphatha said...

John, what do Baha'is think of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon? What about Wicca? Is it possible for the founder of a major religion to be a false prophet? How would you know?

I'm interested in your thoughts on the issue Paul brought up about the possibility that somebody else could come along and say, "Well, Baha’u’llah was sent and inspired by God, but Baha'is have misunderstood him." Then they'd start a new religion, harmonizing all the others, and telling them they've misunderstood their founder, and Baha'i would be one of them right along with Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism.

I mean, there seems to be a pattern here. Buddha, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad all came along and founded religions, and all of them were misunderstood by those most devoted to their teachings. Given the pattern, wouldn't you think it likely that Baha’u’llah is also misunderstood? Doesn't that leave the door open for yet another person to come along and straighten us all out, including Baha'is?

Sorry if my questions sound elementary. I've met a few Baha'is in the past, but I really don't know that much about it.

 
At 1/27/2007 1:32 AM, Blogger John Bryden said...

Sam,

Those are good questions you raised. I’m planning to comment re Joseph Smith et al., in a further posting regarding what Paul calls the “divine seal” by which we can recognise divine truth. Before going on to that in detail, I’d rather give Paul the opportunity to have his say on the points I raised in my last section. At this point, re Joseph Smith, a brief factual answer is this:

"As for the status of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Faith, he is not considered by Bahá'ís to be a prophet, minor or otherwise. But of course he was a religious teacher sensitive to the spiritual currents flowing in the early 19th century directly from the appearance of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh and the Revelation of Their Messages of hope and Divine Guidance. In this respect you might find chapter ten in the late Hand of the Cause George Townshend's book, 'Christ and Bahá'u'lláh,' interesting."

(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice [international governing council of the Faith] to an individual Baha’i, February 7, 1977)

Re Wicca, I don’t know much about it so would rather not comment until I do. You could bring up the names of any number of religious groups in the world. In due course, if the discussion continues to that point, I plan on giving a general answer that shows the Baha’i stance on these matters, without having to comment individually on thousands of groups in specific terms.

The question in your third paragraph requires a multi-faceted answer. I prefer to give this after hearing from Paul.

Your questions are not elementary, except in the sense of going right to the main point.

With appreciation,

John

 
At 1/27/2007 1:45 AM, Blogger John Bryden said...

Paul, a minor request / suggestion, out of laziness. Is there any way you can install an rss feed or whatever, that would alert interested people to new comments, without having to go back to the page and refresh it? Just a thought.
John

 
At 1/27/2007 8:24 AM, Blogger ephphatha said...

John, with the Wicca question, I was really looking for a general answer anyway. I could've plugged almost anything in place of "Wicca." What I wanted to know, basically, is whether Baha'is think all religions are somehow inspired by God (even if misunderstood), or if it is just a select few, like Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. Do you think there are any religions that are just man-made through and through?

 
At 1/27/2007 4:31 PM, Blogger John Bryden said...

Divine Revelation comes through the Manifestations of God, Who are God's appointed Messengers and under the unfailing guidance of the Holy Spirit. The main ones known to us are the founders of the great religions. All else but their teachings is human understanding. But among ordinary human beings, some have had greater insight than others; some reflect the light that has come from the Manifestations, to a greater degree. These are the saints, heroes, visionaries.. We should love the light wherever it shines. It shines brightest in the Manifestations of God. If some religious leader has teachings that amount to darkness rather than light (e.g. Jim Jones who organised a mass suicide of his followers a couple of decades ago), this is about as far from true religion as you can get.

 
At 1/29/2007 9:05 PM, Blogger Paul said...

I'll get a reply out soon. Maybe I shouldn't have posted a new article till we finished up here, since that looks like it's started another discussion. I'm really not able to juggle too much. And when I get swamped I start losing my tact. Sorry in advance for any terseness I might exhibit.

BTW, if you look along the right sidebar (down a bit) when you're on my homepage you can see the latest comments submitted on the blog.

 
At 1/30/2007 12:44 AM, Blogger John Bryden said...

Paul - No rush. Indeed, you don't owe me any obligation at all. I'm happy to hear back if and when you feel like it. You're a busy man and I have no desire to put you under pressure. Take care. John.

 
At 1/30/2007 3:09 PM, Blogger bonsta looga said...

Each person’s spiritual journey is inherently different. There are many spiritual pathways leading to the same destination.

 
At 1/30/2007 5:26 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Sounds good Bonsta, and I used to believe it myself, but do you really think that sacrificing children to the god Molech is an authentic spirtual pathway? You'll hopefully say "no," and then you can join us in the discussion of the limitations on these alleged paths.

 
At 1/30/2007 7:10 PM, Blogger ephphatha said...

I have to agree with bonsta looga that there are many spiritual pathways leading to the same destination. Even Pat Robertson would agree with that--they all lead to damnation. There's only one that leads to salvation, though.

 
At 1/30/2007 7:48 PM, Blogger Paul said...

I think the problem is that folks like bonsta have a rather thin idea about the destination. If the "destination" is simply "some fun place to go," then by all means, there are many roads. But if the destination is something specific, then of course that narrows down the avenues a bit, doesn't it.

In any case, I wonder if bonsta would affirm faith in the risen Jesus, very God of very God, who died on the cross to pay the debt for our sin so that we might survive the Day of Judgment, as one of those many available spiritual paths?

 
At 2/01/2007 2:18 AM, Blogger John Bryden said...

To my mind, bonsta's heart is in the right place. A lot of folks seem to have the same general idea. Could be a moral intuition. :)

John

 
At 2/01/2007 1:50 PM, Blogger Paul said...

A lot of people lie, cheat, and steal too. What are we to make of that? We have moral intuitions and we have a spirit of rebellion toward our creator. It is what makes psychology such a complex art (well, that and the fact that our worldviews lend to conflicting notions of what a right-working mind looks like).

 
At 2/01/2007 2:24 PM, Blogger Paul said...

John,

I'm afraid I have another inflated dialog on my hands. In the interest of focus I have pulled out what I find to be the chief areas of difference between us in your comments (though you might have preferred I look for the common).

You said: ...generally the text has not been corrupted and overall the Divine Message is still present in the words.

It is that word "generally" that I suspect hides a world of doctrinal difference between us.

What I am asserting boils down to this: not that Christianity teaches salvation by works – but that Islam and the Baha’i Faith teach salvation by faith, and that all three religions teach that genuine faith is demonstrated in action. “Demonstrated” is the key word. Faith comes first. It is demonstrated in action.

Okay, so superficially we seem to agree that works are merely evidence of the faith which has saved us. Now, I don't think that classical Islam would agree with you, nor do I believe that what they qualify as good always parallels what Jesus taught, but let's put that aside for now. Perhaps our main difference here could be surfaced if I asked you just what it is that we are supposed to have faith in, and just what it is that we are being saved from.

“Teach ye the Cause of God, O people of Baha, for God hath prescribed unto every one the duty of proclaiming His Message, and regardeth it as the most meritorious of all deeds.” -- Baha'u'llah

Interest choice of words: "the most meritorious of all deeds."

Supposing an individual adheres to Christianity to avoid the flames of hell, and for this reason is afraid to accept truth wherever he finds it -- will Christ, the Truth, accept such insipid faith?

This would only apply if one were convicted of the truth of Baha'i, but failed to pursue that belief out of a latent fear of the Christian doctrine of hell, i.e., a nagging fear that perhaps it could actually be true after all.

