In a recent comment, Mike Parker quoted a passage on religious prejudice from Daniel Peterson’s 1993 article, “ Chattanooga Cheapshot, or The Gall of Bitterness: Review of Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Mormonism by John Ankerberg and John Weldon.” I’d like to share it with everybody as food for thought:
In Cairo some years ago, I spoke at length with a Muslim chemistry professor at the University of Cairo. He was astonished when he learned that I was a Christian. “Do you really,” he asked, incredulously, “believe that God had a Son, and that he allowed that Son to be murdered in order to buy himself off?” After expressing some reservations about how he had expressed the doctrine of the atonement, I replied that, yes, I did believe precisely that. “Oh!” he exclaimed. “How can any intelligent person believe in such nonsense?” Well, the fact is that highly intelligent people have accepted Christianity. (Origen, Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal, and Kierkegaard are among those who come immediately to mind.) But it was thought-provoking to find that my most sacred beliefs seemed insanely ludicrous to a highly educated outsider. It was enlightening to find Christianity, for once, in the minority, and Christian assumptions questioned as less than self-evident. How many times have I heard people say things like, “How can any intelligent person believe in Islam?” or “How can any intelligent person be a Catholic?” Yet people like al-Ghazali and Iqbal and Ibn Khaldun have been Muslims, and the Catholic Church has claimed the loyalty of such people as Cardinal Newman and G. K. Chesterton and Jacques Maritain. Reflecting on this, and on my own experience as an Islamicist, I have come to formulate what might be termed Peterson’s First Rule for the Study of Other Religions: If a substantial number of sane and intelligent people believe something that seems to you utterly without sense, the problem probably lies with you, for not grasping what it is about that belief that a lucid and reasonable person might find plausible and satisfying.
Let’s remember this next time we are tempted to mock another religion.