TEHRAN – Noting that the Abrahamic prophets were great reformers of their time, a professor of philosophy of the Christian religion says that Christianity and Islam are trying to secularize the world to a religious vision.
“We have so much in common that we should both seek to convert the secular world to a religious view,” Richard Swinburne told The Tehran Times.
“I certainly accept the idea that they were the great reformers of their day.”
The professor of philosophy of the Christian religion at the University of Oxford from 1985 to 2002 believes that the heart of the Abrahamic religions is represented by the worship of one God and the concern for humanity.
“The core of the messages of the Abrahamic prophets is contained in the Ten Commandments. (See Exodus 20); and the prophets continually recalled notions of these commandments, which centered on the obligations to worship one God and care for our neighbors. “
Here is the text of the interview:
Q: What are the main differences between the teachings of the Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) and other religions such as Buddhism? The existence of an omnipotent and omniscient God?
A: Yes. The three Abrahamic religions claim that the universe was created and kept in existence (keeping the laws of nature operational) by an omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good God who freely chooses to do so; and can, if desired, interfere with its regular functioning by setting aside the laws of nature. In addition, these religions are all based on the Scriptures of the Hebrew Bible (which Christians call “the Old Testament”).
Q: Christianity, Judaism and Islam are interrelated religions; Christianity endorses the teachings of Moses and Islam endorses the messages and prophecies of Moses and Jesus. However, history says that these three religions had violent struggles. What are the main causes of such struggles when they have similar roots and origins?
A: The wars between Christian states and Islamic states (and especially the Christian Crusades) were a disgrace to both; just like the persecution of the Jews by (largely, I suppose) the Christian states; and also the persecutions by the Christian States of those Christians whom they considered as “heretics” (of the Protestants by the Catholic States and of the Catholics by the Protestant States).
On the other hand, the spread of Christianity in the Western world during the first five Christian centuries did not involve any use of physical force and was accomplished by the preaching of the Christian gospel and by the example of so many Christians. who suffered cruel death if they refused to deny their faith. (In the words of the historian Gibbon, “the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church.”) The use of force to expand the Church would have been contrary to the example of its founder, Jesus- Christ, who allowed himself to be crucified rather than attempting to impose his views by force. There has been no religious war or persecution of heretics in Christian countries for the past two centuries, and all Christians agree that every human being has the right to practice their religion. I don’t know enough about the history of Islam to know exactly where Islam stands on these issues. But I was led to believe that its expansion in the early Islamic centuries and thereafter was largely the result of military conquest. But Islamic states have been much more tolerant of Christian and Jewish subjects than (in the past) Christian states have been of Islamic subjects. However, some Islamic states today consider it a very serious crime for a Muslim to convert to Christianity or for any Christian to seek to persuade them to do so.
However, there are significant differences between the doctrines of Christians and those of Judaism and Islam – notably, Christians claim that God is a Trinity (three persons of one essence) and that the second person of the Trinity, the Son, was incarnated in Jesus. Christ, lived for 30 years on earth, preaching his gospel, was crucified for this, but rose from the dead after three days; and may his death provide atonement for our sins. These are central claims of Christianity, and therefore unlike central claims of Islam, I see no grounds for convergence of views. Christianity and Islam both believe in the importance of converting others to their faith, so we must each seek to persuade ourselves by rational means of the truth from our different points of view.
Although as a Christian I think Christian doctrines are more likely to be true than other doctrines, and I defend this in my writings, I hope I am open to taking all arguments of Muslims seriously, seeking to persuade me otherwise. However, we have so much in common that we should both seek to convert the secular world to a religious view.
Q: In Islam and Christianity, there is a division between scholars who believe that the existence of God is provable by rational arguments and thinkers who reject rationalist paths emphasizing intuition and non-rational models. to conceptualize the notion of God. Do you approve of the first group (rationalists)?
A: I believe this is a basic principle of epistemology, which I call “the principle of credulity”. that it is always rational to believe that things are as they appear to you – in the absence of counter-evidence. Therefore, if it seems to someone that they have a deep experience of God, it is rational for them to believe it – in the absence of counter-evidence. It is also a basic principle of epistemology, which I call “the principle of testimony” that it is always rational to believe what someone else tells you – in the absence of counter-evidence. . Therefore, if the only people you know tell you that there is a God, it is rational to believe them – unless you have proof to the contrary. But in the modern world, almost all of us are aware of the counter-evidence in the form of people telling us that there is no God or producing arguments claiming to show us that there is no God. . Therefore, almost everyone in the modern world needs arguments to show that there is a God. The production of such arguments is called “natural theology”, and natural theology has always been a part of Christian and Islamic thought; and we need it much more today than in the past. I have written extensively to defend the point that the existence of the physical universe, its conformity with natural laws, the fact that these natural laws lead to the evolution of humans, and humans being conscious, make it probable. that the universe was created and is sustained by God.
Q: How do you respond to the “problem of evil”, which tries to challenge the main monotheistic religions: how could God allow humans to do evil and to suffer?
A: God gives humans free will and the power to make great differences with the world, with others, and with themselves. It is a great gift, but almost inevitably many humans sometimes make bad choices and thus cause a lot of pain and suffering to others. Such suffering, which is the result of either the deliberate choices of a human or of a human neglecting to prevent it, is called “moral evil”. But there is also the “natural evil”, that is, the pain and suffering caused by natural processes that humans have not learned to control until now; these are in particular incurable diseases, accidents and infirmities of old age. If the only choices we had were to deliberately harm or not harm others or to neglect to prevent them from being harmed, many of us would have relatively few opportunities to make serious choices. But the onset of all natural ailments gives each of us a choice – if I have an illness, others have a choice to sympathize with me and try to heal me, or be callous and call me back. ignore: and I have the choice to endure my suffering with patience or to be bitter about it. Humans are so made that every time we make a choice of a certain genre it becomes easier to make the choice of that genre the next time. If we decide to speak the truth when it is very difficult for us to do so, it will be easier to speak the truth next time; and by continually forcing ourselves to speak the truth, we naturally become truth-speaking people. So we can change our characters. So, ailments of both kinds give us choices with important effects for both good and bad, and over time gradually allow us to make good people, or to allow ourselves to become bad people. It is a great gift from God that we are like this, mini-creators, making a difference in the world, for each other and for ourselves. Evils provide these opportunities. If God had arranged the world so that there were no evils, we would not have any serious responsibility for it, and it is good for us that we have this responsibility.
Q: What are the main cores of the messages of the Abrahamic prophets? Some scholars say they were great reformers in their day, but their followers have distorted their messages and teachings over time. What’s your comment ?
A: The heart of the messages of the Abrahamic prophets is contained in the Ten Commandments. (See Exodus 20) Prophets continually recalled notions of these commandments, which centered on the obligations to worship one God and care for our neighbors. They also developed and applied these commandments in various ways. I certainly accept the idea that they were the great reformers of their day, and I do not see at all that their message was distorted in the written texts of the Hebrew Bible.
(The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily reflect those of The Tehran Times.)