- The believers are the smart folk who are able to look at the world and really figure out the underlying reality behind appearances.
Problem: If this were the case, we would expect to see all those with high IQs in church on Sunday, and everyone else boozing it up in the local bar watching pro football. Test scores would match religious affiliation and a roster of world chess champs would provide us with the names of leading bishops and cardinals in Rome. This option is clearly out.
- Believers are the sincere folks. Anyone who wholeheartedly seeks the one true Way with all their heart is sure to find it.
Problem: It would then follow that only people of certain nationalities have a high capacity for sincerity. There would be entire swaths of the world population, say in Yemen (overwhelmingly Muslim) or Myanmar (overwhelmingly Buddhist), who are almost incapable of sincerity. The American South, on the other hand, must be chocked full of sincere truth-seekers. Of course, this runs completely counter to our experience if we leave our provincial little town in Alabama and travel anywhere else. We meet sincere Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus, people so sincere in fact that they give up everything in life to pursue religious truth, people for whom virtually every waking moment is pregnant with religious devotion or inquisative awareness.
- God simply took out a book, wrote down all the people who were going to get saved, and tossed the rest of the names down to his co-conspirator in the basement.
Problem (?): This is perhaps the most logical solution and one that many will accept as doctrinally consistent. The problem of course is that it belies the "sincere" efforts of all who work to convert us soul-less people not written in the Book of Life. If we ain't in it now, we never will be. Hell, you might as well just drop bombs on us and take our resources away, cause we don't matter. This so-called solution really isn't a solution at all since it doesn't leave any space for moral indeavor or religious insight.
In the end, I think this problem of how the chosen are chosen is a koan for our times, and as such, is actually more daunting than the traditional brain-teaser of theodicy (i.e., how a benevolent, omniscient deity allows evil to occur.)
There's a strange confluence of religious-related posts in the blogosphere at Viking Zen, Wildhunt, Pharyngula, Chuck Currie, Mirror of Justice, Blogicus, Get Religion (offering a Pagan view), The Objectivist Club at the University of Utah, Dispatches from the Cultural Wars, Dummies for Idiots, and Toni Saint's blog. (Is it a sign from the Heavens?)