Do You Believe…Really?

Every once in a while I come across a survey or study which piques my interest.  I am particularly fond of surveys on religious beliefs in general, so naturally I was drawn in by a study conducted by Pew Research Center entitled, “Religion Among the Mellennials”.  A rather in depth study focusing on religious affiliation (if any), beliefs on the bible or relevant Holy Writ, prayer, church attendance, etc.  There was one category in particular which caught my attention, “Obtaining Eternal Life, Interpreting Religious Teachings”, since it is core to any positive religious belief.  Though not everyone will agree it is core, I cannot help but to think it is.

With the infiltration of postmodernism, relativism, and religious pluralism into a majority of our society’s worldview, has come with it the sacrifice of not only what it means for something to be true, but also the need for investigation as to whether something is true, or can be true.  “True/truth” has come to be used synonymously with “belief”.  True for me but not necessarily for you.  This statement misunderstands what it means for something to be true, for real.  This is most predominant when it comes to religious beliefs, since after all, “who knows?” right?  It seems as though there is the assumption that religious claims are not claims which either need investigation, nor can be investigated.  It’s almost as if it is from the start, even by those who hold the religious belief, that it’s a fairy tale.  And I do not mean that pejoratively.

Political correctness is so ingrained in our thinking, that from the start, we filter our beliefs with the idea that our beliefs have an obligation to not offend.  There is virtually no room for disagreement, since believing-or worse, telling-someone you think they are wrong, is itself wrong.  But why does this idea that someone is wrong a bad thing?  People are wrong all the time about all kinds of things, why is religious belief exempt from this possible wrongness?

I believe this sometimes very vocal exemption comes from the presumption that there is no way to test religious claims for truth.  As if the most important factor of a religious belief is how it makes you feel.  I believe that no matter what your religious beliefs, they are highly significant.  The area of religion guides what you believe about ultimate things: God, the afterlife, Heaven, hell, etc.  In my opinion, since it is possible all of those things exist, it should be more important to hold accurate beliefs in these areas.  I understand not everyone holds that accuracy is most important, or even somewhat important, but let me explain why I believe it is.

I will be working with the assumption that God does exist, since if God does not, it really does not matter.  So given God exists, it is highly unlikely, if not impossible that our opinions of who He is and what He is like actually make Him so, any more than just my believing parents are British royalty make that so.  As though millions of people have their own personal god who possesses all the characteristics the believer attributes to the deity, and this is a perfectly acceptable process for religious belief nowadays.  I really do not see why people do not have a problem with this…unless you do not truly believe your God is real.

Here is where I will lose the rest of the people.  If people believed the God they worshipped was in fact true, I do not think they would so readily abandon their own belief that He is true when they encounter someone else who thinks their God is true.  For the most part when two or more people get together to discuss religious topics, they are all usually willing to grant eachother’s beliefs are correct, or that they are each correct.

I believe the problem to be far too many people look inward for what God is, rather than upward.  I do not mean to the heavens, but look outside themselves.  If people create the God they worship from their own ideas, instead of seeking to discover God, they will end up with a list of attributes they want God to fulfill, rather than the attributes He does fulfill.  In the end this procedure is what is responsible for religious subjectivity.  It becomes not an argument about God so much as a discussion of ones “picture” of God, and it is in this sense that “true for me, but not necessarily for you” seems naturally to be true.

If there is a God, and I believe there is, then He is as specific in His attributes and character as you and I.  If your name is Andy and you have brown hair, blue eyes, are five feet six inches tall,  and work at a bank; but when I described you to someone else as having red hair, green eyes, six feet two inches tall, and own a flower shop, and your name is Mary, it would be obvious to anyone who knows you that either I do not really know Andy, or I am describing someone else.  If God is real, then in the same way Andy is who he is based on true attributes of him, God is who He is based on attributes to Him which are true also.

I think it is important to make every attempt to discover who God is.  I make every effort to not fluff Him up to my perceived ideal, though everyone is guilty of it to a degree.  In the end I if God is real, and He expects certain things from us, then it is more important to be correct in your thinking about God than it is to be comforted in your thinking.  C.S. Lewis puts it succinctly:

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either truth or comfort-only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with, in the end, despair.

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Related article: Do Differences Matter?, Spiritual Atheism, Counterfeit Truth

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