I have enjoyed reading many of your exchanges. I am a "catholic" by upbringing, but am generally agnostic by virture of knowledge and observation. I can't wrap my mind around a concept of a God who plays favorites. Why would God "choose" the Hebrews? I guess he doesn't like the Chinese or Native American's nearly as much as Greeks and Europeans, since for thousands of years he let them live without any chance of hearing or knowing His revelation. What of the Inca child born and raised to be a good sun-worshiper? Did he have the same chance as a child born at the same time elsewhere who by circumstance of birth became an apostle or disciple of Christ? This seems utterly absurd.
I have two children--I don't chose to give the benfit of my wisdom (limited as it is) to one while ignoring the other. If I did, what sort of parent would I be? Is this not the kind of "father" our Judeo-christian tradition makes God out to be? Thus religion must be merely a cultural artifact, since an omnipotent and loving God would reveal Himself equally to all His children. In point of fact there is no such universal revelation (arguments about nature and natural law don't really anwer the mail). If there is a God, He's done a great job of hiding from most of the world for most of history.
Thank you for your email- and the kind words. You are obviously a seeker. Your question disturbs many sincere believers, including myself. On top of all the unfairness among human beings it seems this would be the greatest inequality - that some have access to eternal salvation and others do not. If true, it would - as you note - go against what we profess about the perfect justice of God and render our belief in him untenable.
Greater minds than my own have struggled with this fundamental question and have come up with theories, but no complete answer. The Bible itself does not give a response to every one of our puzzles about God. However, it does provide some starting points for reflection. I would like to offer you three.
First, the book of Job. While it doesn't directly address the question you ask, it does take up the issue of God's justice in the face of innocent suffering. The hero of the book is from a pagan country (see Job 1:1). The "solution" (chapters 38-41) is well worth meditating on.
Second, more directly to your question is Luke 12:47-48:
"That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."
It is unfair that Bill Gates has gadzillions of dollars. In comparison you and I are paupers. But then more will be expected of him on the judgment day. Still, you and I will not be let off. We have a responsibility before God and man for what we have been entrusted. Something similar applies in relation to the greatest treasure - baptism and a Catholic upbringing.
A third Scripture to consider is John 21:19-22:
Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!" Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is going to betray you?") When Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?" Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me."
Jesus is telling Peter he no right to open someone else's mail - even a man he had primacy over. We can maybe have some general idea about what God is doing in another person's life, but there's just one person we can really know. I'm sure you recognize your two children are a great mystery. You only get a glimpse of the drama of their inner lives. How much less a fifteenth century South American native?
Mike, I know this hardly gives a conclusive reply to your question. As I mentioned, much has been written about it. One of the best is Everlasting Man especially chapter 4: God and Comparative Religion. Also, please read Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II document about THE RELATION OF THE CHURCH TO NON-CHRISTIAN RELIGIONS
And do be careful of phrases like "mere cultural artifact." Apart from a very narrow world of immediacy, does not all our knowledge come to us via a culture?
My prayers are also with you, Mike. You have a very great responsibility as father of your two children, but even greater for your own soul.
Fr. Phil Bloom