Steve Maitzen’s response to my critique is brief and to the point: “Your proposal invites the same generic reply I gave on p. 182 of my article: You make belief in God (or belief in Jesus) out to be of no particular importance for salvation, a view that’s hard to square with much of the New Testament.”
But hold on a minute. I based the proposal on the explicit teaching of Jesus when he addressed the question of how to be saved. It is also consistent with many other passages and characters in the Bible. Consider for instance the place of Job, the most righteous man of his time according to the book. So out of the gate this proposal has solid biblical credentials.
What is more, my proposal is consistent with the views of Christians from Justin Martyr to Ulrich Zwingli down to Karl Rahner (the most important Catholic theologian of the twentieth century). To top it off, it is also consistent with the official teachings of the entire Catholic Church post-Vatican 2. (That’s a billion Christians right there.) So you certainly cannot call this proposal a fringe deviation of an out-of-touch academic.
Finally, it is a very plausible view which accords well with the intuitions of very many people. (Consider the classic question: will Gandhi really burn in hell forever because he didn’t become a Christian during his life? This strikes many people as very implausible and this proposal puts its finger on the reason why.)
So to sum up, I have presented a rebuttal to Steve Maitzen’s argument that naturalism best explains the demographics of the world religions. I did so by proposing (based on biblical, theological, and historical argument) that salvation consists in the life lived rather than the set of propositions believed. Thus I proposed with Maitzen that a complex nexus of psychological and sociological factors provide a background explanation for the acquistion of belief, but I added that it is fully consistent with the omnibenevolence of God to see the divine plan working through this patchiness in the religious landscape.
So now my question: why should I accept Maitzen’s claim that naturalism best explains the distribution of religious belief? Why not say instead that it involves an omnibenevolent theism operating through the same causes identified by Maitzen? And so it seems to me that his defeater fails.
Maitzen also takes me to have a latent conviction that belief is necessary, if not sufficient, for salvation:
“There’s evidence that you share this worry, since you write, “Thus, to be saved is, according to Jesus, to love one’s neighbour like a Samaritan, not simply to believe like a Pharisee (or a Calvinist).” Your use of “simply” suggests that belief is, after all, a necessary condition for salvation even if it’s not sufficient. If belief isn’t necessary for salvation, then what is “simply” doing there?”
No latent conflict of convictions exists. I mean what I said about the life lived taking priority over the set of propositions believed. (And I argue for this in You’re not as crazy as I think.) So what is the “simply” doing there if not to signal indecision? In point of fact, it is there to prod those who take what I see as a reductionistic view of salvation. Nothing more. Consider a parallel:
Eddie Van Halen speaking to his son Wolfgang: “You think that being a rock star is simply about buying the flashiest guitar.”
In fact, Eddie is not saying that it is about buying the flashiest guitar + something more. Rather, he is saying it isn’t about that at all. That’s essentially the same as my use of “simply”.