Sunday, 30 August 2015

5 Things That Make Christianity Unique

In the last blog post I talked about how Christianity is often singled out and criticized more than other religions. Today, I will talk about 5 things which in my opinion make Christianity stand out among the religions of the world:

#5 Christianity Offers A Personal Choice 

Most religions embrace the idea of inheriting religion from ancestors or adopting the faith of the community. This is especially true of Judaism and Islam. Now it is true that many Christians also think that believing parents give birth to believing children, arguing that Christianity was born out of the Jewish religion, and hence the same concept follows.

However, the New Testament clearly cuts across this theology. In Matthew 3, we read how John the Baptist warns his fellow Jews: '
And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’'

But what John the Apostle writes is even more profound:
'He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God
You can become a child of God (see point #2) if you want to. Ancestry plays no part in putting you right with God.

#4 Christianity Talks About Man's True Nature

Unlike the sacred personalities of other world religions, the major figures of Christianity are shown in the Bible not as supermen, but normal human beings vulnerable to all frailties of this species. The Bible candidly talks about the misdeeds of the patriarchs and the prophets instead of resorting to hero worship. Even Jesus had his moments of doubt. 

Christianity talks about human nature as it is. It doesn't shy away from telling its readers about their sins. The Bible claims that if there is a universal human trait, it is sin, and when given the choice, a human being will choose evil over good.

This is why Christianity stresses spiritual purity rather than ritual purity, and talks more about inner change (being 'born-again') as opposed to faith being adopted from external elements. Christianity also doesn't see sin as a product of poverty and illiteracy.

Jesus said:

For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them

#3 Christianity Puts Faith in a Once-and-for-All Sacrifice

Every religion has rituals and practices for purifying the soul and pleasing God. Blood sacrifice is one of them. But unlike sacrifices of other religions that are perpetual, Christianity teaches that the death of Jesus is once-and-for-all. Any one who professes faith in his death regardless of the era s/he is living in will find salvation, and there is no need for continued sacrifices. 

#2 Christianity is a Relationship with God

As stated in point #5, becoming a Christian means that you become a child of God. The Bible talks about God in relational terms. He is our father (Matthew 6:9), husband (Revelation 22:17), sibling (Roman 8:29), shepherd (Psalm 23), and in case you are a feminist, also our mother (Matthew 23:27, Deuteronomy 32:11, and Isaiah 49:15).

In fact, the New Testament teaches that all human relationships emanate from God, so that individual Christians are like a family. The greatest expression of this relational aspect of Christianity comes in the bond of marriage:

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her  

#1 Christianity Follows a Unique Scripture 

Finally, while most religions have their sacred scriptures, the Bible can be distinguished on many fronts:

  • It has the greatest number of fulfilled prophecies
  • It has the greatest number of manuscripts
  • It has been translated into more languages than any other book (and also the most widely read)
  • It has an impressive unity considering that it was written over a span 1500 years
These were a few points that I could think off the top of my head that prove the uniqueness of Christianity, IMHO. 

Sunday, 23 August 2015

The Myth (and Truth) of Christian Uniqueness

What is so unique about Christianity? The answer is, everything and nothing.

Christianity is just one among many religions of the world, and as such, it shares similar characteristics (and flaws with them). Examples include:
  • Misuse of power and money
  • Resistance to science and technology
  • Disagreements, divergences, and sectarianism
  • Intolerance to other systems of belief and non-belief

All this I can concede to as a faithful Christian. It is one thing to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (which is the most basic definition of Christianity), but to deny the inherent problems of organized religion is blindness.

However, the whole concept of Christian uniqueness is widely misunderstood. Christianity being the majority religion for centuries comes under the heaviest criticism as well. The truth is that many of these objections are common to all religions, but they are spoken, published, and broadcasted in a way that Christianity appears to be the most intolerant and unintelligible faith out there.  

For instance, Christianity comes under attack for having no 'fixed canon', i.e. not all churches follow the same set of books. Now, this argument is grossly exaggerated, for it gives the impression that it is a free-for-all game.

The 27 books of the New Testament are the same among all denominations, and so are the 39 books of the Hebrew Bible. The disagreement between the Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox churches is of a few additional books in the Old Testament.

Also consider the fact that no one burned or buried the texts over which there is disagreement (unlike the canon history of another major religion). These books have always been available for all to see and form their opinion.

Source: The Catholic Toolbox
Most importantly, the basic components of the Christian faith (as laid out in the Apostle's Creed) all predate the writing and formation of the Bible as we have it today.

But the thing to be noted is that this 'problem' is not exclusive with Christianity. Consider Buddhism, for example, which also has different canons in Sanskrit and Pali.

And about the problem of violence, well, once again, examples of intolerance and violence are replete in countries with sizable Buddhist populations. As Christians we know how missionaries have been killed there for a long time, but the recent plight of Rohingya Muslims has received widespread global attention.

This comparison may appear meaningless, but it represents an underlying problem in current perceptions of Christianity, especially in the West.

What images come to mind when a person thinks of 'Buddhism' or 'Buddha'? Most people will naturally think of a monk in meditation. A Christian, one the other hand, is almost always perceived as a delusional bigot fighting a lost battle (as evident in many movies, TV shows, and comedy sketches).

People are willing to overlook any association of violence and intolerance in Buddhist-populated countries and freely adopted Buddhist beliefs and practices, especially meditation. The teachings of Buddha are also popular (but are quoted without any historical scrutiny).

However, Christians are always made to apologize for the church's violent past, and we are told that Jesus did not say half of the things in the New Testament, and what he did actually say, well, he did not mean it the way we interpret it! 

With all due respect, if we apply the same historical scrutiny to other world religions, Christianity will always come out on top. 

Consider the fact that the Pali scriptures of Buddhism were written down after the New Testament was completed. By the time the Buddhist scriptures and commentaries were written down (in the 5th century AD), the Bible was copied, translated, and spread across the world, and there are abundant manuscripts from that era to prove its veracity.

In other words, hardly a century elapses between the death of Jesus and the first known text of the New Testament, whereas in the case of Buddism, we are talking about a gap of almost 1000 years.

But popular writers, like Karen Armstrong, easily dismiss these facts by saying things like 'Modern New Testament scholarship has shown that we know far less about the historical Jesus than we thought we did'. And this she writes in her biography of Buddha ('Buddha' pg 19). Ironically, she goes on to refute the same western scholarship when defending Buddhism, because many 'scholars' have doubted the very existence of Buddha!

No one notices the logical problem. In fact, such books make it to the best-seller lists all the time. And we hardly see anyone criticizing or making fun of Buddhism or the person of Buddha on television.
Coming back to the question of uniqueness, I will say that Christianity, in the ultimate analysis, is unique. It is uniquely misunderstood, uniquely criticized, and held to unique standards.

Hopefully in the next blog post, I will illustrate the true ways in which Christianity stands apart from other religions.