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A common criticism of Christianity is that it is too limited in time and space for its claims to be true: Christianity has only been around for a relatively short period of humanity's existence, and has only been prevalent in certain parts of the world. Most people could never have become Christians as they never encountered Christian teachings - so why would being a Christian as established later in history be required for salvation (i.e. Heaven), assuming that God is just?

Intuitively, this argument makes a lot of sense: if most people in history lived without any notion of Christian teachings and Christian God, why would the latter require belief and a certain way of life for people to be be allowed to live in an afterlife they had no knowledge of in the first place? One possible counterargument could be that historical Christian teachings are only to orient and assist people, who are otherwise meant to come to similar (Christian-like) conclusions regarding normative morality on their own. This reasoning, of course, is not without problems as it renders the specifics of Christianity irrelevant and reduces it to the level or mere practical morality. Another possible counterargument is that the interpretation of Christianity assumed in the question is wrong, and that e.g. God can be just while those who are not Christians (for whatever reason) cannot be saved - the problem then becomes about the notion of justice as attributed to God.

Does the problem have a common name in philosophy? Has it been addressed more rigorously by philosophers, particularly from the Christian apologetics perspective? Are there common counterarguments? If so, are they specifically Christian, or could they be used to defend other religions? I'm particularly interested in the work of modern and contemporary philosophers, as well as theoretical analyses of implications of the potential resolutions.

  • The promise of the coming of Christ was made in the 3rd chapter of Genesis, so the roots of Christianity have been with us since the creation. As far as it being limited to a certain region or people, that too is addressed in the Bible as God's prerogative. It's most obvious expression was the choice of the nation of Israel, which was later revealed as foreshadowing the elect in Christ, i.e. God's people as a matter of faith rather than blood. God's initiative in these matters distinguishes Christianity from the false religions of the world as being centered on God rather than on man. – user3017 Feb 7 '18 at 1:30
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    What does it mean "validity of Christianity" ? What does it mean "to be correct" ? – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Feb 7 '18 at 6:50
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA I think it should be quite obvious that this refers to the central tenets of Christianity (as commonly taught) regarding the existence of God and the Heaven, the divinity of Jesus etc. Essentially, this is about the elements of religion that e.g. so-called new atheists are commonly attacking. So "to be correct" would mean that e.g. God exists, and to be wrong would mean that it does not, etc. – w128 Feb 7 '18 at 8:19
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    So why not simply: "true" ? A statement (theory, etc) is true or false irrespective of its "locality". – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Feb 7 '18 at 8:23
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    I'm not entirely sure there's a good question about philosophy in here, but ... we'll see. – virmaior Feb 7 '18 at 8:25
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You have lighted on the soteriological problem of evil (Gk σωτηρία = sōtēria = salvation). This is the evil supposedly inflicted on the innocent in an afterlife - innocent (a) because they have grown up without knowledge of Christ (say, they were pre-Christians) or innocent (b) because they have grown up uncritically but in good faith in another religion. The soteriological problem contrasts with the traditional problem of evil, namely the suffering of the innocent in the present life.

Christian exclusivists hold that there is no salvation without Christ. So for them there is no hope for (a) or (b). Yet there are so far as I can see two ways in which salvation can be granted to non-Christians.

The first is by extending 'ignorance' to other religions. By virtue of their entrenchment in their own religious ways the adherents of other religions are relevantly uninformed. It is not the fault of an individual who has grown up in a non-Christian religious tradition that s/he cannot acquire the mindset in which to take Christianity seriously. Just as there is no suggestion that the Christianly uninformed Moses will be denied salvation since he was ignorant of Christianity, ignorance excuses the relevantly uninformed of other religions. (Moses' 'ignorance' of Christianity was due to his position in time; the 'ignorance' of those of non-Christian religions has a different explanation. But they are equally 'ignorant' from the perspective of this argument.)

The second is by inclusivity, which follows a different route. It is possible to regard Christianity as presenting one face of God, and other religions other faces. God is (if the simile be allowed) like a diamond with many facets. One facet is Christianity, another is Judaism, another is Islam. This is a form of religious pluralism.

