This page is a partial answer to an extended letter on another page, Difficult Questions:  How Can the Truth Be as Young as Christianity?  The reader may wish to refer to that page for a better understanding of the background of this one.  This is the only page of answers to this question, but the beginning of an extended correspondence, presented in several other letters.

  Christianity is, of course, the followers of Jesus; yet could it have existed before He was born?

  "My question to you is, how can you believe in intercession and the exclusiveness of your own religion when other faiths outdate your own by millennia?"

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  You specifically asked about my position on the unique nature of Christianity as, in the view of Christians, the only true religion.  First, I hope that the comments were not in any way offensive.  The target audience for that article (Confessions of a Dungeons & Dragons Addict) is Christians, and to a certain degree reflects the mindset of the readers, a necessary starting point for the argument in presents.  After all, if I began by saying that they were wrong about the basics of their faith, I would have lost the argument before I began.  It of necessity must begin with the premise that I agree on all the essentials of the faith in order to then argue that they are mistaken in this particular.  In short, you aren't the target audience, and I never considered whether any comment therein would be offensive to someone from your background.

  Of course, this would be sidestepping the real issue.  It is of less concern to you whether we as Christians express such an opinion where it will confront you as compared with whether we in fact believe it--and we do.  It is not at all uncommon for religions to include exclusivity among their doctrines, and since Christianity does regard itself this way and holds to a monotheistic viewpoint, it follows that the gods recorded in the Deities & Demigods volume (which includes ancients such as Odin, Zeus, and Dagda as well as entirely invented modern ones such as Cthulu and Arioch) must be fictitious, and therefore false.  But to reduce the awkwardness of the statement somewhat, consider that whatever the faith of the reader, we would all agree that at least some of the deities contained in that volume are not real, even if (at the extreme) the only ones we view as fictional are those drawn from modern fiction never worshipped by anyone.  Thus the volume must be agreed to contain a significant number of "false gods", even from your perspective.  So the statement is not so egregious as you suggest.

  But we need to reach the heart of your objection.  You ask how I can believe in the exclusiveness of Christianity when other faiths outdate it "by millennia".

  The first reply is that there is only one thing which matters about a religion.  It does not matter whether a religion is old, or current; it doesn't matter if it makes you feel good, or if it comforts you.  Whether your parents or grandparents or ancient ancestors believed what you believe is not a relevant question; nor is whether it is popular or despised.  The only question relevant to whether you should believe a particular religion is whether it is true.  If something is true, then quite logically that which directly contradicts it must be false.  If (as is the case) one of the tenets of a religion is that it is the only way of salvation (a claim made by the Bible), then if you accept that religion as true, you intrinsically believe any statement otherwise, any other religion, as false.

  The second answer is that Christians would disagree with your assessment of the age of our faith.  The Bible on which our faith is based stretches back to traditions from the dawn of history.  There is redactive evidence within the oldest history recorded within it which suggests an oral tradition dating from well before recorded history.  It is more than a book of ideas and ethics; it is the history of God dealing with man from the dawn of time.  The Christian faith presents itself as the continuation of those dealings and the completion of a plan which God made from the beginning.  It believes that when God told the first woman that her descendant would defeat the tempter, that was a prediction of the coming of Jesus Christ.  The fact that He came a mere two thousand years ago does not mean that our faith began then; it only means that it continued to be revealed over the ages, with a major installment at that time.

  I understand that you view Jesus as the founder of Christianity.  There are those who view Luther as the founder of Lutheranism, Calvin as the founder of Presbyterianism.  But Lutherans and Presbyterians would disagree; to them, they are the continuation of the same faith which came down from ancient times--Luther and Calvin clarified that faith, revealing aspects of it which were perhaps poorly understood, or forgotten by some.  Certainly, Jesus is more important to Christianity than either Luther or Calvin, and that which He revealed and clarified is of far greater import.  It is also true that He is part of that truth in a greater way than anyone before or since.  He did not claim to be a prophet or a teacher, but actually to be God present in human form, and He acted in ways completely consistent with that claim.  Also, the coming of Jesus was predicted many times in the revelation of previous millennia; Luther and Calvin were not predicted, and made no claims regarding their own place in the revelation of God.