What I am saying is that I have every reason to believe in biblical Christianity and no reason to believe that Baha'i is based on divine revelation. For that reason I would not step out of the truth in which I am convicted; yet even if I am wrong about this, the fact that Baha'i seems to be all about righteous living would not seem to disqualify me as a Christian, since the Christian life entails right living as a byproduct.

However, I could argue this way: If living a good life and loving my creator are my chief spiritual concerns, then it seems that this can be accomplished through the vehicle of any number of religions. Why not, then, pick the one that is the most restrictive in the event that it also happens to be true. By this philosophy, it would seem to me that Islam is one of my chief competitors, since it also has a doctrine of hell and takes a dim view of equating Jesus too closely with Allah.

But finally, have you here just made an admission that the doctrine of hell is actually taught in the Scriptures? Perhaps you'd like to play your corruption trump card now, though you'll need to replay it many times to cover all references.

[you believe]7. Jesus is the Son of God, and the Word of God.
8. Jesus is still alive today.

Big caveats here, I'm sure. Not sure you'd go with Jesus as a pre-incarnate being who was with God and who was God in the beginning. Also, I think you would metaphorize the resurrection rather than accept it as a bodily manifestation which you could touch and invite to lunch.

To the extent that Truth may be found in all religions, whether to a small or large extent, then Christ is present in those religions to that extent.

Maybe this will help. Do you believe that atheists can say true things and do morally positive things? I think you will say yes, as will I. Now, where does that truth come from? Is it the spirit of God giving revelation through them in the attempts to reveal Himself to the world? Or is it merely the fact that they are men made in His image and living in His world, and they cannot help but say and do a few "good" things now and again. Nobody can be wrong all the time, but when they are right it doesn't mean it is God's anointing upon them to be His unique spokesmen.

What did [Jesus] point to as indications of a person who was responsive to the Truth? What kind of people responded to the Truth within Him? An interesting fact is that (excepting a few like Nicodemus), [the apostles] were not from among the guardians of the correct, orthodox, religious doctrine of those times. They were uneducated fishermen, tax collectors, village women.

You're trying to get too much out of this. It was not the apostles who chose Jesus; it was Jesus who chose them, and they all irresistibly came. Even the one who would betray Him came, yet I'm sure you wouldn't want to say that he was ultimately a responder to truth. Additionally, even the rest of the apostles were portrayed as bumblers who didn't really get it until after Pentecost.

The religious scholar whose questioning of Jesus elicited [the parable of the good Samaritan], was being told that to “inherit eternal life”, he must act like that unorthodox Samaritan. There is a very clear implication here that something deeper is involved in being a lover of Truth than outward adherence to correct doctrines, or belonging to the “right” religious group. The parable is a pointed rebuke to a member of the class who considered themselves superior in their orthodoxy and their understanding of truth.

Again, you are reading too much into this. The immediate question being asked by this fellow who "wanted to justify himself" was "who is my neighbor." Jesus told him a parable that indicated that your neighbor is everyone, even your supposed enemy. And later he reinforces that lesson by saying that we should love our enemies. This is not a rejection of theology, but a moral lesson, which in fact acted as a theological corrective. How you should treat people is a matter of theology!

You are right, though, that Jesus was constantly making it clear that the kingdom of God was not limited to just the children of Abraham. However, he affirmed all of the Hebrew Scriptures; it was simply their abuse of them, their legalistic view of them, and failure to recognize Himself in them with which He took issue.

Regarding the rich young man who Jesus asked to give away all his wealth in order to follow Him – this demand was not impossible. In fact, Jesus’ disciples had done exactly that.

Yes, you are right. But it is telling that when they asked, "Who then can be saved?", that Jesus then said, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." This gets to the question of why anyone will or can follow Jesus to begin with. It seems a moot point, however, since you probably agree with me that you can be "saved" without becoming a homeless drifter, and you are not following Jesus anyway. I know, I know: you probably think that you are following the Christ spirit in Baha'u'llah, or something like that.

These were men of faith! They did what the rich young man was unwilling to do. (And apparently they did it instantly, without needing intellectual arguments, or any sort of “signs and wonders”, to persuade them.)

Oh, you think they would have followed just any ole' fellow off the street? Do you not think that if God were looking into your eyes and saying "come" that you would not find some special compulsion in that? You don't need an apologetic when the incarnate Lord has singled you out. These were not great giants of the faith, just the humble chosen instruments of God. The Bible is the great narrative of what God has done, not what great men have done to win God's favor.

But the follower of Gautama Buddha is not taking his inspiration for his good actions from Jesus, he gets it from the teachings of Buddha. Is there not a striking and basic similarity here between Christ and Buddha? The teachings of both, inspire people to do good. The extent of unity between religions, at their very foundations, is starting to look more significant.

I guess you'll first have to define the "good" that they both hold in common. Buddha said to "Be a lamp unto yourself" vs. Jesus saying "I am the light" and "I am the way." Since these two taught radically different paths and metaphysics then you can only be concerned for the peace and love (in a broad sense) that they both taught. But what do you do about atheists who take their morality from the words of the Humanist Manifesto? Surely you're not implying that all "good" teachings are of divine origin. Even if one religion gets a few things right it does not mean that it is inspired, or that we should risk polluting our theology with it because of the things that it has inevitably gotten wrong.

By these words, Jesus mentioned a criterion for salvation higher than acceptance of Himself, the Son of man. He made this statement after some of his priestly opponents accused him of casting out devils through the power of satan. He was doing good, but they called it evil. He said: “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.” To blaspheme against the Holy Spirit then, is to label light as darkness. To oppose Jesus, the man, is forgivable, but to oppose the light within Him is unforgivable. In this way, He distinguishes between the light of the Holy Spirit (i.e. the eternal Divine Logos), and his own personal, temporal, identity.

I can give you an alternative understanding of this, but I don't think it will matter, so I'll mention the following. This is one of the "hard sayings" of Jesus, meaning that it is not entirely clear what all is going on (or at least there is some debate about it). When you exegete Scripture you do not make interpretations of the unclear and then twist the clear ones to fit that understanding (that is the methodology of the cults). Instead, you build your theology from the clear and then use that to guide your interpretation of the unclear. To that end, let me offer some more straight-forward verses that speak to the importance of Jesus in the role of salvation:

"For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." — 1 Timothy 2:4-5

"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" — Acts 4:12

"whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son" — John 3:18

"Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven." — Matthew 10:32-33

"But these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name." — John 20:31

"Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also." — 1 John 2:23

Indeed, Jesus must be seen as paramount in salvation, since Scripture is elsewhere clear that it is by Jesus' work on the cross that we achieve our salvation at all! The proclamation of it begins (in the N.T.) with John the Baptizer when he say, "Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world," thus connecting Jesus with the old covenant sacrificial system (e.g., the spotless lamb sacrificed for the people on the Jewish "day of atonement"). The substitutionary atonement is the very centerpiece of Christianity — it is the Gospel. And it is supported throughout the various writings in verses like the following:

"In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace" — Eph. 1:7

"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" — Rom. 8:1

"Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" — Mt. 20:28 & Mk. 10:45

"For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit" — 1 Pet. 3:18

"For this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" — Mt. 26.28

"And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which could never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all times sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified" — Heb. 10:10-14

"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whome we have now received the reconciliation." — Rom. 5:8-11

"The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from ALL sin" — 1 Jn.1.7

"He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" — 2 Cor. 5:21

"But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening ofr our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scouring we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him." — Isa 53

So you see, to remove Jesus from the equation would entirely castrate the biblical model of salvation. Neither is there any need or place for another "Manifestation" in the work of God to reconcile mankind to Himself (who else has shed his blood on our behalf, and why would another need to?). The only inspired roll that another might possibly hope for is as witness to this truth (John 15:26). But Muhammad and Baha’u’llah do not testify to this message "once for all delivered to the saints," (Jude 1:3) and they preach "another gospel," which we are warned to reject even if "preached by an angel from heaven," (Gal 1:8) and they effectively remove the significance of and focus upon Jesus and put it upon themselves.

