Larry Jordan

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Belief is Overrated

Jun 15, 2023 by Larry Jordan, in Christianity

All theology is speculation, and when we realize that there are almost 50,000 Christian denominations and that all of them have changed a lot in 2,000 years, we see how absurd it is to claim that any denomination, no matter how large or how old, contains "Truth with a capital T." 

Of course, this does not even consider the many non-Christian denominations that exist today or that have existed in the past.) Further, some of these denominations profess beliefs about God or the Universe that are very different from any Christian beliefs about God or the Universe.

Many religions realize that their understandings of God or the Universe are cultural and that others can recognize divinity within their own cultural parameters. Christianity is somewhat unuque in its exclusivity, believing that some people are chosen or saved, while others are damned, but these arguments are circular, because they rely on assumptions that a leader is infallible or a scripture is inerrant. These assumptions are themselves only beliefs, not facts. 

Most of our beliefs are dependent on our assumptions. If we believe that supernatural beings control human destiny, as the ancient Greeks and Romans did, then we can believe stories about talking snakes and global floods and physical resurrections. On the other hand, if we believe in reason and science, as many modern people today do, then these and similar supernatural beliefs can seem unlikely, at best, when interpreted literally.

In Christianity, the concept of "faith" has been corrupted. The Greek word for faith, pistis, means "trust; faithfulness; involvement" with God, rather than belief in doctrines about God. Paul Tillich, a Christian philosopher and theologian, writes that faith is not "an act of knowledge that has a low degree of evidence."

Since the Reformation, Protestants believe that we are justified by faith in Jesus, as the apostle Paul mentioned in Romans 3:22. Today, some scholars believe that "faith in Jesus" should be translated as "faith of Jesus," analogous to the faith of Abraham. This understanding would rewrite Christian theology, emphasizing trust in God, rather than belief in doctrines about God.

Unfortunately, when the doctrines of Christianity were proscribed in the fourth century, the ancient bishops chose to emphasize supernatural beliefs, such as  virgin birth and physical resurrection, rather than moral teaching, like the Golden Rule and the Sermon on the Mount.

Why does Christianity rely on catechisms, confessions, and creeds, when theology is so speculative, specific to assumptions, and supernatural?  Some churches, such as the Unitarian Universalists, rely on principles, such as "the inherent worth and dignity of every person," rather than credal statements, such as "The Bible is the inerrant word of God." The former is self-evident, but the latter is not.

Most non-Christian denominations are not creedal. For example, Buddhism largely avoids speculative questions, such as "Does God exist?" or "What happens when we die?" Instead, Buddhism outlines a philosophy for living a good life, and proscribes broad precepts, such as "Refrain from misuse of the senses," rather than specific commandments, such as "Thou shalt not commit adultery."

As Jim Palmer asks, "What is the endgame?" Is the purpose of a spiritual life to practice broad principles that honor our own existence and others' existence, or is it to adopt specific supernatural beliefs and cling to them tenuously, without regard to reason or science?