Before you read this post, please take a good look at this map of world religions. It makes me wonder… If I had been born in the Middle East, would I have grown up believing in Islam? What if I had been born in India? Would I have grown up as a Hindu? Or what if I had been born at a different time–say 1,000 years ago? Would I have believed in some ancient Native American religion? The answer to all three questions is the same: Probably so.
These questions didn’t occur to me until a couple years after I rededicated my life to Christ. I knew there were many other religions, but I didn’t know much about them. Only that they were wrong. But how did I know they were wrong? I realized that the main reason I believed in Christianity is because I had been taught to believe it as early as I could remember, long before my critical faculties had finished developing.
As a Christian, I knew the Bible was the word of God. Not only was it the most amazing book ever written, there was archaeological evidence that proved it was true. Right? Well, that depends on who you ask. Talk to Muslims and they will tell you the same things about the Koran. Talk to Hindus and they will tell you the same things about the Vedas.
This really surprised me. Famous Christian apologists such as Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel had convinced me there were plenty of reasons to believe the Bible. But it turned out all the other major religions have their own apologists who also use logic and archaeological evidence to “prove” their holy books are true. How was I supposed to figure out who was right and who was wrong? I could literally spend the rest of my life studying the world religions and the writings of their apologists and still not learn everything. It’s an impossible game. Despite my doubts, I continued to pray and worship Jesus. Religious beliefs don’t usually change overnight.
My doubts were assuaged whenever I saw God working in my life and in the lives of others. Seeing how the Holy Spirit influenced little things throughout the day really reaffirmed my faith. But then in college I met a guy who believed in karma. He was absolutely certain karma was real because he had seen it working in his life and in the lives of others. Of course, I thought he was deluding himself. But if his view of karma was the result of confirmation bias, how did I know my view of the Holy Spirit wasn’t biased as well?
Impossible. I knew God was real because he had answered so many of my prayers. Like the time I prayed I would find a new vehicle in time for my move to Oklahoma. The next day I found an old truck for $2200 which was exactly what I could afford. Or the time I prayed for a job where I could have Sundays off. Eventually, I got hired to work in a stock room where they didn’t need workers on Sundays. Then again, there were many times when I didn’t get what I prayed for. But I always assumed that meant the answer was “no” or “wait.” But how did I know that?
It’s not like Christians are the only people who pray. At work I met a Wiccan who prayed almost everyday. Most Wiccans prefer meditation, but this one said she prayed to the Triple Goddess to bless her friends and family and to give her guidance. Her prayers were very similar to Christian prayers, and she insisted they were regularly answered (yes, no, or wait).
But I had better proof than answered prayer–I had felt God’s presence. There were countless times when I experienced a sort of warm, spiritual hug while I was praying. Sometimes it felt so wonderful that it brought me to tears, especially when I worshiped God. When I sang to him, I could sense him smiling down at me. And when I spoke to him, he spoke back with a still small voice in my head. I knew Jesus was Lord because because I had experienced him firsthand.
Then I learned that people from many other religions have the same sort of experiences–Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Taoists, Wiccans, and a dozen others. Even New Age types had spiritual experiences. Were Christians really the only ones having genuine experiences, or was it possible that people of all faiths and beliefs were deluding themselves?
If divine providence, prayer, and spiritual experiences couldn’t be counted as proof, then I knew there must be other reasons to believe. So I ordered several Christian apologetics books and read them cover to cover. I was very disappointed. These books are great for people who are already strong believers and only want to reaffirm their faith, but they are not good for people who want proof. And that’s because Christian apologists have no proof. They have lots of fancy-sounding arguments, but when you look at these arguments objectively it becomes obvious they are ad hoc explanations that require cherry picking Bible verses and twisting their meanings (and often they don’t even have any Biblical support).
It soon became clear that all I had left was faith. But why should I put my faith in Christianity? Because I was born into it? Was I really so lucky that I just happened to be born into the one true religion (and the correct denomination within that religion) out of hundreds? It seemed a little suspicious. Christianity was the most popular religion, so there was already a good chance I would be born into a Christian family. But just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s true.
Even if Christianity was true and I was just lucky, how was that fair to all the billions of people who were born into families that taught them the wrong religion? How could God condemn a young Muslim man for believing in Islam when his family believes it, his teachers believe it, his friends believe it, and 90% of the people around him believe it? Can this man be blamed for rejecting Jesus? For not being born in the right place at the right time?
If you’re a Christian, how would you feel if you died and went to the Muslim Hell? You’d probably cry, “It’s not fair! How was I supposed to know?” Indeed. So how are Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, and others supposed to know? Say they are without excuse all you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that if you were born into a different country with a different religion, you would apparently be “without excuse” too.