“I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.” (John 16:12) . . . Therefore, we should be prepared to hear the Spirit of truth, elsewhere besides in Jesus. We should not make the same mistake as those who rejected Jesus as the Messiah because He did not come with the signs they expected.

First, this is Jesus speaking to the apostles during a resurrection appearance. Do you affirm the resurrection in the literal, bodily way that it is depicted? If not, then this whole episode must be so hopelessly allegorical that who could possibly imagine what is meant.

Second, Jesus is specifically speaking to the Apostles. You have to introduce some other premise here to demonstrate that when Jesus said that "He would guide you into all truth" that by "you" He meant some future parties not involved in this conversation.

Third, just what is it the spirit of truth will disclose? If you read on you will see that it says this: "He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you." The Spirit will testify to Jesus! Additionally, if you look at more than just a verse here an there you will notice that what Jesus is speaking about is the Spirit's coming at Pentecost some days later. Consult Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4, and Acts 2 on this point.

Fourth, do you really want to affirm that Jesus is the Messiah! Surely you don't want to define "Messiah" in the Hebrew prophetic sense, since that would preclude the idea of someone that had ever come before in history or would come again as a separate individual in the future. And the reason that Jesus was rejected by (some) Jews is because He held their feet to the fire of the spirit of the law rather then an outward show of piety, and because He wasn't born rich and powerful and didn't meet their military expectations (i.e., He didn't satisfy their preferences rather than the prophecies).

The “Truth” that is “the way” to God is the eternal Divine Logos. The whole structure and argument of John’s Gospel is aimed at elucidating this idea. This Logos has always been “the light of men” (John 1:4). The Logos was embodied in Jesus. But wherever there is light, we can be sure that this is the same light that shone in Jesus. It shone brightly, too, in Muhammad, the Bab, and Baha’u’llah.

To know what John had in mind you have but to hear what he says at the end of this Gospel: "Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name." (John 20:31)

It may seem like you could say that this "light" is merely something that came down into Jesus, rather than Jesus Himself being that light, but there are problems with this idea. Just from this text alone I'll point out the following:

John is speaking of "Jesus" the person, not the mystical thing inside of Him (e.g., "you may have life in His name"). John calls Jesus the Messiah (the Christ), which is a unique office shared by no one else. John calls Him the Son of God, meaning that He is NOT identical to God in some sense (remember, "The Word was with God, and the Word was God") — the Trinity is the systematic understanding of this mystery. And John's book (the other Gospels too) are lousy with miracles (signs) attesting to the unique authority of this Jesus, who is unmatched in this regard by any of your other proposed light bearers. And the fact that this same "Logos" was resurrected and now sits at the right hand of the Father waiting to judge the living and the dead makes impossible the task of separating Jesus from the equation.

 
At 2/01/2007 7:06 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

Even Pat Robertson would agree with that--they all lead to damnation.
Oh dear. In that case, I am toast.

 
At 2/01/2007 11:14 PM, Blogger ephphatha said...

I didn't know you were on a spiritual path, psiominiac. I thought you were an atheist.

 
At 2/02/2007 2:31 AM, Blogger John Bryden said...

Psiomniac, I look forward to your fine company as we both turn into toast.

Paul, my "moral intuition" comment was pretty much light-hearted and not indicating a line of argument I'm going to follow up.

The rest will obviously take a little longer to digest and respond to. Seriously now, I'm impressed by the spirit of your approach and your attention to detail.

Bye for now.

 
At 2/02/2007 3:15 AM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

I didn't know you were on a spiritual path, psiominiac. I thought you were an atheist.

Think that will save me?
Actually I would argue atheists can be on what others would call a spiritual path. I suppose whether or not 'the spirit' is just a metaphor depends on who is right.

John, likewise.

 
At 2/02/2007 9:45 AM, Blogger Paul said...

John,

You are most gracious. I think your concerns are worth time spent on such detail, especially if you are indeed looking for true knowledge of God and not just muddled hints and human speculations.

I think my strongest challenges lie in some of the philosophical points I raised early on, one of which Sam had reiterated, and in my case that you cannot ultimately prevail in making the biblical texts support your theology without appealing to corruption for all counterfactuals. If you intend to seek support from my Scriptures, you can expect similar attention to detail in a response, as the texts give me much ammunition in that regard.

Blessings on your search for truth.

 
At 2/02/2007 10:37 PM, Blogger John Bryden said...

COMMENTS ON PROCESS

Paul & friends,

I had begun assembling my thoughts for a response to the main points in Paul’s most recent “long” comment. However, it seems some thoughts on process, as opposed to substance, might be useful at this point.

Paul, your amiable remarks and pointing out of unresolved issues are well taken. I have a prickling of the conscience that I may be distracting you by this lengthy exchange, from duties to your family or the like. I hope this is not the case.

In the interests of not dissembling my position, I need to share with you that not only am I “seeking truth” (hopefully walking alongside you in this endeavour), but also aiming to present truths which I’ve discovered. I’m sure you understand this.

I want to acknowledge Psiomniac’s point that as an atheist he considers himself to be on a spiritual path. From my perspective, this is a valid and important statement. Given that the essential reality of the human being is his or her soul (albeit our atheist friend doubts its real existence), all of humankind is inherently engaged in walking a spiritual path. I hear objections being raised, but never mind, I’m not going to further justify my view, at this moment, apart from the self-evident observation that a spiritual being necessarily is on a spiritual path.

But Psiomniac, I have one small objection: why did you choose an alias that is tricky to type? (Ephaphatha too, for that matter. Paul is far ahead in my eyes on that score.)

Now, in regards to process, Paul has rightly pointed out, repeatedly, that a critical issue is the status of the Holy Texts of the Bible. Paul, you seem quite certain that the position I’m advancing is going to fail on account of its supposed discrepancies with the teachings of the Bible and that sooner or later I’m going to have to resort to alleging “corruption of the texts”. This is a phrase that has been used historically by Muslim apologists in their debates with Christian apologists. It is a relatively small factor in the Baha’i approach. Indeed, Baha’u’llah, in His “Book of Certitude” (one of His main works), goes to some length in showing the emptiness of assertions made by some Muslim clergy of His day alleging that the text of the Gospel is corrupt, or even more absurdly, that the true Gospel is no longer with us. For example, He wrote:

“We have also heard a number of the foolish of the earth assert that the genuine text of the heavenly Gospel doth not exist amongst the Christians, that it hath ascended unto heaven. How grievously they have erred! How oblivious of the fact that such a statement imputeth the gravest injustice and tyranny to a gracious and loving Providence!”

Baha’u’llah said much more in this same vein.

You might be surprised at the extent to which the Baha’i Writings uphold the validity of the New Testament and the Torah. The big thing is that we are not materialists. We wholeheartedly believe that God guides humankind through the scriptures, believing this not merely in a “warm fuzzy” way, but as an actual reality.

