My friend George sent me a direct message on Twitter with this question. My answer quickly became too long for that medium so I put it in a blog post. Props to George for asking such a great question.
George wrote: What do you think of this quote, I see a lot of truth to it…. “Isn’t it a remarkable coincidence almost everyone has the same religion as their parents? And it always just happens to be the right religion. Religions run in families. If we’d been brought up in ancient Greece we would all be worshiping Zeus and Apollo. If we had been born Vikings we would be worshiping Wotan and Thor. How does this come about? Through childhood indoctrination.” Richard Dawkins
It’s great to hear from you George! And that’s a really great question too. I’m not a scholar or a genius by any means, I’m just a regular guy who loves Jesus so all I have to offer are my own thoughts based on what I’ve learned over the last few years. The following is just the way I think about this question.
So for me it starts with the credibility of the Christian scriptures. If they’re false, then we’re left looking for God in other places. But if they’re true, then they’re true. If they’re true, even though I don’t understand why God would allow all these other religions in all these other cultures and in the families who live within those cultures, they, the Christian scriptures, are still true.
Concerning the reliability of the scriptures, I’ve been influenced by C.S. Lewis, because he was an expert in mythology, fluent in Greek, the original language of many of the myths, including those listed by Mr. Dawkins. So he was fluent in Greek and he even wrote in the original language of the Viking myths (also listed). As a professor at Oxford and Cambridge Lewis read myths every day. And he said of the gospels, “I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this.”
Lewis was an atheist until he became convinced of the reality of Christianity through his own expert recognition of the Christian scriptures as genuine. (And also through the influence of his friend J.R.R. Tolkien.)
And I agree with Lewis. I’m convinced that the gospels are real: that they’re reliable documentation of historical events. So if they’re true, and if Jesus is who he says he is, then there’s nothing to do but hang on Jesus’ every word, because he’s the Son of God. Which brings us back to Mr. Dawkin’s comment about the families who believe in other religions.
The problem with that thinking is, if something is true, then it doesn’t matter what a given family or culture believes. It’s like when a lot of cultures around the world believed in bloodletting to cure diseases. The bloodletting often killed the patient. If you happened to be born into a family of a culture that bought into bloodletting, you had a problem if you fell ill. The truth is, bloodletting does more harm than good, and sometimes kills. That’s the truth regardless of what your family or culture believes.
It’s a difficult thing but in the end each of us is responsible for the truth whatever our families or culture happen to believe. I happen to be raised by a dad who was agnostic, leaning toward atheism. And I was an atheist through my teens. But as an adult, I was responsible to do my own research concerning the question of God, and I did. And from what I found, I came to believe the Christian scriptures are true and so I became a follower of Jesus.
Here’s something else: according to Jesus, it’s apparent that some people born into Christian families won’t be accepted into heaven. He said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (See Matthew 7:21-23)
And Jesus also said to the Jews that some of them would be left out, “And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:22-30)
“…from east and west, and from north and south…” So people will come into the kingdom of heaven from all over the world, regardless of which family or culture they were born into. Earlier in this same passage Jesus also makes reference to some in heaven who lived and died before Jesus’ incarnation. (Check out Luke chapter 13)
So George, for me, I guess what it really comes down to is do I agree with the way God is running the universe. Do I agree with the way He set this up. I know I wouldn’t do it this way if I were God. But if you think it through, it doesn’t make sense that we would understand how the Creator of all there is does things. He’s the One who created quarks, and black holes, and oceans, and mountains, and atoms, and electrons, and clouds, and comets. He created the 100 trillion cells that make up my body. He’s the One who created 100 billion galaxies. So there’s no way we’re going to understand everything about the God who created all that. It’s not surprising that we often don’t understand how He does things. What would be surprising is if we did understand everything the Creator of the universe does.
For me the real issue is, can I trust God? And for me, I believe He is perfectly fair, perfectly just, perfectly merciful, and perfectly loving. Whatever He does with the souls of the world, I trust Him to do what’s best.
That’s just how I see it George.
Hope this helps.
Your friend and brother in Jesus,