Individual Christians will take their own views for or against these two options - these two solutions to the soteriological problem of evil. I outline them here because we are doing philosophy and the two options strike me as conceptually not contradictory to Christianity. Are we to legislate to God, dictating whom God may or may not save ?

My own religious views are of no relevance. When I refer to 'ignorance' I am thinking myself into a possible viewpoint, no more than that. I intend no disrespect to non-Christian religions, many of which will in turn regard Christians as 'ignorant' of the truth of their own religious standpoints.

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    The Apostle Paul declared, "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." That's what Christians have always taught, so your so-called problem of evil has nothing to do with Christianity; it only pertains to those who choose not to believe the Bible. If people spent as much time judging themselves as they do trying to judge God, they would find it much easier to recognized His goodness and mercy. – user3017 Feb 7 '18 at 18:39
  • @Pé de Leão.: scienti cedo . – Geoffrey Thomas Feb 7 '18 at 19:57
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This is what I call the "problem of specificity" as relates to Jesus Christ: Why born in Israel, why human, why male, why Jewish, why born around the year we now call 1 AD, and why living only 33 years? It doesn't seem to reconcile easily with more highly abstract and general philosophical notions of God, such as "the union of all perfections."

But of course, specificity is not just a Christian problem, or even a religious one. Why is pi 3.14159... and so forth? Why is the moon almost exactly the same apparent size as the sun? Why are all the many very specific details and constants of the universe as they are?

Be that as it may, there is a specific orthodox Biblical Christian answer to the original question: According to the gospels, Jesus is co-eternal with God the Father, and therefore not actually limited in time and space, but only seems so in our perceptions. The New Testament further takes it for granted that the Jews (and occasionally other communities) were genuinely in valid relationship with God prior to the earthly advent of Jesus, and even in some kind of relationship with Jesus but without explicitly knowing it. As far as after the advent of Jesus, the New Testament stance is less clear. What does seem clear, however, is that what the New Testament presents as sinful is to reject Jesus and the path to salvation Jesus represents, rather than to never have encountered it (see, for example, the "unknown god" incident in Acts 17).

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This question, like a lot of Christian thinking, suffers from a lack of insight into Judaism. It is the Hellenic tradition that prompted identifying Christ with God, and chose 9 months after spring equinox for Christmas out of synchretism with Sol Invictus. Hel was never mentioned until well after Jesus died, because it's the Norse domain of the unrighteous dead (vs Valhalla).

The Jewish tradition is about a people with a covenant with God, chosen for a purpose. God is explicitly stated to be beyond our conception, with purposes unknowable to us. Moses refers to other peoples having their own relationship with God, and to prophets outside of the Jewish community. They interpret this into, "Righteous people of all nations have a share in the world to come". The Jewish tradition of salvation is more like, being woven onto God's plan, rather than part of a metaphysical carrot-and-stick.

There is not enough discussion within the Christian community of how exegesis has been done, and what the options are. The rabbinical tradition, by opening up much more to questioning, has made for more coherent and consistent interpretation.

This soteriological problem of evil, not only causes problems like Dante having to put Aristotle and others in the first circle of Hell. But much more widely, assuming aliens are found to be as common as expected, for uncountable billions of species including those in parts of the universe beyond our light cone, so literally impossible to ever interact with.

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    Since this question is explicitly about the religion of Christianity, not Judaism, it is difficult for me to perceive the relevance of your answer. – Chris Sunami Feb 8 '18 at 17:04
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If we regard Christianity as unique among other unique religions then it will appear to be incomprehensible, arbitrary, idiosyncratic and probably implausible. If we buy into those teachings of the Church that make it idiosyncratic then it will be so. By adopting this perspective Feynman is led to voice the criticisms you make, viz. the play is too small for the stage. A naive view of religion leads to easy objections.

