TalkLeft is upset by Jerry Falwell’s “latest knucklehead theory” that Jews and Muslims won’t get to heaven. Which is a little weird, because I always supposed that the “knucklehead theory” was pretty much a mainstream view: Belief is a prerequisite for salvation, and not just any old Belief—in Vishnu or Allah or Baal or even Jehovah-sans-messiah, but the Jesusy kind. The Bible doesn’t seem terribly ambiguous on this point; John 4:16 has J.C. saying “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Now, for very good essentially strategic reasons, it seems like the bien-pensant consensus now is that the major religions all, somehow or another, have nice moderate mainstream versions that cohere nicely with the underlying principles and values of liberal democracy. And insofar as there are plenty of religious folk out there, I’m happy enough that this notion has some currency. But someone who suggests that perfectly decent, kind, good people will be tortured for eternity for having the wrong religion is not necessarily, it seems to me, a crazy extremist warping the warm and fuzzy tenets of his faith. The view, of course, is extremely repugnant—but it doesn’t follow that it isn’t therefore an authentic tenet of the religion. Most of the major religions seem to assert things at least that crazy, sometimes crazier—it’s the moderate, reasonable version that requires some torturing of the text to get at.
I guess I’m mostly glad that people are willing to do the torturing—that the impulse to be a reasonable person who can get on with other reasonable people trumps the impulse to interpret the “revealed truth” in the most obvious or natural way. But I’ve always sort of wondered what the point is. If the idea is that the “revealed truth” is supposed to trump your fallible human judgement, then why filter that revelation through what seems decent and reasonable to you? Why not either follow the revelation in its full, crazy glory, or just dispense with it altogether and admit you’re being guided by your own sense of what’s decent and reasonable?