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On Choosing a Religion

Apr 26, 2016

This title may seem a bit odd, and there would be some good reasons for that I suppose. Firstly, most people – in the West at least – are likely more concerned about what sort of coffee they might buy than what religion they may choose. And of course most folks simply pick up their religion from their parents.

Far fewer folks will question what they inherited from birth, and carefully seek out what religion or worldview to run with. As Francis Schaeffer once put it, most people catch their worldviews like they do German measles – quite by accident in other words.

Moreover, many people will not choose a religion because they foolishly think all religions are the same. But the only people who make that claim are those who know nothing about religion. The more you study the major world religions, the more you see how very different they are.

religion 2For example, there are as many as 330 million different gods in Hinduism. However you can be a Buddhist and not even believe in God. Let me offer just one more example, this time between Islam and Christianity. But let me preface it by reminding you of one of the most important principles of basic logic.

I refer to the law of noncontradiction. This simply states that no two contradictory statements can both be true at the same time and in the same sense. In the words of Aristotle, “one cannot say of something that it is and that it is not in the same respect and at the same time”.

So consider the basic creed (the Shahada) of Islam: “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is God’s messenger.” Now consider the basic affirmation of Christianity: God is one God in three persons, and Jesus Christ is God’s son. Islam says it is blasphemous to say God has a son. But Christianity fully affirms this.

So who is right? They certainly cannot both be right. If Islam is true on this point, then Christianity is of course false. If Christianity is true on this point, then Islam is false. So if you are choosing between Islam and Christianity, you certainly cannot choose both. It is one or the other.

And it goes even further than this: according to Christianity, Jesus died on a cross for our sins and rose from the dead. According to Islam Jesus did not die on a cross and rise from the dead. Again, both cannot be true. One at least must be false. So in choosing a religion, you look at the truth claims being made by each, and then assess, compare, and contrast.

I have often said that in one sense all this is a bit like shopping for a new car. What do you do when you want to buy a new car? You investigate, you shop around, you compare cars, and prices, and so on. You weigh up the evidence and options. You see which one best will suit your needs.

Of course when you choose a religion it is not about suiting your needs so much as discovering which one is true. And getting the wrong choice on a car does not mean the end of the world. But getting the wrong choice on religion is most certainly of greater consequence.

So what should you look for when choosing a religion or a worldview? Well, as Norman Geisler says, a good worldview has to deal with these issues:
1- the nature of God (metaphysics)
2- the nature of reality, being (ontology)
3- the question of origin and destiny of man (anthropology)
4- the problem of pain and evil (ethics)
5- the question of how we know (epistemology)

Or as Charles Colson puts it, every worldview must answer three sets of questions:

-Where did we come from? Who are we? (creation)
-What has gone wrong with the world? (fall)
-What can we do to fix it? (redemption)

Consider for example how one worldview, the secular religion of Marxism, deals with such matters. Marxism has its own concepts of sin and salvation and the like:

The fall and sin = the division of labour, class divisions, management versus worker, etc.
Salvation = class struggle and revolution, to end the class system and destroy the bourgeoisie
Prophets = Marx, Lenin, Stalin, etc
Holy books = Das Capital, The Communist Manifesto
The elect = the proletariat
The Kingdom = a classless society run by workers with no more division of labour, etc.

Marx had it partially right. Alienation is a real problem. But he just dealt with economic alienation: workers being alienated from the means of production, etc. But of course the real alienation is spiritual. We are alienated from God which results in all the other alienations; alienation from others, from self, from creation.

Because he had a faulty worldview, it was an incomplete and defective worldview. Indeed, a good worldview or religion will demonstrate these two major characteristics:

One, it should be coherent and internally consistent. That is, it should be reasonable and rational, and not be riddled with contradictions. It should not violate the law of non-contradiction, for example. The system should be logically consistent.