To be transparent about this, the Baha’i teachings hold that some errors of a relatively minor nature have admittedly occurred in the transmission of the texts down to the present day. This position appears to be consistent with the views of Christian scholars of the Bible, even religiously conservative scholars. For example, there is apparently a consensus of opinion among scholars that the traditional ending of the Book of Mark is a later add-on that was not part of the original gospel. I hasten to add that this particular passage does not in any case, to my knowledge, present any difficulties for the Baha’i interpretation of the Bible. Moreover, none of the quotations that Paul has mentioned so far, undermine the Baha’i concepts on the station of Christ, salvation, etc. Demonstrating this would lead into substantive matters, and for now I’m sticking to process, so more on this later.

It is also relevant that the Baha'i teachings tend to have a higher regard for the scriptural Books written by those sources who were closest to the Manifestations of God, such as the Gospels. Interestingly, the Baha'i writings seem to show especially high regard for the Gospel of John, even though scholars seem to think this was the last Gospel to be written. Commentary in the Baha'i writings on the Gospel of John assumes that it was indeed John's Gospel. However, not too much should be made of distinctions between different books of the Bible, because the whole of the New Testament is very highly regarded, and even the most ancient parts of the Hebrew Bible are accepted as containing the substance of the Word of God, notwithstanding that scholars point out the teachings of Moses were written down perhaps hundreds of years after Him, and the origins of the stories about Abraham are even more obscured in the mists of time. The Qur'an, on the other hand, we regard as a virtually perfect record of the actual utterance of Muhammad (this is attested to by historians). The Qur'an therefore has pre-eminence in our eyes, except for the Baha'i sacred Writings themselves.

Further in the interests of transparency, the area where Paul and Sam may actually find a certain amount of difficulty with the Baha’i approach, is with regard to our manner of interpretation. You are not wrong in supposing that we would explain some matters that you evidently take literally, in metaphorical terms – although I would prefer to say “spiritual terms”. Psiomniac has provided me with a convenient way of explaining this. He mentioned that he regards “spirit” as “just a metaphor”. This indicates a view that spirit is not real. However, the Baha’i view is that the spiritual realm, the kingdom of heaven, is not only real, but “more real” than the material realm. So it needs to be understood that if we (Baha’is) say that such and such is a symbol or a metaphor, we mean that it represents a spiritual reality. Spiritual realities are of a nature that cannot be described in words except by use of metaphors. It is for this reason that the Holy Books are rich in parables, symbols and metaphors. (There is another related reason – the language of spiritual metaphor is incomprehensible to the materially-minded, so serves as a divine test of the quality of a person’s response to the Word. You will know of Jesus’ statements bearing on these points.)

Another difficulty that you may (or may not) have is in regard to the breadth of the Baha’i approach to interpretation. Many passages we consider to have not one meaning, but multiple meanings, much as good poetry sets off multiple associations through its imagery, but to an infinitely greater degree.

The following I will state as my personal opinion, since I can’t think of a specific statement in the Baha’i writings to back it up (to my own satisfaction). I do not see the need for a Baha’i to be bound by the “rules” of interpretation that have been devised by theologians, except to the extent that any such rules have a reasonable basis, philosophically or scientifically. It is one thing to honour and accept the Divine inspiration of the Bible itself, but the Divine sanction does not extend to the pronouncements of priests and scholars. (Human speculation.)

(In any case, I should repeat the usual disclaimer which Baha’is have a duty to make, which is that our own individual views are nowhere near on the same plane as the authoritative Writings of our Faith. One does one’s best to explain things accurately, but due to human fallibility, one inevitably introduces distortions.)

One of the major forces bringing about new interpretations in any field of knowledge is new information. Consider that it was sensible and workable for people to assume that the sun revolved around the earth, until Copernicus through mathematical calculations and Galileo by observations through the new invention of the telescope, discovered that the reverse was true. From the limited perspective of former times it was not wholly incorrect to believe the sun revolved around the earth, or that the earth was flat. After all, it is flat enough, for everyday purposes, when travel takes place on foot or on horseback. But once a more complete scientific picture emerged, this new knowledge enabled all sorts of things to be done that hitherto had been impossible.

Religious interpretations also need to adapt to new information. It may have been tenable for villagers in Europe two centuries ago to believe literally that Jesus is the “only way” to God, but this viewpoint has become steadily less and less adequate ever since. It is not that such a view is absolutely wrong. But it is incomplete. Likewise, it was in the first century credible to the ordinary person that Jesus literally “ascended” into the clouds of heaven, but this idea is, I have to say I'm sorry, ludicrous, in the light of a modern understanding of what this would mean by way of a man disappearing up through the stratosphere and into outer space. Be that as it may, I have reason to believe that neither St. Paul nor the writers of the Gospels themselves regarded the resurrection and ascension of Jesus as physical events. The new knowledge disclosed by modern Biblical scholarship confirms my view. The resurrection was a spiritual event, not physical event. Remember that when I say “spiritual” I mean “of a realm more real than the material realm”. The Gospel writers were not liars, nor were they unhistorical, but they were presenting an aspect of history that is not accessible to the materialist mind. (Just to add a further layer of complexity to the issue, the Baha'i teachings accept the Immaculate Conception literally.) I have strayed more than enough into substantive issues on this point. Modern historians of a secular bent often come at the New Testament with a materialistic perspective that makes me cringe at their audacity and their blindness to the spiritual authority of Christ. But taking spiritual events literally (i.e. physically), I see as caving in to a materialist mindset.

Finally, in this post, I want to address the accusation that Baha’is are not genuinely interested in the teachings of other religions, except to the extent that we can make those teachings serve our own views. It is worth pointing out that there is a world of difference between regarding Buddha and Muhammad as imposters and regarding them as Manifestations of God. The latter view leads one to encounter their lives and teachings with reverence and awe. And since we regard their spiritual teachings as eternal, we wholeheartedly respect the endeavours of the followers of the respective Manifestations of God to understand and apply those teachings in their own lives. We recognise that as human beings we are all in the same ball game of attempting to glimpse the grandeur of God through feeble human eyes. Yes, I am a Baha’i because I have come to believe that Baha’u’llah has revealed a fuller measure of truth, but this does not entitle me to consider myself in any way superior to the follower of any religion or none. An imperfect analogy is that by some quirk of luck I have gained admittance to the Oxford or the Cambridge or the Harvard or Princeton of universities: the one that seems to me the best of all. But if I attend a conference with students of other universities, I do not regard their knowledge or understanding as less valid in principle. I regard those other students as equals and partners in the quest for truth.

It is a matter of great concern to me and to my fellow Baha’is that religious fanaticism is seriously destabilising the peace and security of our planet. This is a contradiction of the very purpose of religion, which is to create love and unity. In surfing the internet and in watching news reports, I have noted a growing radicalisation and polarisation of views in the East and the West, especially amongst the young. Such extremist views are being expressed by political factions of the left and right, by religious believers and by atheists, by libertarians and law and order advocates. It is a worrying trend. Religious believers of moderate temperament who favour reason, in all Faiths, have a responsibility to encourage moderation and reason among their more hot-heated brethren. Whatever insights the teachings of our faiths give us towards enhancing harmony amongst mankind, now is the time to promote those insights.

 
At 2/03/2007 1:53 PM, Blogger John Bryden said...