But if we interpret Christianity as merely another version of the 'True Religion' underneath all the ecclesiastical clutter then these criticism evaporate. Nobody could call this Christianity too small for the stage unless, like Feynman, they simply do not know it.

The difficulty of answering the question is caused by the various forms of Christianity. Your criticism are unanswerable for some forms of it but are toothless for other forms.

If we take,say, the book 'A Course in Miracles' or the 'Mystical Theology' of the pseudo-Dionysius then these criticisms are easy to answer, but I have a feeling you're speaking of what we are taught in school about our religion and in this case I'd say the criticisms stand.

The issue is much wider than ethics. The entire metaphysical scheme of Christianity is undermined by your criticisms, and also the entire plausibility of religion. It would take us off-topic to delve into this, but if you start making objections to the 'commonplace' Christianity of the masses then it's like shooting fish in a barrel. This should make us wonder whether this is actually a sensible interpretation of the teachings. It is not forced on us, but to get past it would require that we adopt a more esoteric and gnostic interpretation, an interpretation the Church as an institution considers heretical.

So, the answer to the question will depend on our interpretation of the teachings. We can choose one which makes them absurd or one that makes them sensible. The idea that it is limited in time and space only arises if we forget that by a common view Christianity teaches that time and space are reducible and metaphysically-speaking illusory. The idea of 'size' and 'extension' would be a mistake when viewed as fundamental features of Reality - as is the most widespread view in religion.

  • @PédeLeão - Did you read my comment carefully? I did not say that Christianity is incoherent but that a certain interpretation is incoherent. I believe the teachings are true so your objection seems to be unnecessary. You may, of course, not agree with my interpretation but that's another issue. . . – PeterJ Feb 8 '18 at 13:37
  • Yes, I misread what you said. Comment withdrawn. – user3017 Feb 8 '18 at 13:42
  • @PédeLeão - No problem. – PeterJ Feb 9 '18 at 13:31
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A common criticism of Christianity is that it is too limited in time and space for its claims to be true: Christianity has only been around for a relatively short period of humanity's existence, and has only been prevalent in certain parts of the world.

I must not be understanding what you're saying, because this makes no sense at all. Is World War II too limited in time to be true? Is Vatican City too limited in space to be true? Of course not. Historical events take place in time and space in exactly how much time and space they take.

The central claim of Christianity is a historical one: that a man, Jesus of Nazareth, was God incarnate, who lived in Judea, died, and rose again. It is inherent to this belief, that God became a true human person, that Jesus is limited to that time and place. That claim can be evaluated for its historicity (at least to the extent of whether such a man existed and died).

  • It is not the historicity of the things you mention that is debated, but that Christianity (as commonly explained) teaches that a just God exists and that a belief in this God and Jesus is required for salvation (among other things), i.e. afterlife. Yet most people in history never even knew about these things, so how could they possibly be Christian? What happens to them? See answer by Geoffrey Thomas. So there is a potential contradiction here. Your analogies are invalid as they refer to mere factual existence of verifiable events and places, not contradictions in the content. – w128 Feb 8 '18 at 10:08
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    @w128. But there is no contradiction unless you falsely assume that everyone must know about those things. That it not anywhere taught as a doctrine of Christianity, so it is only an inconsistency in your imagination. As I pointed out above, Geoffrey's answer is also invalid as for that very reason. – user3017 Feb 8 '18 at 10:23
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    @PédeLeão I based this question on one common interpretation of Christianity in order to explain an argument that is often used against it. It is not my intention to assume anything, but to try to evaluate the validity of such arguments and to learn more. If you believe that the very assumptions the criticism is based upon are wrong, that's perfectly fine and I would appreciate it if you explained that in an answer. – w128 Feb 8 '18 at 10:43
  • @w128 You could explain better what you mean in the question, because phrasing it as being too limited in time and space really doesn't make sense. – curiousdannii Feb 8 '18 at 11:19
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    @w128. I think it would be better for you to take responsibility for your own false assumptions. You don't need anyone to explain to you why they are pure invention. You can figure that out for yourself. – user3017 Feb 8 '18 at 12:26

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