Many skeptics believe that all religions are basically the same. If there is an afterlife, they surmise, all that will be required for admission is that you live a "good" life and be "sincere" about your beliefs. My last post offered reasons from the observation of nature that should cause the skeptic some, well, skepticism about this view that all who are "good" and "sincere" will find a place in heaven.
In short, it seems to me that a study of nature actually leads to the contrary conclusion: if nature is our guide to knowledge, then the Author of nature seems to be teaching that getting it right is what matters. Sincerely believing that you can defy gravity won't count for much if you step off the side of a building, no matter how good a life you've lived up til then.
Nature provides many other examples of this lesson. Consider for a moment the way nutrition works. There are a variety of food groups that can provide nourishment, and considerable variety within each food group. Proteins, dairy products, fruits, grains, vegetables - each of these groups has something to add to a person's total nutrition. When taken in the right balance, the person will experience normal growth to adulthood, plenty of energy and overall good health. But when one or more elements is lacking, a person's health can be severely impacted. Take for instance the disease known as scurvy, brought on by the absence of citrus fruits in a person's diet. Many an ancient sailor experienced this lesson the hard way, suffering a variety of physical disabilities that led to a painful death.
Notice that nature does not seem to care how a person was raised. If they learned to eat poorly in their childhood, nature does not take that into consideration in attaching a consequence. Nor is nature concerned with how sincere a person is in believing that his diet is good for him. When medical experts of the '50's assured their patients that smoking was good for them, that did not make smoking any less harmful. Those who study nature should realize that with more education and knowledge, we move beyond what we once believed as we try to conform our beliefs, and our behavior, with the way things really are.
To the thoughtful person then, eating should not be about what dishes he grew up on or about what food makes him feel "good." Most people find chocolate to be quite tasty, and it's known to lift one's mood. But if chocolate becomes a staple item in place of, say, vegetables, then one's health will soon decline. This result will occur regardless of how many experts advise it and regardless of how sincerely the person believes that chocolate can take the place of beans or broccoli. Though considerable variation exists, we cannot eat just anything and if we're smart, we should concern ourselves with finding that right balance of items that will best sustain good health.
Finding this right balance, of course, can be difficult. There is no shortage of "experts" who will tell you that only they have the answers. Yet try we must, for our health hangs in the balance. It would make little sense for us to throw up are hands in frustration and say that these competing "experts" can't all be right, so we'll just keep eating the way we want to, or the way we were raised to, and hope for the best. No, seeking answers and moving closer to "getting it right" are what any thoughtful person should do.
How does this relate to apologetics? When dealing with a skeptic, the believer often encounters apathy. Most skeptics just don't care what Christianity has to say, because they have uncritically accepted the notion that all belief systems are equal. By analogy, they have rejected the idea that some foods are good and some are bad, and replaced it: most people eat what they grew up eating; who are you to say that chocolate isn't as good as broccoli or fish?; I don't believe in citrus fruits; you're so intolerant when you think you know what a healthy diet is? Sound familiar?
Perhaps a discussion of nature might be persuasive, because skeptics often believe that it is only through the study of nature - through science - that any real knowledge can be obtained. That study should lead to the conclusion that nature is quite a harsh professor. It doesn't grade on a curve and it doesn't give partial credit for making a good effort. There is an order to life and to nature, and one must live within that order or suffer some very real, and often very nasty, consequences.
As a Christian, I can take comfort that the Author of nature has provided a rescue plan that makes my choice easy, and my work light. Yes, nature is harsh as a result of man's rebellion, but I have a rescuer who can and will restore what has been broken. There may be a variety of denominations, and there may be differences in some doctrines, but in the end there is one path to reconnecting with God - it is by placing one's trust and faith in Jesus and his saving work. Like many who came before me, I can take great comfort in the knowledge that the heavy lifting has been done for me. But where does the naturalist find comfort when studying the workings of nature? And if nature is this harsh in the here and now, why in the world should the skeptic conclude that it will be any different in the hereafter?
No, the wise choice is to discard this foolish notion that all religions are the same and that all paths lead to God. Better answers are out there, but you'll never find them if you never start looking.