== The “divine seal” of Christ, miracles, salvation, essential unity of the Manifestations of God ==

Paul,

This statement of yours goes to the heart of the matter:

“Oh, you think they would have followed just any ole’ fellow off the street? Do you not think that if God were looking into your eyes and saying ‘come’ that you would not find some special compulsion in that? You don't need an apologetic when the incarnate Lord has singled you out.”

This, which you have expressed so well, is what I was alluding to in mentioning how Simon, Andrew, James, and John had acted without hesitation when they were called upon by Christ in person to become “fishers of men”.Clearly these four men intuitively recognised the greatness of Christ simply by meeting Him face to face.

Their story demonstrates that the greatest proof of Christ is Christ Himself. All “signs” that proceed from Him are significant, not because a few of them suspend the laws of nature in an astonishing manner, but because they are signs of who He is.

“The most burning fire is to question the signs of God, to dispute idly that which He hath revealed, to deny Him and carry one's self proudly before Him.” (Baha'u'llah)

A true miracle is not a conjurer’s trick but an intervention by God in nature, particularly in the lives of people and in history. Given that Christ was the Word of God dwelling among us, every word that He spoke, every action He performed, was a divine intervention in human affairs, and therefore rightly understood as a miracle.

In recent times there was a holy man in India, Sai Baba, who is reported by his followers to have performed many miracles. With all due respect to Sai Baba’s followers, these reports of miracles do not lead me to think his “way” is especially worth investigating. I have a vague recollection of someone telling me of these miracles many years ago. Even if the events described to me actually happened, which I had no way of verifying and tended to doubt (an understatement), they did not impress me as marks of true spiritual greatness. Not that anyone should care about my opinion, but I mention this case as an example that is in contrast to what one sees in Christ.

What is persuasive about the miracles of Christ is what they tell us of His superlative goodness, compassion and authority, confirming that He is indeed the Light of the World. He gave sight to the blind, restored the dead to life, enabled the lame to walk, removed the afflictions of the demon-possessed. The luminous words of the Gospels, conveying these stories, seem to bring us face to face with Him, dissolving the gap in time from His days until now. We have the opportunity to respond in the same way as the Apostles did, if we have ears to hear.

Jesus, His “signs”, and the nature of what constitutes “salvation”, are intimately linked. Let’s explore this theme.

Jesus was reluctant to reveal signs to those who were not receptive to the real meaning of what He stood for, in the first place.

“And the Pharisees came forth, and began to question with him, seeking of him a sign from heaven, tempting him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation.” (Mark 8:11-12)

“...an evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:39-40)

He drew the attention of his listeners to the spiritual significance of his miracles, in contrast to the material benefits they conferred:

“And when they had found him on the other side of the sea, they said unto him, Rabbi, when camest thou hither? Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.” (John 6:25-27)

All the miracles of Christ, whether or not they actually occurred in a physical sense (and I am not denying that they did) – all those miracles had a spiritual dimension. Not only bodies were healed, but also souls. Not only were the blind given back their sight, but also the inwardly blind received perception.

In the ensuing dialogue with this same group who were hungry for material bread, He said:

“I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”

This brings us back to the point that signs He revealed were signs pointing to Himself, and that what He stood for was the Kingdom of Heaven: spiritual life.

In more detail then, who then was He? What manner of man? What was His purpose? What was His mission? What did He accomplish? Why was He great?

“And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. ” (Luke 4:18-19)

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” (John 5:24)

“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”(John 10:10)

“And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.” (Matthew 9:35)

To the Apostles He said: “And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:7-8)

According to Him, what distinguished true prophets from false prophets? Not signs and wonders:

“And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or, lo, he is there; believe him not: For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.” (Mark 13:21-22)

Rather, a tree is known by its fruits:

“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”

That which is built on the foundation of truth, He said, will be long-lasting and secure:

“Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock.” (Luke 6:46)

We can see that Jesus meets His own tests. The fruits of His life were resoundingly good, and His message has endured 2000 years. BUT, He is not the only Figure who meets the tests. The other Manifestations of God also meet these same tests.

If miracles are your big thing, followers of Muhammad can point you to 1000 miracles or more that He is said to have performed. (I have seen a Muslim web page on this subject.) I can provide you with stories of miracles performed by Baha’u’llah, and tell you of the occasion of the martyrdom of the Bab, when a crowd of thousands witnessed a miraculous event. But I will pass over these, because the real proof of Muhammad is the same as the proof of Christ. Likewise, the Bab, Baha’u’llah, Abraham, Moses, Buddha.... They brought the Word of God to mankind. They transformed the souls of Their followers. (Any number of accounts showing the amazing transformations they wrought in the lives of their genuine followers, bear witness.) Their messages have endured for centuries and spread throughout continents. These Manifestations are the Founders of the very basis of civilisation. Through the laws and teachings they have revealed, great kingdoms have been ordered, arts made to flourish, sciences developed, and the progress of the world has been made to happen. The luminous words of their Books are vibrant with the power of Truth. They all bear witness to the one God, and to each other. To truly believe in one of them, is to believe in Them all, and to deny the signs of greatness in any one of them is to deny those exact same signs in the others.

“It is clear and evident to thee that all the Prophets are the Temples of the Cause of God, Who have appeared clothed in divers attire. If thou wilt observe with discriminating eyes, thou wilt behold them all abiding in the same tabernacle, soaring in the same heaven, seated upon the same throne, uttering the same speech, and proclaiming the same Faith. Such is the unity of those Essences of being, those Luminaries of infinite and immeasurable splendour.” (Baha'u'llah)

“By their fruits shall ye know them.” (Jesus)

I leave you with the true story of just one of the followers of Baha’u’llah, Mula Ali-Akbar, as related by ‘Abdu’l-Baha:

“Because of his new Faith, he [Mulla Ali Akbar] was mocked at in Tihran by high and low. When he walked through the streets and bazars, the people pointed their fingers at him, calling him a Bahá'í. Whenever trouble broke out, he was the one to be arrested first. He was always ready and waiting for this, since it never failed.

“Again and again he was bound with chains, jailed, and threatened with the sword. The photograph of this blessed individual, together with that of the great Amin, taken of them in their chains, will serve as an example to whoever has eyes to see. There they sit, those two distinguished men, hung with chains, shackled, yet composed, acquiescent, undisturbed.

“Things came to such a pass that in the end whenever there was an uproar Mulla Ali would put on his turban, wrap himself in his aba [cloak] and sit waiting, for his enemies to rouse and the farrashes to break in and the guards to carry him off to prison. But observe the power of God! In spite of all this, he was kept safe. ‘The sign of a knower and lover is this, that you will find him dry in the sea.’ That is how he was. His life hung by a thread from one moment to the next; the malevolent lay in wait for him; he was known everywhere as a Bahá'í -- and still he was protected from all harm. He stayed dry in the depths of the sea, cool and safe in the heart of the fire, until the day he died.

“After the ascension [passing] of Bahá'u'lláh, Mulla Ali continued on, loyal to the Testament of the Light of the World [Baha’u’llah], staunch in the Covenant which he served and heralded. During the lifetime of the Manifestation, his yearning made him hasten to Bahá'u'lláh, Who received him with grace and favor, and showered blessings upon him. He returned, then, to Iran, where he devoted all his time to serving the Cause. Openly at odds with his tyrannical oppressors, no matter how often they threatened him, he defied them. He was never vanquished. Whatever he had to say, he said. He was one of the Hands of the Cause of God, steadfast, unshakable, not to be moved.”

****
“By their fruits shall ye know them.”
****

 
At 2/03/2007 2:00 PM, Blogger John Bryden said...