Islam can be examined in this light. For example it holds to an extreme fatalism. Everything that happens is Allah’s direct will. Islam means submission, and all we are to do is fully submit to Allah and his will. On the other hand there are various religious duties the Muslim is to perform.

But at the end of the day the Muslim will never know if he has been accepted by Allah or rejected by him (dying in jihad being the only exception – the only guarantee of entering paradise). He can recite the creed, say the prayers, give the alms, make the pilgrimage, and so on, but at the end of the day it is arbitrarily up to Allah who he will accept and who he will cast into hell. There seems to be a real disconnect here.

The religion of atheism is pretty much in the same boat. People like Dawkins can go on and on all they want about how there really is no good and evil. As he said, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. As that unhappy poet A.E. Housman put it: ‘For Nature, heartless, witless Nature. Will neither care nor know.’ DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.”

Um, yeah, sounds good, but…. The truth is, every day Dawkins rails against what he considers to be evil: religion, religious education, religious fundamentalism, and so on. So on the one hand he tells us there is no good and evil, but on the other hand he keeps on telling us about what he thinks is evil (religion) while imploring us to accept what he thinks is good (atheism).

Sorry, but you cannot have it both ways. It has to be one or the other. Either good and evil do not exist or they do. Make up your mind. But logical consistency is not always a strong suit of the militant atheist. So we may need to think again in terms of adopting this worldview.

Second, a good worldview or religion should correspond with the actual world we live in. That is, it should be experientially relevant. It should make sense to the way we live. Just as a good roadmap corresponds with the way the road is, so should a good religion.

It should fit the facts of reality. It should make sense of the world we live in. Many religions seem to be decidedly at odds with reality. Consider the Eastern religions and their view of evil. Generally good and evil are seen as two sides of the same coin: yin and yang. Evil is said to be an illusion, or maya.

Thus we must transcend the world of good and evil and go beyond such false distinctions. But this does not fit with reality very well. If I start kicking someone in the shins, he can say he will simply transcend all this, and not admit to real evil. Well, good luck with that. He will still end up with a very painful leg. Evil is real no matter how much we pretend it is not.

As another example, the religions of the East tend to denigrate what they call Western logic. They say that basic logical principles do not apply to their worldview. Once again, this may sound good in theory, but it does not go down very well in practice.

For example, if a Hindu is standing on train tracks and sees a train rapidly approaching, he more than likely will jump off the tracks. How come? Because he is thinking exactly in terms of cold, hard logic: ‘Either I stay on these tracks and get smashed to smithereens, or I jump off pronto and save my life.’ That is logical thinking 101.

So we need to think carefully and wisely about religions. They are not all the same, and some are clearly better than others. And some seem to fit the tests of a good worldview far better than others. Given that religion usually deals with things like life and death and matters of eternity, it is imperative that we get it right as we examine the various religions and assess their various truth claims.

Before I became a Christian I was on a real search. I tried out many of the alternative religions on offer. None seemed to stand up, and at the end of the day it became clear that Christianity was the one religion that fits the world I lived in, that was internally consistent, that was true, and that made the most sense of my life, my problems, and my needed solutions.

I encourage all those who have not yet taken part in such a search to do so now. And remember that the main thing that matters is this test: Is it true? The issue is not whether it sounds nice, or fits your preconceived prejudices, but whether it in fact is true.

On the issue of truth and its importance I urge you to look here: billmuehlenberg.com/2013/09/25/the-importance-of-truth/

Jesus Christ is the one who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). I invite you to investigate his life and his claims more closely. Start by reading the Gospel of John or the Gospel of Mark. You will forever be grateful you did.

My companion piece, “On Assessing a Religion” can be found here: billmuehlenberg.com/2016/04/27/on-assessing-a-religion/

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4 Responses to On Choosing a Religion

  • I think it was the atheist Bertrand Russell who said that he respected Christians who accepted Christianity because they believed it was true. He had no respect for those who have religious faith because it “works” for them. Wise words from a foolish man. It’s good to remind people that thinking for themselves is very important and to give Christian views an honest hearing.

