Friday, December 21, 2007

Are all religions true?

Beliefs are based upon three kinds of evidence:

1) experience,
2) reason, and
3) testimony of others.

Since each and every person has varying ability to reason, they experience different things, and have been exposed to varying testimonies, it should be no surprise that there are so many different beliefs in the world. Whether or not those beliefs are true is another thing, however. Some are quite unreasonable. Many are rather contrary to experience, and many conflict with trustworthy testimony.

Pope John XXIII affirmed, “In essentials unity, in doubtful matters liberty, in all things charity.” This is the axiom that I too affirm.

So what is essential? You see, that's the question which the various religions cannot seem to agree upon. One must choose for themselves who and how to worship based upon: 1) reason, 2) experience, and 3) the testimony of others. How will you regulate your life?

“Religion” comes from the Latin word,
religare, which means “to regulate.” That’s what a religion does, it regulates one’s intellect and will, one’s way of behaving and believing. When one says they “believe” in a religious sense, what they are saying is that they freely submit to being regulated by their religion.

The ancient Greeks used the word “
pisteuo” for “believe.” While it means “to think to be true” its opposite is “apeitheo,” which means, “disobey.” So when one says they “believe,” it means in this ancient sense that they also “obey.” Disobedience is contrary to “belief.” For example, with regard to the Christian religion, St. John the Apostle wrote, “He who believes (Gk pisteuo) in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey (Gk apeitheo) the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him” (John 3:36). Thus, “disobedience” to God is contrary to “belief” in God.

Harvard professor R.B. Perry wrote that the root of religion is, “the attempt of man, conscious of his helplessness, to unite himself with the powers which do actually dominate." He further affirms, "True religion is better than false, but it is not less certain that religion is better than irreligion.” [
Religion. An Introduction - Lectures on the Harvard Classics (1909-1914)]. That’s sounds closer to the truth to me than “no religion that believes in God is incorrect.” A broken clock is “correct” twice a day, but that doesn’t make it a good clock.

For instance, the “Heaven’s Gate” adherents claim to believe in God. Thanks be to God that they have come to believe this fundamental truth! We can surely rejoice in the shared belief in the existence of God. When the Heaven’s Gate beliefs correspond with truth, they are correct. But what else does the Heaven’s Gate religion believe?

The Heaven’s Gate religion, though claiming belief in God, they also believe some rather strange doctrines. This was a religious sect led by Marshal Applewhite and Bonnei Nettles. In 1997, Mr. Applewhite convinced thirty-eight followers to commit suicide so that their souls could be transferred to a spaceship that they believed was hiding in the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet. They believed the hidden spaceship was carrying Jesus, and they were attempting to unite themselves to the Truth, Jesus Christ, through rather dubious means. They believed that the planet Earth was about to be “recycled.” Through suicide, they thought they would be “raptured” into this “spaceship of Jesus” as a way to survive the tribulation and enter the “next level” of existence.

Now, either their beliefs were true, or they were false. If their beliefs were false, then their adherence to falsity had rather grave consequences. Their beliefs could not be both truth and false simultaneously, right?

Truth is defined by Webster as “that which corresponds to reality.” Reality is the “set of all real things.” All of us presumably share the same universe, the same “set of all real things,” the same reality. If we do indeed all share the same reality, then it necessarily follows that we all share the same truth. There cannot therefore be a “truth for you” which is contrary to a “truth for me.” Our beliefs are subjective, but truth is not. Either my beliefs correspond with what is real, or they do not. If they do not, then my subjective beliefs are not objectively true.

Either the adherents to this Heaven's Gate sect became united together in their Jesus-Spaceship, or they made a grave error.

Insofar as the Heaven’s Gate beliefs were contrary to the truth, they were indeed incorrect. There may have been some elements of truth within their religion. But in the final analysis, if God did not will that they should commit suicide to be transported into a “hidden” Jesus-spaceship in the tail of a comet, then they DID NOT believe (obey) the will of God.

True religion is better than false. God is truth. God is love. A clock is created for a purpose: to keep time. If it fails to keep time, it is not an excellent clock, it “misses the mark” (a.k.a. “sin”). Likewise, human beings were created for a purpose: to know God, to love God, and to serve God. When human beings “miss the mark” they sin, they fail to live in accord with their Divine purpose, their full potential. They live instead contrary to Truth, contrary to Love, contrary to God. Heaven’s Gate religion is just one example among many beliefs which we could discuss which actually serve to distance adherents from their Divine purpose. Insofar as they are hindered from truly knowing God, loving God, and serving God, such religions are indeed false.

God bless,