CHECKLIST

This list is roughly in chronological order, rather than order of importance, although similar matters that were treated separately have been grouped together in some cases.

== Summary of questions and statements that John has answered: ==

1. That “religious pluralism” is promoted only by rather vague liberal types who are ignorant of the details of the matter. (Such “liberals” are praiseworthy for the tolerant outlook, but the Baha’i teachings offer a more rigorous approach.) BTW, I generally dislike labels like liberal, conservative, fundamentalist, etc., as they are very imprecise, usually used pejoratively, and obscure more than they reveal.

2. That Christianity is entirely different from other religions in teaching that faith comes before works. (Christianity, Islam, and the Baha’i Faith have close similarities on this point.)

3. Concerning standards for evaluating truth: reason and Divine revelation. Status of the Baha’i teachings as revelation. Whether it is acceptable to live with direct contradictions between the teachings of different religions. Reasons as to why these differences arise. Concerning the universality of truth. (Reason and logic upheld; revelation held to be the ultimate standard of truth; the Baha’i teachings claim to be revelation; religious differences arise due to the requirements of different times and places; truth is universal at the core, although its expression varies according to culture, time, place, capacity of individuals, etc.)

4. Concerning competence of the Divine Educators who have revealed different messages at different times and places. (A competent educator adjusts the message to the capacity and needs of the students.)

5. Concerning the “seal” by which Divine truth may be known. (This is the subject of my most recent section.) (Implicitly, questions on the difference between the Manifestations of God and the likes of Mary Baker Eddy and Joseph Smith, have been answered, but I anticipate more explicit answers may be requested.)

6. Concerning alleged corruption of the Holy Texts, i.e. whether the manuscripts have been mutilated, etc. Divine inspiration of the Bible. (The texts have not been corrupted in any sense that obliterates the substance of the Word of God. The Bible is Divinely inspired, in that it transmits to us the teachings of Divinely inspired Prophets, although rather indirectly, especially in regard to the more ancient teachings, but effectively all the same.)

7. Concerning interpretation of the Bible: literal and metaphorical. (It needs to be interpreted from a spiritual viewpoint.) Concerning whether I think Christians are labouring under erroneous interpretations. (Incomplete, more than erroneous.)

8. Concerning the value of interfaith dialogue. (It is badly needed because of the destabilisation of world peace occurring as a result of religious fanaticism.)

9. Whether I am interested in defending the veracity of the Baha’i teachings. (Yes)

10. Concerning the allegation that Baha’is are only interested in the teachings of other religions to the extent that they serve our own views. (We revere the Manifestations of God and we respect their sincere followers as partners in the human endeavour to know God and worship Him.)

11. Concerning Pascale’s wager. (This has been raised again for further discussion.)

12. Whether Muhammad and Baha’u’llah testified to Christ. (All the Manifestations testify to one another. More can be said, if necessary.)

== Summary of questions and statements John has not yet answered: ==

1. Concerning salvation and the law in the writings of St. Paul.

2. Concerning the unique atonement of Christ through His death on the cross.

3. Concerning claims that Muhammad made for Himself. (Actually, has been answered, but only in a couple of sentences that may have been overlooked.)

4. Whether there is a legitimate basis on which the followers of different religions can “worship” together.

5. Whether classical Islam would agree that salvation is based on faith. (Answer: “According to all the traditional schools of jurisprudence, faith (/Iman/) ensures salvation.” Source: Wikipedia article entitled: “Salvation”. Whole article is worth reading.)

6. Further re Pascale’s wager.

7. Concerning hell. (Has been answered, but I did not draw attention to the answer, as it needs further explanation.)

8. Concerning any caveats I may have on Jesus as the Son of God and the Word of God. (An overall answer has been given, but some specific matters not yet addressed.)

9. Concerning Biblical justification for the concept that the resurrection was a spiritual rather than a material event. (Anticipating that you will raise this after reading my comment headed “process”.)

10. Concerning your statement that the Apostles, “... were not great giants of the faith [!!!!], just the humble chosen instruments of God.”

11. Concerning atheists who do good works.

12. Concerning Jesus as the Messiah. (Yes, He is. More needs to be said.)

13. Concerning Jesus as the Word of God and Jesus as a human being. (Paul, I agree that this is a mystery, and happy to see that you admit something to be a mystery, as you seemed rather averse to the mysteriousness of God, at the outset of this discussion.)

14. Concerning that the verse about blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is a hard saying.

15. Concerning how Baha’is are sure that another teacher will not appear who overturns the teachings of Baha’u’llah. (Short answer: (a) because of Baha’u’llah’s written Covenant (b) there will be other Manifestations in the future, but not for at least 1000 years after Baha’u’llah.)

***

Approximate total word count so far, not including this post: 23,900 words.

Paul, it looks just a little bit tiring to continue... But I’m ready to go on if you are. Your call...

John

***

 
At 2/03/2007 2:46 PM, Blogger John Bryden said...

Paul, I forgot to mention that if you think this has gone on long enough, I leave it to you to have the last word. As I said, its your call.

 
At 2/03/2007 6:28 PM, Blogger ephphatha said...

John, you can call me Sam.

 
At 2/03/2007 8:27 PM, Blogger John Bryden said...

Sam, I know, I know, but I didn't want to have Psiomniac facing my grizzles all on his own.

 
At 2/04/2007 6:17 AM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

John, you can call me Psio, or Psi.

 
At 2/06/2007 9:06 PM, Blogger Paul said...

John,

I'll go another round.

Paul has rightly pointed out, repeatedly, that a critical issue is the status of the Holy Texts of the Bible. Paul, you seem quite certain that the position I’m advancing is going to fail on account of its supposed discrepancies with the teachings of the Bible and that sooner or later I’m going to have to resort to alleging “corruption of the texts”. This is a phrase that has been used historically by Muslim apologists in their debates with Christian apologists. It is a relatively small factor in the Baha’i approach. Indeed, Baha’u’llah, in His “Book of Certitude” (one of His main works), goes to some length in showing the emptiness of assertions made by some Muslim clergy of His day alleging that the text of the Gospel is corrupt, or even more absurdly, that the true Gospel is no longer with us.

I find the Muslim approach to be most rational, in that they recognize the plain incompatibility between the two teachings and simply appeal to corruption of the teachings of Jesus in justification of their own differences. However, the fact that the Qur'an speaks largely favorably of the "Injil" and "Tawrat" while also including things in conflict with them is a liability for Islam.

To be transparent about this, the Baha’i teachings hold that some errors of a relatively minor nature have admittedly occurred in the transmission of the texts down to the present day. This position appears to be consistent with the views of Christian scholars of the Bible, even religiously conservative scholars

I will agree that some copyist errors have been found in some of the manuscripts. But we would not know of these if we did not have such an abundant field of ancient source-language manuscripts against which to compare in order to flush these out. For this reason, most scholars are confident that we have a good handle on the contents of the original text. Even many liberal scholars agree, but they would argue that the originals are either mythology or simply a twisting of the true events. Agreeing with the critics here would seem to cast doubt on the ability of the Manifestation to get His point across.

It is also relevant that the Baha'i teachings tend to have a higher regard for the scriptural Books written by those sources who were closest to the Manifestations of God, such as the Gospels.

