Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Random Righteousness

At the heart of Cooper’s faith and sense of righteousness was his firm belief that Jesus Christ is the singular pathway to salvation. He made reference to a biblical dictum that says that in order to be saved you must declare with your mouth and in your heart that Jesus Christ is your personal Lord and Savior. Baring that declaration, a person is doomed to damnation. Cooper was reluctant to say that outright, but in the end he coyly said, “Yeah. I guess so, if you don’t accept Christ you’re damned.”

In my view this doomsday edict is undermined by the randomness of human circumstance. A person’s particular faith and spiritual orientation is significantly influenced by the family and social circumstances into which they are born. Both of those enormously powerful developmental influences are random. Cooper could no more choose to grow up in a subdivision with super Christian parents than I could choose to grow up with super Christian parents in Brooklyn with a church on every block. The whole process by which we became conscious of ourselves took place under a Christian social order. Our Hindu or Muslim analogs who are born in India or Indonesia have a spiritual orientation that is equally a consequence of the circumstances of their birth – over which they have no control. Is salvation then, dependent on the randomness of birth?

According to Cooper, those people have the opportunity to learn about the opportunity for salvation, shed their spiritual belief system and accept Christ. That is why he spends time spreading the Word, so that they will be informed. I find this argument painfully simple when it comes from people who do not know anything about the other major religions. Quite in keeping with my stereotype of him, Cooper did not. In fact, he was momentarily confused about whether the Torah and the Koran were associated with Judaism and Islam respectively or vice versa. He himself did not make an informed decision to accept Christ. He accepted Christ, in part, because that is all he knew. His options were Christ or no Christ; not, Christ or Allah or Shiva. That constitutes a faith randomly determined. Had he been born Saladeen Amatuallah on the outskirts of Mecca his deep seated spiritual belief system and the anchor of his faith would almost certainly be different. Not only would his spiritual belief system be different, it would be equally strong and likely far more disciplined. The only difference is circumstance, the randomness of birth, yet one is damned and the other saved.

Cooper didn’t really have a response for that. “I don’t know, I guess I just know that Christ is right,” he said. In a classroom when it boils down to, “I don’t know, I just know,” nine teachers out of ten will assume you just guessed. If you have no further explanation than that, the random nature of the selection is apparent.

I would never argue against the power of revelation. As a consequence of that, it is easy for me to accept those that believe that Christ is the path to salvation. I have trouble, however, when that revelation is coupled with ignorance of the possible alternative paths and an adamant declaration that those unknown paths are not righteous. Faith can be the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. It ought not be the prosecutor of things unknown and the constraint on human variation.


1 comment:

chris said...


Sadly what Cooper clearly does not know is that Judaism, Christianity and Islam are three religions stemming from the same Abrahamic God of the Old Testament and as Richard Dawkins points out "all three Abrahamic religions can be treated as indistiguishable."

He (and you too if you have not already done so!) should read Professor Dawkins book 'The God Delusion' which deals with the very points you raise in this blog, along with many others that would be troubling to Cooper, succintly and diligently. He grapples with many of the misconceptions about religion, faith and the burden of circumstance in making informed choices.