One of my students I’ve known better than most attended four classes of mine at two different colleges on the way to his degree. He’s crazy smart and always challenges me to think.
As we became friends in recent years our conversations often turned to philosophy and spiritual matters. He considers himself agnostic but only because he knows that calling himself an atheist is self-defeating since it’s a claim of absolute knowledge of the universe, and he’s too smart for such hubris.
A while back we were hanging out at the University of Pittsburgh when he told me about a class he was taking on religion. The professor required students to examine one of the gospels of the New Testament.
“Which one did you pick?” I asked.
“Went with the book of John,” he told me.
“Cool. What did you think?”
He exhaled cigarette smoke and said something that really made me think.
“Well, Jesus kind of seems like an arrogant prick.”
Let me pause for a minute and ask: What would you do with that statement? Do you agree? Does it offend you?
I asked him why he thought that.
My friend said, “He goes around telling everybody that they’re wrong and gets in the faces of the religious leaders.”
“He calls himself ‘the way and the truth and the life’ too,” I offered.
“Yeah, stuff like that,” he agreed.
We had a good conversation about truth, morality, and arrogance after that. These types of conversations often revolve around the basic contention that all religions are basically the same, and why can’t people just pick what’s best for each individual? Also tied up in this debate is usually the idea that Christians think they’re better than everyone else. In other words, Christians are arrogant because we claim to know the only true path to God and heaven.
Aside from the cases of Christians who actually have acted arrogantly over the past twenty centuries, is the claim of Jesus being the only way to God an arrogant statement in itself? Are the claims of Christ in fact immoral?
One thing to consider is that truth has to be exclusive. Like the Highlander, there can be only one. I cannot say that I am a doctor to one person and then walk down the hall and tell another person that I am not a doctor. Both statements cannot be true.
Also, when it comes to belief systems we should remember that every religion has claims of exclusivity. If you say that some ways are right then you’re excluding others. If you say that all ways are right then you’re excluding every system that claims that some ways or only one way is the correct path.
And when you get down to it, calling a belief system wrong is claiming that you are right. Is that not an exclusive, perhaps even arrogant, claim?
The issue isn’t whether or not we like the claims being made but whether they are true and real. If Jesus’ claims weren’t true then he’s delusional or something worse than arrogant. All of my studies and experiences to this point have convinced me that Jesus spoke in love not arrogance. His teachings are consistent and good and for me they are intellectually and existentially satisfying. That’s why I believe them. I have found nothing better or more true.
If you would like to read more about this topic, let me suggest two brilliant, quick reads. The first is called Aren’t All Religions The Same? by Amy Orr-Ewing. Here’s a sample:
“Take a step back and think about what is being said here. Do you see the breathtaking claim that is being made? Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Moses, and Muhammad are all blind, but in fact, I can see! These leaders all had a small perspective, but I am the one who sees the full picture. Now who is being arrogant? It is just as arrogant to say that Buddha, Muhammad, and Jesus were all wrong in their exclusive claims as it is to say that Jesus is the only way. The issue is not about who is arrogant, but what is actually true and real.“
I also highly recommend Aren’t All Religions Equally Valid? by Andy Bannister
If you have thoughts or questions I’d love to hear from you, either in the comments or via my contact page. There’s nothing better to talk about than what we can know about ultimate truth.