Yes, I'm sure it would be desirable to eliminate the epistles of Paul and the book of Hebrews from consideration, since they are some of the most systematic expositions of classical Christian doctrine. Two things, though: 1) I'm sure I can make an adequate case for classical Christianity from the Gospels alone. The fact that Baha'i has such a high regard for John would seem to be a liability, since it is the book with the highest Christology (divinity of Jesus). This is exactly why liberals would like to exclude it from the field of works that can be attributed to the early Christian community. 2) Paul gets his commission from Jesus Himself (unless you want to make the case that he is a liar), and his teaching ministry is affirmed on several occasions by the John, Peter, and James. There are just no grounds for believing that he's gone off into left field theologically.

scholars point out the teachings of Moses were written down perhaps hundreds of years after Him, and the origins of the stories about Abraham are even more obscured in the mists of time.

Being very old, it is easy to cast such doubt upon them. However, we know for a fact that they were written long before Jesus (I can argue that in multiple ways), and what they say about the Messiah fits remarkably well with Jesus. Coincidence, or mark of their reliability? (I would offer another option, but you seem to believe in the Authority of Jesus and the general reliability of the N.T.)

The other problem you have is that Jesus quoted the O.T. books as having divine authority and made his famous "jot or tittle" statement about them. So, is Jesus wrong to continually quote from the books of Moses and to reference these Scriptures as though they are from the mouth of Moses?

The Qur'an, on the other hand, we regard as a virtually perfect record of the actual utterance of Muhammad (this is attested to by historians). The Qur'an therefore has pre-eminence in our eyes,

So when it condemns the Christian teaching that God had a son and that Jesus was nothing more than a human prophet, like Muhammad, it is affirming that the Bible's teaching of Jesus as the "only begotten" or "one and only" Son of God is problem. This is taught in the Gospels, and it seems to be condemned by the Qur'an.

I could make a case for corruption in the Qur'an, but I don't need to do this; I am willing to accept that the Qur'an as-is is problematic enough, and that what it does say competes with both Christianity and Baha'i. For example, it says that Jesus didn't really die on the cross, which is central to the Gospel passion narratives. Are they both right or is one wrong?

I also think that if we invited a well schooled traditional Muslim into our dialog that he and I would find much common ground in our rejection of the Baha'i attempts at reconciling our Scriptures.

You are not wrong in supposing that we would explain some matters that you evidently take literally, in metaphorical terms – although I would prefer to say “spiritual terms”. . . Spiritual realities are of a nature that cannot be described in words except by use of metaphors. It is for this reason that the Holy Books are rich in parables, symbols and metaphors.

The fact that you can tell in the text what is a parable and what is not speaks to the fact that this can be sorted out — even our children can spot the symbols and parables. There are also formal hermeneutical principles, if that is not enough. Additionally, where parables are used Jesus often gives the interpretation of them. Jesus and the authors of Scripture are not trying to be cryptic. And if you can manage to translate a more clear meaning to something which they taught (like what the resurrection actually means), then how incompetent of them to have used an inferior metaphor; especially doing so in a way that would have been mistaken by the entire Christian community and taking it off track for 2000 years! Deeper, additional meanings we accept and pursue, but they do not negate the plain surface meanings or facts.

It is one thing to honour and accept the Divine inspiration of the Bible itself, but the Divine sanction does not extend to the pronouncements of priests and scholars.

You are right: the leadership does not have the authority of the Bible itself. I am not a Roman Catholic, so I have no grievance with this. However, is there any credibility to be given to the testimony of the earliest Christian community and the consensus of the church in the first couple of generations? This gets back to my suggestion that Jesus is a poor teacher indeed if His message was misunderstood from the very beginning.

Religious interpretations also need to adapt to new information. It may have been tenable for villagers in Europe two centuries ago to believe literally that Jesus is the “only way” to God, but this viewpoint has become steadily less and less adequate ever since. It is not that such a view is absolutely wrong. But it is incomplete.

What do you mean "incomplete?" It is a binary issue: either He is the only way or there are other ways. And are you suggesting that the doctrine of exclusivity was simply a useful fiction that the Medieval church concocted? It is the teaching of our Scriptures. Are you suggesting that it is not the teaching, or are you suggesting that it was true then but is false now? I suggest that you simply stick with your argument that it is a misunderstanding that was never really taught. That is a much more rational position, though I think problematic given the general and specific content of Scripture.

Likewise, it was in the first century credible to the ordinary person that Jesus literally “ascended” into the clouds of heaven, but this idea is, I have to say I'm sorry, ludicrous, in the light of a modern understanding of what this would mean by way of a man disappearing up through the stratosphere and into outer space.

I'm sorry, but this is an adolescent argument. Can God not disappear any way that He likes? Would you be happier if Jesus had just stood there and disappeared? If that is fine, then why not disappear while He rose into the air? Nice dramatic effect! You have previously stated that some spiritual truths cannot be properly translated into physical terms. Going to heaven is one such concept. Up is symbolic for heaven.

An interesting problem for your theology is that the angels then say that "this same Jesus" will return to the earth in like manner. In other words, no human-born repeat performance. Additionally, Jesus (in the Gospels) and Revelation claims that He will be coming back "riding on the clouds" and such. This kind of language rules out the kind of repeat Manifestations that Baha'i teaches. What more must the Bible say to discourage such ideas? It has done a sufficient job where we are concerned.

I have reason to believe that neither St. Paul nor the writers of the Gospels themselves regarded the resurrection and ascension of Jesus as physical events.

There are absolutely no grounds for this assertion. The narratives are historical in their style and detail. If we can't read something like John 20 as the depiction of a bodily resurrection, then you can turn it in to anything you like! Perhaps Jesus was a space alien who was taken back to the home planet; or maybe the disciples were despondent over losing Jesus (their source of bread), and they were much encouraged on having Mary bring them some fresh baked bread, which she took out of the oven and which Thomas could touch (bread=body, oven=tomb). Why not such interpretations? Any criteria one uses to judge these ridiculous can equally be turned to other attempts at metaphor.

If they didn't mean us to take such stories as what they appear, then why didn't they just tell us what they really meant (unless this cryptic phantasmagoria is as close as it's possible to come)? Again, I say that if you can give a more straight-forward exposition of what they were trying to say, then I have to wonder why the authors failed to be equally clear. It doesn't seem to me to be a very complex "spiritual reality" to simply say that the apostles confidence and resolve were buoyed (resurrected) and thus they were empowered to go and preach the Gospel.

[Baha'i] wholeheartedly respect the endeavours of the followers of the respective Manifestations of God to understand and apply those teachings in their own lives. We recognise that as human beings we are all in the same ball game of attempting to glimpse the grandeur of God through feeble human eyes.

But it is not through human eyes that the doctrines of these religions came to exist on your view; they are divine truth granted from heaven. Baha'i teaching only makes sense if you first say that each Manifestation has been corrupted and/or misunderstood. Again the questions arise as to how effective this God is who cannot get the story straight to humanity, and why we should not believe that the Baha'i teaching has suffered the same fate, if it is indeed from this same impotent god.

An imperfect analogy is that by some quirk of luck I have gained admittance to the Oxford or the Cambridge or the Harvard or Princeton of universities: the one that seems to me the best of all. But if I attend a conference with students of other universities, I do not regard their knowledge or understanding as less valid in principle. I regard those other students as equals and partners in the quest for truth.

Taking the analogy of mathematics or chemistry, each university seeks to teach common truths about these things. Some universities are equipped to teach to a higher level, some to various specialties, some to have professors who might relay the truths more fluently than others. But if they contradict each other in what they teach in common, then they are not equal, someone must be wrong. And if one university indeed teaches things more accurately and factually, then it is to be preferred and the others brought up to its standard.

