Friday, September 23, 2016

Which Religion?

“Why do you NOT believe in all the other gods, but you believe in yours?”

   That’s a classic challenge I see regularly on skeptic videos and read repeatedly on skeptic websites. Even so, it is a reasonable question from someone for whom all religions seem the same. It deserves an answer. My answer as a Christian is the Bible. But the rationale is not what you probably think.

   There is wisdom in almost all the holy books of major religions. Some of what you read in the other religious books is even close to what you'll read in the Bible. But none of those books is really like the Bible.  Unlike other religious books, the Bible is not simply a collection of wise sayings or religious instructions. The Bible is a story, and it is  one story. 

   It is comprised of what we might better describe as 63 chapters (Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles were written as single books, not in two parts.) That one story displays the unity, coherence, and plot that we would expect of a single story. And it does so with unusual elegance as it combines a variety of genres into that one story.

   I have been a student of literature since I worked on a degree in English literature in college. I taught world literature for fifteen years to high school students. I have also studied the Bible as literature, earning a post grad degree in the Bible about 25 years ago. I am convinced that the Bible is unique in all of world literature.

   But as a story?

   Yes. As a story it has all the features we have come to expect of a story. It begins with an exposition in which the setting, backstory, characters, and conflict are introduced. It has a antagonist, who is introduced as the serpent in Genesis 3, and in the same chapter it foreshadows the appearance of the protagonist, the offspring of the woman.

   The story continues as the conflict develops in what is called rising actionSuspense builds with new clues foreshadowing the appearance of the protagonist. However, while we wait for this mysterious son to appear, there are times when it looks like the serpent will win without a fight by preventing the appearance of the son.

   The tension of the conflict builds until the protagonist, who now has the name Messiah, is revealed.  We know by this point that the Messiah is a king who promises to overcome the serpent and establish a new kingdom. But the outcome of the battle is still in question. The Messiah is attacked by kings who consider him a rival and by the religious establishment who sees him as a threat to their power and  even by storms on the sea.

   Finally, the Messiah protagonist is arrested and through political intrigue is sentenced to death. There is no escape. He is executed. The serpent has won. But no. In a fascinating plot twist the Messiah returns to life.

   This is the crisis or climax of the story, the point at which the plot turns toward resolution. The serpent now seems to be defeated. But not yet. The Messiah is beyond his reach, but he attacks the followers of the Messiah. If the King cannot be killed, the citizens of his kingdom can be. Or if not, they can be prevented from succeeding in establishing the Messiah's kingdom. But no. Every attack by the antagonist is met and overcome (resolved). Despite everything, the King extends his kingdom in the part of a plot called falling action.

   But the serpent does not go away, and there is an inevitable showdown (the book of Revelation) in which the final battle between the serpent and the King occurs. It is the final resolution. The serpent is defeated, and in the denouement of the story, the Messiah's kingdom is established forever.

   It is the epic of human history from the beginning to the not yet realized end. It has been the all time best seller. It ought to be made into a movie. It would be a blockbuster. The author's name would be in lights. But the surprise is that this epic story was written by dozens of human writers.

   They wrote over a period of over 1000 years having no idea that they were writing a story other than the stories of their individual chapters. Many were writing with no knowledge of the outcome of the story. Yet their stories fit together in one developing  plot and foreshadow the events of the final chapter with great detail. How can that be?

   The author of this story cannot be one of the human authors of the chapters, nor can the resulting unified story be the product of an editor. The early chapters (the Old Testament) were collected by editors before the story was completed. The editors had no idea how the climax would develop or how it would end. And the collection of the later chapters (the New Testament) was done not on the basis of how they fit the story but on whether each chapter individually was inspired.

   All of this is written in virtually every literary genre and incorporates virtually all the classic rhetorical tropes and schemes we find in the best literature of our day, all with extreme elegance, so that I am truly amused when someone with no knowledge of or training in literature claims the Bible was written by "Bronze Age goat herders."

   This book is a miracle. There is no other book in all of literature like it. And it is evidence for an author who is divine and who not only knows the future but writes the story of the future. That is why I believe that this God who calls himself Yahweh is the only true God and  the Who that wrote this book. 

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