  • My own conversion was more to do with the demonstration of God’s power. It took my mind several months to catch up with what had happened to me in reality and I think I am still catching up. I have, however, been successful in bringing other people to God through the use of logic.

    You are absolutely correct about the lack of logic in wrong world views. The ground work for Christianity was definitely laid, in many respects, by the Greek philosophers and people like the Stoics. Christianity was then able to build on these things and demonstrate their shortcomings to most people, lifting society to a higher level.

    Marriage redefinition is a prime example where logic is ignored. Because some couples don’t have children there is a conclusion that it is reasonable to select another type of relationship (but apparently only one other) that does not result in children and say it is also marriage while at the same time, completely ignoring everything else that marriage is and does for society. Every case for the redefinition of marriage that I have seen completely glosses over this complete lack of logic, usually mentioning it in just one sentence and then going on to emotional sophistry that completely ignores the fact that calling homosexual relationships “marriage” actually does not do any of the things that reinforcing natural marriage does for individuals and society. By ignoring all of the evidence (which many judges think they are required to do to comply with their relativist dogma) the idea that because there is one situation that complies with the negative of something (no children) then any situation that complies with the negative must also be the same, not just eligible to be considered possibly the same; it must actually be the same in reality. To anyone who looks at the real world and sees that the whole of a situation must be considered before making such a bald claim, of course, this is a complete absurdity. Homosexual relationships are the opposite of marriage. They simply do not do the things that marriage does in that they completely oppose the principle of society using an institution to reinforce the rights and privileges that relate to the biological union. To then go on from this complete lack of logic and claim that defining marriage correctly is opposing someone’s rights is not only illogical it is, in fact, evil and deceitful. Redefining marriage does not support human rights, it demonstrably undermines them and the rights of parents and children and as a direct result, the rights of everyone. The evidence for this occurring and the results of this deceit are being seen throughout the Western world as parental and children’s and others’ rights are now being discounted and discarded.

  • Dear Bill,
    Your words. “But at the end of the day the Muslim will never know if he has been accepted by Allah or rejected by him (dying in jihad being the only exception – the only guarantee of entering paradise),” led to the following thoughts.
    If acceptance with Allah by dying in Jihad is the only certainty they have in their core values, then logically, they must, and do go for it.
    To me, this action expresses three things, that we were originally created as a race to have.
    1. The need of relationship with God, (acceptance with Allah)
    2. The need for certitude/ certainty about that relationship and the seen and unseen reality around us.
    3. The need to die to ourselves, and to live for that which transcends our own lives and vision.
    Jihad provides all these things, allegedly.

    If these three things are necessary for human life, and I believe they are, then it’s no wonder that that people grasp at even the perverted version/s of what God meant us to have.
    It would be a way for them, and probably the only way that they know, to have (but not really) these things.
    This is not an attempted excuse for Jihad against the infidel, but just an initial response as I read your article.
    There are so many damnable substitutes for the real thing out there, it’s not funny (not that it ever was a laughing matter).
    As I see it, the fatalism of this religion is in direct contrast and opposition to the Christian truth that God has never ceased to endeavour to bring His good into our lives and world, and for us to search for what God has for each of us, and for us to partner with Him in stewarding the world in all its dimensions.
    Fatalism, especially when linked to religious belief, cuts the tree of initiative and hopefulness off at its very roots. A sense of torpor ensues that paralyses the desire to investigate, discover and change, and to even believe that change is permissible or possible.
    The charge of stewarding the earth given to Adam requires knowing how all things work, and the properties of the earth’s constituents. We are meant to discover the nature of the world we live in, for that leads or should lead to a greater appreciation of the God who made it, and how much we are graced by Him.
    I am very thankful too, that we are not called to wipe out the enemies of Christ, but rather to give them the truth that He gave to us, and to leave them to respond to God in their own time and way. Jesus is quite capable of being the righteous Judge of all the earth.

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