The final area of truth I will write about is the area of religion. As with my posts on the other areas of truth, I will start by establishing a definition of the topic at hand
One definition of “religion” in Webster’s Dictionary is as follows:
“A personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.”
And here’s a necessary definition of “religious“:
“relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity.”
I will reference these two definitions in the rest of this post. Notice that the definition of “religious” refers to a deity (i.e. God) OR an ultimate reality. This definition indicates that religion says something about the world as a whole, whether a single divine agent is part of that world or not.
With that point in mind, what kind of questions does religion attempt to answer? Since religion is a system of attitudes, beliefs, and practices about some sort of ultimate reality, the questions tend to encompass everything about life. The questions can be about specific things, such as how to properly respond in a certain situation. However, the central questions asked by religion have this all-encompassing quality to them.
Some examples of these types of questions include:
1. How did the Universe come into existence? (if it did in the first place)
2. Is there something/someone in control of what happens in the Universe?
3. Is there life beyond this current life (i.e. after death)? How does one enter that life?
4. What is the standard by which someone ought to live?
These questions are broad in the sense that the correct answers would be true for all people on Earth, at all times of the Earth’s existence. This point, however, assumes that there is objective truth, where two contradictory claims about the same topic cannot both be true, and thus there is only one truth about a particular topic.
A person’s answers to these questions, among others, forms that person’s worldview. Someone’s worldview affects the way that person views the world and life overall. It also affects the person’s motivations and actions stemming from those motivations. Thus, even if someone does not believe in the existence of a deity, the questions asked by religion are important because a person’s beliefs about those questions affect much of his life.
Since these questions do have a large impact on our lives, getting the right answer to them is important, and perhaps urgent if the answers impact any potential life after death. However, there are so many religions in the world, not to mention atheism and agnosticism. How can we possibly choose between all these different sets of answers? For the purpose of this post, I will expand on one main consideration in deciding whether a particular religion is worth following or not.
We should follow a religion if the main claims that the religious system makes are true. The truth of the religion’s claims should be able to be verified to some extent by the other areas of truth.
Again, if religious questions are important, and if there is only one set of correct answers to them, then following the correct religion (or correctly denying all religions) is important. In order to have more confidence that we are following a true religion, we would want to have the ability to verify that the claims a religion makes are true.
These claims typically involve some sort of divine revelation, where a deity directly reveals a truth. For example, Mormonism claims that God directly gave Joseph Smith true statements about the world that Smith wrote down word-for-word. Religious claims can also come through experiences, such as the concept of Nirvana in Hinduism, where one can experience a state of being that is essentially apart from the current life.
Verification of a religion’s truth claims is difficult if only divine revelation or only experience are considered. If a revelation of truth is actually coming from an all-knowing deity, then we have better reason to trust that truth then any other in the world. However, just claiming that some writing came directly from a deity does not give us any reason to believe that claim. The big question to ask is, what reasons do we have to believe that a truth (i.e. a religious system) has come from an all-knowing deity?
To answer that question, other areas of truth can help us. If we view science, history, and philosophy as reliable for discovering truth about the world, then a true divine revelation should at the least not contradict these other areas, and most preferably should fit with these areas. A way we can test if a “divine revelation” is true is to determine if its claims describe the way reality actually is. To do so, we can take all areas of truth into consideration to see how much the claims match up with reality.
This idea can be extended to all religions, whether its truth claims come primarily through revelation or experience. An issue with a religion’s truth claims coming solely through experience is that it results in an all-or-nothing test. If one does not experience what he is suppposed to experience, then the religion fails, and there is little opportunity to verify its truth otherwise. Asking others about their experiences could help. However, since experiences are personal in nature, the only way that you could be certain that someone actually did have an experience as they described would be though an external event.
For example, two people say that they feel like they are flying. One is just standing there in front of you, and the other is actually floating around in mid-air. Of course, you have more reason to believe that the second person is in fact experiencing the feeling of flying. You can see the external results of that person’s claims to feel a certain way.
A religion can make a truth claim through an experience, and there are ways we can determine if that claim is legitimate. But a religion with truth claims solely based on experience is more difficult to verify than one that is based on other types of truth claims. We should prefer a religion that can be verified by other areas of truth to at least some extent.
There are other reasons to follow one religion over another. One might choose to follow a religion because it provides comfort, a sense of purpose, or other admirable qualities. While these factors should be taken into consideration, I think that the truth of a religion’s claims is the main factor in choosing the best religion to follow. A religion based on falsehoods is not worth basing our worldview, motivations, and actions on.
This point also extends to worldviews, which include atheistic-type views. The worldview that someone ought to hold is the one that is true… the one which overall fits the way the world actually is.
And that ends this post, as well as this “From the Ground Up” blog. In the next post, I will merge my “From the Ground Up” and “Viewing Out” blogs, and summarize what has happened in this blog thus far.