Here's to a good time, a good life, and a good death.
Alright, so now I want to consider a huge question, “Which religion is true?”
First, I have to establish, what do I mean by true? There are several types of truth. The most basic kinds are factual (recorded events, he said/did X) and functional (If you do this/believe that, then that will/does happen) and logical (If A is greater than B, and B is greater than C, then A is greater than C). Logical truth follows the principle of transitivity and concerns itself largely with mathematical laws. Now, there are also other similar categories of truth like laws of physics as say gravity, but that’s not really what we are concerned with here. Throughout this series we have been far more concerned about functional truth than factual and that is how we will keep it. Of course, keep in mind that, linguistically, meaning is derived from relational functions of concepts and humans.
I personally made the mistake of asking this poorly articulated question to a respected professor of mine about 2 years ago. I was operating in simple thinking. As if there could be an entirely right or wrong religion, I was so stupid. So now, when someone poses this sort of question, ask them, How is anything true in the sense of the way you used the word true in that question? As if there was one religion (mind you that any defined religion involves a wide array of doctrinal and practical diversity within it anyhow) that could in itself be entirely accurate or correct in its prescription of life.
Further, in this question, if the point is to validate a religion on the basis of functional truth, one has to decide what is a religion supposed to do? Well, like most Big Religions of the World, a good religion is one that provides a philosophy that attempts to answer life questions that are outside the realms of scientific observation. The goal of the philosophy is to help the participants achieve happiness, a good life, and so on and so forth. Therefore, one can say that a religion that contains more of these type of happy participants is relatively a better candidate for “truth status” than a religion with plenty of unhappy adherents.
For the sake of discussion, let’s zoom in on what one can mean by religion and narrow it into particularly the Christian religion, and in even more specific terms, non-denominational Christianity as confined to the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. and perhaps other evangelical communities spread throughout the U.S, especially in the Southern Region.
So why study the validity of the religion through how it functions as opposed to whether it is literally and historically true or not? In other words, does it matter if Christianity is true in the sense of being factual, like in the case of its historical accuracy?
If you familiar with the stories of the Cargo Cults, then this illustration will work better for you. Suppose a reporter travels to some isolated islands in the Pacific in the year 1999. He is conducting a documentary on the effects of World War II to these communities. He notices a shrine built in the shape of smaller model airplane. He comes to learn that during WWII, a military station was established on the island and that planes airdropped supplies to the troops. Some of the supplies happened to land near and go to the native people, who observed the events. The islanders, having no exposure to technological developments of any industrial kind, are left unable to explain what they have seen. They form a religion that involves praying to the “Cargo gods” to bring cargo and feed and help their families. For over fifty years, island natives sincerely believe in this religion, engaging in moderate levels of prayer and harmless worship to the respective statue deities in the name of Cargo supplies. The religion inflicts no harm on the natives or outsiders.
A man walks up to the reporter and makes the remark, “I can’t wait till the Cargo planes come again. I have so much anticipation for when they return.” Now, how should the reporter respond? Should he tell the man the truth behind his religion? Or should the reporter refrain from commenting? Many would argue that the man would be better off knowing the truth because they think that knowing the truth is the way to happiness. Certainly, the man would be better off once he got over the shock of not knowing the truth about his religion. But it is a gamble. And what if he doesn’t? So the reporter hypothetically says “Nope, sorry your hope in the Cargo is misplaced, it will never return again, you are just on a pile of dirt and rock in the middle of this vast ocean.”
Think about the scenario, adjust a few details perhaps, and experiment with what you would do as the reporter.
If the man is reasonably happy in his beliefs as is, then what is the point of whether the religion is technically true or not? Now, the whole point of this scenario is not to answer the question of does it matter if the events recorded in a religion are literally true (although it alludes to the answer as no) but rather instead to transform one’s thinking regarding a religion’s truth. What makes a religion actually true? We are moving towards looking at how a religion functions, instead of whether or not it is necessarily accurate in historical account, although the real task here is to show that the derivation of truth comes through the mechanism of functional relationship.
Now, again, I will focus my attention towards non-denominational Christianity because this is my field of familiarity although the same analysis goes for all religions, Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, you name it.
So, the infallibility of the Bible is a huge cornerstone for many Christians, but especially Fundamentalists. Let’s assume that Jesus Christ may have existed, but that his miracles in the Bible are a little exaggerated as it was commonplace for writers to “embellish” texts in those times. Suppose millions of Christians encountered strong evidence that Jesus’ miracles aren’t “true”. This information shock caused many to recant their faith, and now upon knowing the “truth”, those people live with less hope and optimism than they did before. Would those individuals be better off? Well, in order to think through that potential answer, one has to think, what does Christianity do? What does it teach? And so forth.
Eventually, I’m digging down towards the questions, Does Christianity improve people’s lives? Does the philosophy of Christianity make people happier, help people cooperate, and allow people to live together more tolerantly and peacefully?
Basically, does the spirit of Christianity fit within the framework of PSIC?
In staying consistent with my analysis, its easy to see that one could make the argument that truth (in the literal sense) almost acts as a tool used by mankind to create authority when there is none. (This is quite the irony since this is an idea for the functional truth of literal truth!) It becomes a sort of illusory idea/term used to distract people away from discovering what gives truth meaning in the first place. After all…
“What are man’s truths ultimately? Merely his irrefutable errors.”