  But there is another reason why Christianity, if true, must be exclusive.  It is distinct from every other religion in a few critical ways (ways which many Christians fail to grasp).  The central message of Christianity has nothing to do with ethics and conduct, but with relationships.  It claims that God is reaching out to man, that man rejected God, committing what is in essence a capital crime, but that God has made a way to remain just while absolving man of the guilt for that crime:  He volunteered to pay the penalty Himself, and did so, dying in a most painful way.  But it doesn't say, "there, now be good from now on"; it says that He will change you, (dare I say magically?) transforming you into what He wants you to be.  It isn't about what you do; it's about loving God.  In fact, Augustine summarized the gospel, the core message of Christianity, with the words, "Love God, and do what you please."  No other religion is about God trying to save man from himself because He loves us.

  If that is the truth about God, any faith which suggests otherwise is mistaken.  Of course, the question remains as to whether it is the truth.  There are many reasons why I believe it; but I will give you one.

  Jesus of Nazareth, according to the historical records, claimed to be God.  Biographies written by his contemporaries which have survived intact to the present show us a man who at every turn acted within that belief.  He told sinners that He was forgiving them for offenses committed against God (which would only matter if he was the one offended).  He claimed that the power by which He healed the sick and worked His many miracles was the power of God within Him.  He taught with His own authority--He never said that God had told him something, and he never cited other teachers, but merely spoke as if He had the right to explain the truth as one who knew it first-hand.  It is inescapable that He presented Himself as God, alive in the earth.

  To meet the objections before they are raised, His life is independently corroborated by non-Christian sources (with less detail, certainly, but adequately to confirm his existence).  One historian has said that there is no fact in all of history so well attested as that Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday in the early 30's of our calendar (the years of many events during that period are a bit unclear, because they tracked years in several different ways and did not record them consistently throughout the Roman Empire).  The biographies in the New Testament, once accused of being later inventions attributed to earlier authors, have been proved to date from the lifetime of His contemporaries.  Fragments of copies from the late first century have been found.  This is unlike documents which claim miraculous abilities for other religious figures.  Many of them are mythical in their very nature, reporting events which did not happen at any particular time; others report on historic figures, but are composed hundreds of years after these individuals died, providing little credibility to their contents.  The documents of the New Testament are very different, having an historical authority greater than almost any documents before the current millennium.

  That said, we come to the issue.  Given that the documents are strongly credible, and all independently present a man who talked and acted as if he were God on earth, we must ask ourselves who he is.  Was this man who challenged our ethical and moral understanding of ourselves, who forced us to see that much of what we thought good was inadequate, lying and deceiving everyone around him with a pretense that he was God?  Was this insightful genius who showed such great compassion for all around him merely a madman, insanely believing himself to be God?  Or was He quite literally God incarnate?

  And as we ask this question, we must also realize that scores of men and women in the first century, many of whom knew Him personally during His life, died in the belief that He was God, and that He had died and came back to life by the power of His own divinity--including all of the members of His inner circle (save one) who might have been involved in any hoax, who could have saved themselves from horribly painful deaths merely by confessing that it was a lie; and including a large number of people who did not believe or follow Him during His life, but who claimed that they were convinced by meeting Him after his death.

  So if Jesus is neither a madman nor a villain, then He must be God; and if He is God, then the Christian faith must be true; and if the Christian faith is true, all others must be false insofar as they contradict it, and lacking in whatever they fail to include of it.

  Don't misunderstand me.  I'm not some narrow-minded religious fanatic trying to push my beliefs down the throats of others.  I'm an intelligent open-minded intellectual who happens to be convinced of the truth of one religion which happens to be exclusive.  I have many friends who do not agree, and no one has ever said of me that I am inflexible or overbearing about my beliefs.  I understand reality the way I understand it, and explain it from that understanding, and that includes that God created all we know, and explained much to us through His revelation of Himself.  I do not think I have all of the answers to everything, although I do have more answers now than I did two decades ago.

  I hope this helps.  Thanks again for your note.

--Mark Young

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