One philosophy you hear a lot nowadays is that we should respect each other’s beliefs because all beliefs are equally good.
I don’t know anyone who actually believes that, but I do hear plenty of people try to end arguments with it.
Nobody interested in discussion could actually believe that line. Go into any forum online and find people arguing about the dumbest crap imaginable, and see how right they think they are.
“Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Proverbs 26:12)
But as G. K. Chesterton said “There is a thought that destroys thought.”
I could get into all that today, but it’s more of a lead in to what I really want to talk about:
Since people do make the claim quite often that Christians avoid hard questions about their faith, I try to occasionally tackle them on this blog, just to show I’m not afraid of it and there are answers.
Today, I was thinking of a question that sometimes bothers me, and has since I was a kid.
Which is: In all the myriad of philosophies, theologies, and ideologies out there, how can you know that you’ve found the one and only correct one?
Problem and Solution: The many versions of Christianity.
Actually, my sister was recently in a YouTube thread debate where one particularly angry person demanded how Christians could know we were right when there’s like 30,000 sects of Christianity out there, who all think they’re right.
Firstly, while that’s a good question, I have to point out it’s not a good litmus test. There’s sects of every single religious and worldview, even the secular ones. Honestly, the more compelling it is, the more sects there are because people are always anxious to make their own version of the really compelling stuff.
Consider a Religion to be like a piece of art, a really good movie, for example. There’s always hundreds of knock-offs, some that do a good job parodying the original, some that make you question how anyone could ever like this kind of crap, but there’s imitators, rip-offs, and paying homage to the legacy. That’s just with something as small as a movie, or a painting.
I mean, Mr. Peabody features a cartoon version of the Mona Lisa because it’s such a great piece of artwork, doesn’t make it accurate, but the imitation is proof of the original’s far reaching influence, over half a millennium of time thereabouts.
So, if there truly are around 30,000 sects of Christianity, it only shows how many people find the core of it to be true, even if the trimmings and trappings cause division. Like how C. S. Lewis, Chesterton, and many others can write books summarizing the key components of Christianity that we all can and should agree on if we believe the Bible, but they have different beliefs about practice.
I know nowadays two powerful apologetics ministries, and one believes you can use the basic prayer that people put on tracts in order to lead someone to God, and the other believes that’s wrong and you should have them pray from their own hearts. Both oft em are very successful, honest organizations that really believe in what they are doing.
Personally, do I have a preference? Sure. But I don’t feel it’s worth arguing over. The Bible doesn’t say how you have to do it, and people should go with what they feel is genuine.
Actually, did you know the Bible says all you have to do to be saved is “Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and Believe in your heart that God raised Him from the Dead” (Romans) So, that’s pretty open to interpretation of how you could do it.
The need for the absolute truth
However, there is a huge difference between saying people have their own paths to the Truth, and saying that Truth itself has different paths. And paths to what? When you make truth a means to an end instead of the end itself, what exactly is the use of knowing it?
Meditation on happy things just because they make you feel happy (the gist of most Eastern meditation as we in the West now practice it) is rather pointless if they are not in reality, True.
I’ve never been comfortable with that idea, I have to have a truth to think on, I can’t just think. I get really stressed if I just think.
So, that said. How do I know that what I believe is right? How can I have the most true version of Christianity.
Well, it is probaly arrogant to assume I do. But here’s how I try to shape my worldview to make it at least as accurate as I can.
Tests I apply to my Worldview.
When I decide to believe a doctrine, I don’t just do it because I grew up hearing it. I have parents who read, study, and think critically a lot, so I usually give their opinions a good deal of weight. Unlike many kids, I can count on my parents having read about whatever they tell me is rue, and compared it to other opinions. They have blind spots, true, but they try at least to do their homework.
In fact, it was weird to me when I got old enough to realize most parents don’t actually study to see if what they tell their kids is true or not. They just tell them whatever they’ve heard themselves. (Ah, homeschooling, the most beneficial form of education to this day).
I can’t name any real differences in what I believe and what my mom believes, though I can with my dad.
But I didn’t just assume my mom was right. I read the books too. I read a lot of books about Christian doctrine as a teen, and I still do as an adult. I am always excited to find if someone has seen something I haven’t. God tends to end my certain books right at the time a new chapter in my life is opening and I need them.
When I read “Orthodoxy” someone else had finally put into words what I had felt about my faith and it’s all encompassing nature, and it was at a time when I was about to enter some very secular, anti-religious Philosophy and later History classes. It helped me to have that fresh in my mind, and I was able to use it to see my way clear through the confusion.
Test 2: Credibility (primary and secondary theology)
When I find a really good book, by an author I believe to be genuine, I am much more likely to include it in my doctrine. C. S. Lewis was a man whose personal character can be attested to by so many of his peers, students, and predecessors that I have little doubt he really believed what he wrote.
Plus, I can check it against scripture.
Most importantly, when I find a bunch of good, well studied men have agreed on certain points, I am more likely to give it credibility.
Lewis, Chesterton, MacDonald, and others all had similar ideas of Chioice, Free Will, Love, ad needing to see the Beauty in Life to be able to see the Beauty in God. While I cannot find Bible verses to specifically state what they write about it, I can look at life and see how often people act just the way they describe, and how their reasons seem to make the most sense to me as to why.