...the very purpose of religion, which is to create love and unity.

That is an odd statement, given that it is in conflict with what the other religions that Baha'i seeks to embrace would say about their ultimate goals. The fact that this world and all the lives it contains will pass away, and in light of the teachings of the infinity beyond, suggests that a bit of harmony in this temporal domain is an underestimation of the point of it all.


On to your next post...


I agree with you that Jesus' character was self-attesting, and that His miracles were not merely self-serving and ad hoc displays. Sai Baba and other eastern "miracle workers" fail for this reason, as you indicate, even if their works qualified as supernatural.

I also agree that the miracles were not primary in bringing persons to faith. Heck, there were many who stood face to face in opposition to Jesus who had even seen as much as Lazarus coming back to life. However, Jesus did miracles and referenced them (John 10:25, 10:19), and even, in spite of what we've both said about this, many of the apostles where indeed won over by virtue of them (e.g., John 1:50, Luke 5:8).

Where you quote Jesus' refusal to give in to the Pharisees demands for a sign, it should be noted that (besides already having done enough to have satisfied them) He did indeed indicate the greatest sign of all to come: the resurrection. Of course, you've declared your rejection of the resurrection as a bodily occurrence, so this sort of takes the profundity out of His statement (if not entirely removing it from any context).

We can see that Jesus meets His own tests. The fruits of His life were resoundingly good, and His message has endured 2000 years. BUT, He is not the only Figure who meets the tests. The other Manifestations of God also meet these same tests.

I'm not sure that any of the other figures ever even claimed to be sinless, but I believe that even the Qur'an states the Jesus was. In fact, the Qur'an's depiction of Jesus is quite striking and makes Muhammad look to me quite pedestrian by comparison. And another thing, the Qur'an indicates that Muhammad's revelation came by way of an angel. But if Muhammad was himself another Manifestation like Jesus, then why should he not have spoken on his own accord and authority like Jesus? And while we're at it, Abraham and Moses are also distinctly different from Jesus, being merely humans interacting in characteristically human ways with God rather than "Manifestations" of Him.

If miracles are your big thing, followers of Muhammad can point you to 1000 miracles or more that He is said to have performed.

I'd like to see those from the Qur'an, and I mean powers that Muhammad manifested. As I understand it, it is fairly scant in this regard and such stories only began appearing in other supplemental writings. In fact, I've heard debates with Muslim apologists who merely appeal to the Qur'an itself as the great Miracle of Muhammad. As the argument goes, Muhammad was an illiterate guy who couldn't possibly have authored so eloquent a book as this.

You may argue the miracles of Jesus to be mere allegory or a latter insertion, but they are absolutely consistent with what one would expect Immanuel (God with us) to look like. If the Bible insisted that Jesus was deity come down to earth and it did not include a blaze of the supernatural, then I would be much inclined toward suspicion.

Likewise, the Bab, Baha’u’llah, Abraham, Moses, Buddha.... They brought the Word of God to mankind. They transformed the souls of Their followers. (Any number of accounts showing the amazing transformations they wrought in the lives of their genuine followers, bear witness.) Their messages have endured for centuries and spread throughout continents.

So, changing people and spreading the religion are marks of the truth? Communism did as much, so "spreading" is not an indicator, and many religions that spread have also subsequently died out, like Zoroastrianism. If "transforming" people were a valid measure, then, again, I would point out purely secular sources of morality and therapy. And if the fruit of these other religions includes inducing persons to follow a false religion, then we'd have some disqualifications here, wouldn't we. And another thing, classical Christianity teaches things at its core that you clearly take as false, but I can point you to a mountain of literature testifying to the transformed lives of its followers.

And one more thing, I am not at all convinced of the virtuous character of Muhammad. It seems to me that he engaged in some rather questionable (to be polite) moral practices, and even his "transformed" followers before and after his death were a rather aggressive bunch. You'll have a long road with me in attempting to sanitize the history of the spread of Islam. And I wonder what controversies relating to the Bab and Baha'u'llah I might find if I look past the Baha'i veneer constructed upon them. I'm sure that anything found can be accused of being the "slander" and persecution of enemies, but how interesting that all parties seem to have a curiously high regard for Jesus and He seems to have escaped the stain of any accusation beyond teaching blasphemy (which claiming to be God most certainly is if not true).

Your main point in this reply seems to be that "By their fruits shall ye know them." This would imply that you justify thinking that a religion (or its founder) has the divine seal of approval if some goodness is exhibited. Of course, what "good" means is up for grabs; it's circular to both define "good" and then vindicate a religion because it meets that criteria. Good by Christian standards would be met by its peaceful spread throughout the Roman controlled empire in the face of persecution in the first couple of centuries. But good by Islamic standards could also be argued to allow for the conquering Muslim hordes across the old Roman Empire in the century after Muhammad's death.

But perhaps it would be more productive to see what the Bible itself says about this "fruit" as long as you bring it up.

"Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." — Matthew 3:30, 7:19; Luke 3:9

Oh my, more of those pesky hell references again.

"And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold." — Mark 4:20

Hmm, no help here, since it's talking about hearing and believing the words that Jesus is teaching.

"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing." — John 15:4-5
"My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples." — John 15:8

Again, no help. These directly tie fruit to Jesus. You could wave your magic Baha'i wand and say that being "in Jesus" and "Jesus' disciple" really means to be in tune with the light that was in Jesus and all the other Manifestations, but that is begging the question and certainly not a concept embedded in these texts (or even in the Bible, for that matter).

"You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit" — John 15:16

Oh my, this sounds downright Calvinistic. That will never do!

Interesting that you quote this:

"And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or, lo, he is there; believe him not: For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect." — Mark 13:21-22

This would seem to suggest that persons like Muhammad and Baha'u'llah, who claim to supersede and/or mirror Jesus, are to be avoided. Scripture does not speak of any other Christs to come, except a return of this same Christ at the end of time, so it is not even a matter of saying that your other Manifestations just simply don't qualify as the "false" kind. The Bible doesn't teach that you should make sure you've got your Christ right; it teaches that there are no other Christs except the false kind, period.

And you also quote this:

"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves." — Matthew 7:13-15

Baha'i is actually suggesting that the gate is wide that leads to... well, whatever, and that there is no gate that leads to destruction (as far as I can tell). It is also attempting to sell us on prophets who teach such things which contradict our Scriptures. Perhaps you can appreciate how far I am from being convinced that Baha'i falls in the stream of truth which is said to include the teachings of Jesus and His disciples.


In the interest of time, I'm afraid I'm going to have to pass on any comments I have relating to your third major post.

 
At 2/07/2007 12:13 AM, Blogger John Bryden said...

Paul,

You made some interesting points, and I could respond to them, but I suggested you have the last word, and I see you've introduced a new topic, confirming that this one has had its run. So I'm happy to leave it at that.

Best wishes.

John

 
At 2/07/2007 8:29 AM, Blogger Paul said...

Didn't mean to suggest anything by posting another item. Just keeping the visitors entertained.

Thanks for the dialog though. This was my first interaction with a follower of Baha'i. I appreciate the opportunity for such an exchange and wish you well. Please feel free to interact with me/us again. As a fellow theist I think you will find me an ally in many areas.

 
At 2/07/2007 10:00 AM, Blogger ephphatha said...

I was starting to think that y'all might break a record after all.

 

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