Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Does being a nice person make your religious beliefs true?

I used to really enjoy listening to Dennis Prager and Michael Medved back when I wasn’t writing all the time. And one of the things I noticed about these two famous Jewish radio talk show hosts is that they believed that the test of whether a religion is true is whether it results in good behavior.

I agree with Dennis and Michael on many topics, but not on this topic. When it comes to religious epistemology, I am solely and completely concerned with only one question. Is it true?

The Pugnacious Irishman posted recently on this topic of whether 1) subjective experiences and “good” works, or 2) correspondence to reality, should be the standard for choosing a religion.

He writes:

For Christian public school teachers, the most interesting opportunities happen in the staff lounge at lunch.

As I sat down to eat lunch on Friday, a few of the teachers were talking about Mormonism.

“My pastor calls Mormonism a cult. That pisses me off. Why doesn’t he just leave them alone? The Mormon kids in my classroom are such nice and dependable kids.”

[...]“You know, I’ve got a better question to ask. Rather than asking, ‘does a certain religion make nice and conscientious followers’ (which is a plus in some ways), a more fundamental question to ask is, ‘is the religion true‘?”

One of the teachers at the table balked, “That can be kind of hard to determine, can’t it?”

“Not necessarily. If a religion makes historical and scientific claims, it can be verified or not. Most of the monotheistic religions make these types of claims, so they can be tested in that regard.”

A religion that is verifiable has a distinct advantage over religions that are not.

[...]It was a good conversation. And that is the fundamental question, isn’t it? A certain religion can produce nice people and still be wholly false. Of course, you need to figure ‘what kind of person it produces’ into the equation–if a certain religion, followed accurately, routinely produced a Charles Manson, that would most definitely be a strike against it–but that isn’t the most fundamental issue. It’s necessary, but not sufficient.

Rather, the most fundamental question you should ask is, “is the religion true?” Asking such a question doesn’t make you intolerant or bigoted.

When it comes to choosing a religion or talking about religion, the first and only rule is to focus on public, testable, propositional truth. The reason why so many Christians struggle to get into the kinds of conversations that Rich gets into is because they are not taking Rich’s approach. Find the claims of a religion that can be tested, then test them.

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3 Responses

  1. Kreitsauce says:

    Exactly! Niceness doesn’t mean much in the long term, which is why I point out to people that Jesus wasn’t exactly nice.

    He was good to people and spoke the truth, but that sometimes meant shaking things up and doing things that were downright scandalous. At the risk of seeming to be self-serving, here’s a quote from my devotional blog, Genesis6:

    “We think we are so spiritual when we choose to avoid confronting someone committing an act of evil. I’m not so sure we’re doing so well. Just because we can be unrighteously indignant doesn’t mean we can’t learn to be indignant at the right things…Ignoring evil is not humility, it is a direct act of disobedience in refusing to live like Jesus or to do what Jesus tells us to do!”

  2. Alex Costa says:

    Doing good things is actually often ‘scandalous’. As I keep saying; to be good or to love is an act of courage. I think Jesus was probably the nicest guy that ever was!

    “2) correspondence to reality, should be the standard for choosing a religion.” There are no true religions beyond all doubt.

    “Ignoring evil is not humility, it is a direct act of disobedience in refusing to live like Jesus or to do what Jesus tells us to do!” Exactly… so many of us sin on this… myself included.

    But don’t forget the best way to fight evil:

    “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:27-31

    Death is but an ilusion.

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