Thursday, June 9, 2011

Many Religions, One Truth

When you talk about religion you often get the response that there are many religions. That is true but it is not often relevant. No religion claims to deal in pseudo-truth or subjective truth. They all deal in absolute truth. Once something has been determined to be a matter of subjective opinion then it ceases to be a topic of religious discussion. There are some things like that. Like whether chocolate or strawberry ice cream is better. But nobody has religious discussions about that. There are even some who would suggest that many or perhaps all moral questions are like that. That whether or not it is wrong to lie is like the question of whether chocolate or strawberry ice cream is better. That is it is subjective and for some lying might be OK and for others lying might be wrong. But the question of whether the morality of lying is subjective is not subjective. Those who believe it is subjective take that as an absolute truth that is is subjective. Those who believe it is not subjective take that as an absolute truth that it is not. That is the religious question. What, if anything, is objectively morally or immoral. The minute you claim the morality of lying is subjective it follows that it should not longer be the subject of religious discussion. Religion cares only about objective truth. If a religion holds moral truth as subjective then that is all it holds about morality.

So if we understand that religion is about absolute truth then we can process the fact that there are many religions much better. Suppose I ask a large number of people how to get to New York. Then I get a lot of different answers. What should I conclude? That there is no such place as New York because the answers are different? That all the answers I got will take me to New York so it does not matter which I listen to? That I can ignore all the directions and do whatever I want and still be certain of getting to New York? Those are easy answers but they don't flow from the data. I need to get into the details. Which answers are more trustworthy? Do I have reason to believe some people know better how to get to New York than others? If I ask person A about the directions person B gives me, what do they say? Do they say that will get me there as well or do they say person B has accidentally given me directions to New Orleans? Are there similarities between the answers? Maybe a lot of answers refer to Interstate 95. Could that mean something?

We know how to process multiple opinions in other areas. Why can't we do it when it comes to religion? Part of it is distraction. We have many things happening in our lives. We have the short term pain and pleasure. Talking about the big questions of life to modern man is like teaching 8 year-olds how to play positional soccer. They just want to chase the ball. No matter how many time they get burned for an easy goal because they all went after the ball at once that impulse remains strong. Chase the ball. Don't make the game so complicated. Don't face the fact that all the soccer I have played up until now has not been played very intelligently. It is easier just to assume the coach is crazy. Just chase the ball. Most people, even very intelligent people, spend their life chasing the ball and really don't learn from the best coaches how to play the game of life well. Religion is like playing system. You need a good system and you need to work hard to play it effectively but the right system played well transforms everything.

So it makes sense to take religion seriously even if you set aside the main claim of most religions. That is that the big questions in life really do have big answers. That we do have a meaning and purpose to life. That it makes sense to pursue what is true and good and beautiful. That much deeper and longer lasting happiness is available than we get from the more superficial pursuits. That life after death exists and what we do can impact how we spend it. These are big claims that if they are true and we can be sure they are true they are going to have a major impact on our lives. But some claims contradict. Not as badly as many say. There is a lot of commonality. Most are centered around one person - Jesus, Mohammad, Buddha, etc. So the first step is to decide what to make of these central religious figures. Who's claims make sense? These are important questions because accepting a source of revelation about God as trustworthy means we accept everything they say based on our faith in them. That is a huge blessing if their claims are true. It can be a huge curse if the claims are false. The good news is these guys didn't come on the scene yesterday. We can evaluate not only what they say but what adherence to their teachings has brought to the world. We can examine what a follower of Jesus looks like and ask if we want to be like that. We can do the same for followers of Mohammad or Buddha or whoever. This is not a process where we stop thinking and accept a whole series of things on blind faith. We can do as much analysis as we want.

There is also going to be an emotional aspect to accepting a faith. It is more like choosing a spouse. Yes we need to be rational about it but making the choice purely based on reason is not for everyone. God does use our feelings. We can't always trust them but we can't ignore them either. So it gets complicated. But ultimately all things that are ordered towards truth and towards God should compliment each other. When I have made a major religious decision it has been on many levels. My reason, my conscience, my emotions, everything is pulling me the same direction. It takes a while. Even then it can feel like a leap into the dark. But those leaps have been the best choices I have made.

What leads to those choices is just taking religious claims seriously. Not being credulous or stupid. Just taking some serious time and energy to investigate what the truth is. If the prize was not God but $1 billion I think people would take it seriously. They would make the effort to sort out the good evidence from the bad. Nobody would be looking for excuses to dismiss the whole thing. But it is not money. It is something much more valuable than money. But people are so quick to write off any chance that there is something there.

No comments:

Post a Comment