While the Bible does not state it in so many words, it does support those principles.
See this is the trick with secondhand theology.
Firsthand theology is what the Bible clearly says, anyone who breaks from it is just a heretic, plain and simple. Someone who denies Jesus was raised from the dead, that Adam and eve were the first humans, that Gay Marriage is not expressly forbidden, those people are heretics. It’s simply not in there.
Secondhand theology is about the less vital stuff, but the stuff you live your life around. What to eat, what to wear, how to do church, how to do charity, how to raise your children.
The Bible is appropriately less specific here because any sensible person knows its gong to be different in different countries, times, and situations.
That’s where theologians and moralists come in, to give us principles that will work best in the most cases, and trust us to figure out the exceptions. That’s why if I read a Christian author who seems to feel it’s their way or the high way, I immediately take it less seriously, because they may not know all the situations that could prove their way doesn’t work.
An example here would be the very popular “Five Love Languages” books, that most Christians have heard of in the West, and some nonchristians too. I read it over and over, and used to believe it was infallible, it makes sense, after all. People are different, you got to love them differently.
I now have learned if an author every uses words like “we have overlooked a very crucial truth” about what they claim is their own discovery, there’s usually a reason it was overlooked.
Chesterton’s confession that he tried to come up with his own religion, and found out it was only “orthodoxy” is much more honest.
Do Love Languages exist? Of course, just like people like different colors and foods, they like different expressions of love. But it’s not a fix-all anymore than knowing your spouse’s favorite color means you can buy them clothes they will like.
Okay, so that’s basically how I do this. I do plenty of my own thinking about stuff also, especially when I see a really difficult question.
But at bottom, any honest person know they can always find people to back up their views, you can read selectively, you can go to a Church that’s an echo chamber for your own thoughts. I’ve seen that result in a lot of tension in my family, and others over the years. A lot of personal stress too.
One of my least favorite tests that God seems to like to use is the test of Trouble.
Test 3: Trouble (suffering, loss, disappointment, etc.)
When I’m in pain, emotional or physical, doesn’t matter, what I fall back on, what actually keeps me going, what pulls me out of that hole, whatever those truths are, those are the ones I know work. I know because I had to either learn that or die, at least so it felt.
For me, failure in knowing the truth is not an option.
(I wish I had a T-shirt that said that.)
People who say you don’t need to have an ultimate truth to live are liars, or they’re idiots, or they’ve had a carefree life. There are times when you look into that black abyss in your soul, and there is nothing in it to give you any inkling what you should do to even get up off the floor, and it’s then that you know if you didn’t have a Solid Rock to stand on, you’d fall, and never stop falling.
Very angsty I know, but that’s how it feels, isn’t it?
However, I wish I could say that test is foolproof, but it’s not. Our will to live and be happy is strong, and humans can pull themselves up, or pull each other up, and still not know the real truth. Those people are still generally closer to it than others, but it doesn’t make them Right.
If so, every cruel person who survived their messed up childhood would be right.
Test 4: Conscience, (i. e. What points us to that way of life we know deep down is right.)
When what we fall back on is Truth, it will be pointing us to a certain way of life that we all know, deep down, is true.
Whether they admit it or not, every human knows that Love is the only true way of life that’s acceptable, either to ourselves, each other, or God.
What we fall back on can either make us more loving, or more selfish. We may feel both to be true. We have to choose.
There are times when it seems like Christianity works for everyone except me and my family.
I look at happier families who had much more functional parents than mind, and they say it’s because of God.
I look at people who got delivered of their physical ailments and emotional issues, while I am still waiting.
I look at people who are achieving big things that I want to be able to do.
And then I look at the people I know who’s home lives are worse than mine, who have been sick a lot longer with far worse problems then mine, and who have had way more set backs in their goals. And I conclude, we just can’t measure Truth by how well our lives are going.
Truth will stand all of these tests. If something fails one of them, it’s just not true, a nice thought, but not true. At the very most it might be partially true because it connects to a Higher Truth, like the “power of positive thinking” mantra can be helpful because there is a power in gratitude and praise…but it will not prevent hardship in your life, nor remove it, as some claim.
Final Test: Consistency
The final test of Worldview I apply is more like being able to see if anything in your worldview is hypocritical. If what you fall back on one time is literally the opposite of what you do another time. Like it’s okay to lie when it’s convenient for you, but not when it was convenient for someone else. Or even more subtly, you may claim all truth is equal, and then protest that racism is wrong because all people are equal, i. e. a statement that requires a belief in the absolute truth that Equality is a Good Thing.
(And yes, I know people close to me who will make that exact argument and admit it’s hypocritical in a way, but still make it.)
I guess I took a long time to explain this, but basically, whatever I write on here, most of it is stuff I’ve tested by all the above measures. Or seen tested by other people.
If I have some blind spots, I’ll find out when I meet God face to face, but by then I don’t know if it will matter anymore.
I hope you enjoyed this and found something in it maybe you hadn’t heard before, until next time, stay honest-Natasha.