“Christianity believes it is exceptional, but every religion believes it is exceptional. There have been at least 10,000 religions and 100,000 gods. There were religions that existed before Christianity that do not exist today. In 4000 year’s time, Christianity will not exist and there will be other religions. These are just facts that you have to accept.”
I have been told this many times. When people raise this point, what do you say? What do you do? For ease of communication, let’s call my opening paragraph the “assertion.”
Before looking at what to say, you need to know that it is often hard to say anything when someone makes this assertion. To point out that it is an assertion instead of an argument often just leads to the assertion being made again, or a denial that it is just an assertion.
For many people, the assertion is what is known as a “defeater,” something that simply means Christianity cannot possibly be true. This belief that the assertion is a “defeater” is often so strong, that if your reason against it, then your friend will think you are in denial.
So, I will try to say one or two things, and if there is no engagement with my questions or observations, then I stop. I try to always let my friend have the final word. (Never feel you have to have the last word!).
Then I pray for my friend.
Sometimes this is all you can do. In fact, it is what you always should do. Pray with the hope that the conversation will start again in the future and that there can be a conversation rather than an assertion which does not suspect it has questionable assumptions and is not an argument.
Can the Christian faith respond wisely to the assertion? Yes. Here are several points.
First, the Bible is very aware that there are many religions and that there are many different and contradictory understandings of god and gods.
The assertion assumes that the existence of many religions is a surprise to Christianity and a rebuke to the Christian faith. The assertion also assumes that if one god really existed, then no religion that did not worship him/her/it could exist on earth.
The assertion assumes that if god truly existed, no human being could worship another god. I do not have space here, but the Bible gives a powerful and reasonable account for why many religions exist and why many contradictory gods are worshipped.
In fact, the Bible also wisely shows why the assumptions underlying the assertion are not wise or reasonable.
Second, the assertion assumes that every religion is false.
The assertion never considers that there can be “fool’s gold” and “real gold”; that there can be: glass diamonds, plastic diamonds, “paste” diamonds, zircon and real diamonds; that there can be counterfeit money and real money. Is it not reasonable to think that because there is something real, then counterfeits exist?
In fact, the assertion assumes that the presence of 10,000 religions somehow proves each religion is false. This is like saying that since most “diamonds” are fake, then diamonds do not exist.
Third, I do not mean to offend, but the assertion is lazy.
It sounds “knowing,” but it actually stops you from even embarking on trying to know and understand. You make the assertion, and now you do not have to look and consider the truth claims of any religion. You give your atheism or agnosticism a “pass.” Others have to listen and reason. You can just make an assertion.
Fourth, the fact that most people in every society in all of history tend to believe in gods or god or spirits is a fact of human existence that needs to be accounted for.
How does your friend’s atheism or agnosticism account for this enduring feature of human existence? How does any religion account for this? When this question is asked, the Christian answer is seen as very respectful, very sobering, very wise, and very hopeful—far better than all of the alternatives.
Friends, please pray for your friends. Remember that the assertion is just an assertion, but since it seems reasonable in our culture, its limitations are not seen by those who assert the assertion.
Pray that you will have the courage to bear witness to Jesus. Do not worry about having convincing arguments. Bear witness and pray. Remember the words of Paul in Acts 17, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.”