Q&A: I Believe in Me

I Believe in Me

Question

My beliefs are based on basically living my life, watching others' lives unfold, and reading everything where I think I can seek some knowledge, from the Bible to near-death experiences, to lots of other spiritual material. I definitely don't go along with or agree with everything I read or am told. And yes, that includes the Bible. Am I right to think this way?

Answer

In some ways, I can answer yes. First, you are taking into account all the available information, and you are not believing everying you read and hear. You are also interested in finding the truth, and recognize the imporantance of spiritual matters. These are all good things which I can affirm.

In other ways, though, I have to answer no. Foremost in my opinion, your search has not led you to affirm what I believe to be the truth, namely Evangelical Christianity. From my perspective, that means that something in the mix isn't working quite right. It may be that you have not appropriately challenged Evangelical Christianity on its own grounds. By this I mean that you may not have adopted the perspectives of Evangelical Christianity in order to see if they are internally consistent, and to see if they offer solutions to your biggest problems and needs in life.

Another problem may be one of authority. You probably already have an idea that some accounts are more trustworthy than others -- some are more likely to to be true. I assume this explains at least in part your reasons for rejecting some of the materials you read. But alongside the question of truth is the question of authority. Some accounts deserve more weight than others because they are more trustworthy than others (for example, I claim that the Bible is absolutely trustworthy, and therefore that it outweighs all contrary claims to truth). But there are other accounts that deserve higher consideration because they have higher authority. That is, some accounts claim to be opinions, or speculations, or relative truth, or even absolute truth, but they do not offer any authority for their claims other than human reason or interpretation. The Bible claims higher authority than most other writings because it claims to be the very word of God (God's authority is higher than man's). If it is the very word of God, then its truth claims deserve to be accepted -- regardless of how untrue they might appear to be according to other forms of analysis (e.g. some people reject the possibility of miracles on the basis that they do not see these things happening today).

Another problem in the way you are approaching your search for truth is what we call "syncretism," that is, combining different pieces of thought from different systems. The problem with syncretism, particularly when it involves Evangelical Christianity, is that Evangelical Christianity claims to possess absolute and interrelated truths. That is, if a significant part of the Bible is false (e.g. if Jesus was not actually God incarnate, but was just a fully enlightened human being), then the Bible itself is untrustworthy. If the Bible says both that Jesus taught good morals, and also that he was God incarnate, and if you deny that he was God incarnate, then you have no basis on which to believe that he actually taught anything about good morals. To speak in legal terms, if a witness (such as the Bible) is shown to be false on significant points, then none of his testimony is to be trusted -- his false testimony "impeaches" him as a witness. As Nitzsche put it: "What bothers me is not that you lied to me, but that from now on I can no longer trust you."

To view it from another angle, if you accept some things in the Bible but not others, you have not really accepted anything in the Bible. This is because you yourself are sitting in judgment over the Bible determining whether or not any of its given statements are true, making you yourself the standard of truth. Since you are the standard of truth in this case, you really aren't accepting any portion of the Bible's account as truth. Rather, you are effectively borrowing ideas from the Bible to write your own version of the truth. The Bible is merely suggesting ideas for your story, and you are picking and choosing which ones you will include in that story. By the time they get into your story, however, they no longer mean the same thing that they did when they were in the Bible. This is because ideas only have meaning in context, and you have changed their context.

For example, the Bible says that Jesus was God incarnate. Let's imagine that I remove that idea from the Bible and put it in my own version of the truth. The Bible also says that there is only one God, that he is eternal, and that I am not him. But let's imagine that I reject that portion of the Bible's account in favor of the idea that I myself am God, that I am not eternal, and that there are also other gods. In my story, the idea that Jesus is God incarnate no longer has the same meaning. Now, it means that Jesus was not the embodiment of an eternal, unique being. Rather, he is the emodiment of a temporal, non-unique being. The idea that he is God incarnate no longer carries the same weight or has the same implications. There is no way I can make that idea mean the same thing in my story that it means in the Bible's story.

While I can't speak for other religious systems, I suspect that the same thing is true of at least some of them. In my understanding, most of the major religions claim to have absolute truth, and almost all of these religions are mutually exclusive. According to each of these religions, if their own claims are true, then the claims of the others must be false. Therefore, when you take ideas of truth from their systems, these ideas can no longer represent the same truth claims. Even when these systems affirm the same idea, this idea does not mean the same thing. For example, Islam, Judaism and Christianity all affirm that there is only one God, who is the creator and absolute authority of the universe. In each of these religions, however, there are distinct differences in the truth represented by the idea of this one God. Each describes his character differently, and each ascribes different actions to this one God. Thus, even though they all claim one God, who ostensibly is even the same God in the history of the development of these religions, each idea of this one God is significantly different and carries different truth claims. They all affirm one God, but the Jews affirm "God A," the Christians affirm "God B," and the Muslims affirm "God C." One cannot take the idea of this "God" from any of these systems to put that idea in another system without losing the truth claim represented by the idea.

Notice that in discussion these issues, I am trying to pick significant, foundational truths. In every religion there is some variation of opinion as to what particular ideas really mean, as to interpretation, and sometimes even as to textual accuracy of preserved sacred manuscripts. I'm not saying that a scribe who miscopies a word somehow makes an entire system of religion untrustworthy. What I am saying is that if a unified system of thought is untrustworthy in a significant matter, that system is impeachable and untrustworthy as a whole. I am also saying that in a unified system, the more important an idea is, the more its truth claim is altered when it is removed from the system. Small ideas like "the color red is not the color blue" can be moved around with less loss of original meaning.

Finally, from my perspective, you have described your search for truth as depending on your own ability to discover truth. Insofar as your abilities are not sufficient to the task, you will not be able to find the truth. The Bible teaches that man is incapable of finding the truth apart from God's granting it to him. I would suggest, if you are not already doing so, that you pray that God would reveal himself and his truth to you.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.