In our previous posts we have attempted to show that faith can be immensely beneficial for your journey of life. Indeed faith is intended to be central to your well-being not something peripheral or inconsequential. Because of faith’s incredible potential for life, we attempted to remove some of society’s prominent impediments to the pursuit of faith.
My hope is that the road is now cleared for you to take the next step toward considering faith for yourself.
If that is so, at this juncture we need to ask one crucial question: How does someone choose a proper faith? That is a very important question, isn’t it! Connected to that question is this one: How do we go about determining which faith is truly trustworthy? In other words, how do we sort through the vast landscape of spiritual ideas, philosophical musings, and confident religious claims and arrive at what is true? And how do I evaluate my own current faith without being biased?
Anyone who understands the world the way it exists today, knows there is considerable disagreement and controversy over this one question. Differences of opinion are so wide we might not want to broach the subject at all. It would be simpler just to let everyone choose whatever they wish to believe, critically evaluate none of their beliefs, and just avoid the whole hornet’s nest of religious controversy. However, if we did that, we would be falling into the same trap we exposed in a previous post, namely, The Dismissive Factor, which wrongly claims all faiths are basically the same. Skirting the issues of truth & faith will not benefit you or your loved ones. Facing them wisely will. Let’s not be like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand, but the eagle perched high and using its wide-sweeping and far-gazing vision to make sound decisions!
Like someone rummaging through a garage full of stuff, let’s do some sorting, throwing out what is not useful and keeping what can be used. As we pointed out before, all faiths cannot be true because they contradict each another. Deciding between them may be unpopular, but each pursuer of faith needs to come to grips with the fact that some ideas and claims are not worthy of his/her faith. It may be hard to evaluate other people’s cherished beliefs, yet just like gold and silver, the only way to know if something is valuable is to test it.
Making this task feel onerous may be the fact that some of the people you love, enjoy as friends, or highly respect have believed things which are not true. Don’t despair or balk at advancing forward. You can still love and respect them even if you cannot believe what they believe. Plus, what you learn may help them. You are going to discover that many “faiths” and spiritual systems of belief are founded on sinking sand not solid rock. Their leaders and proponents produce more heat than light. Their messages are more noise than harmonious music. They claim to provide guidance, but they do not guide anyone into truth, life, or liberty. They evade tough questions and obfuscate when they do provide an answer. Knowing this will actually make you a better spiritual guide for the ones you love.
So in this section we will try to demonstrate that some faiths must be dismissed, because they have fatal flaws. Because of those flaws, they are not to be trusted.
When it comes to “how to” choose a faith, I suggest we do something many don’t think about doing when discussing religion. I suggest we back up and recognize that many disagree about religion because they disagree about how even to approach the subject. Let me suggest a way forward that I think you will agree with.
Broadly speaking there are two general approaches people can, and do, take.
The first way is what I call: The Bottom-Up Approach.
This approach starts with us at the bottom, with our feet firmly planted on familiar ground, and then reasons upward to what is not known. Rather than beginning with something which appears elusive, a god or a mystical feeling or the universe or Nirvana or some transcendental truth, (things unseen and unknown) it commences with us and what we know. It uses the commonsense each of us already accumulated in life. Then it uses this commonsense to sort through worldviews. In other words, it starts with you, as a researcher, not someone else you are not sure you trust anyway. This approach may even be called the “philosophical approach,” for by it man reasons from what he knows upward and outward from himself to try to figure out what he does not know.
There are many who have taken and will continue to take this approach. It is a well-worn pathway for those attempting to determine truth.
The advantage to this approach is that a person can start by trusting what he already comfortably affirms. It’s an approach which launches in familiar territory. You are not forced to step out in faith before you actually possess faith in something else. You start by trusting yourself, your background, your logic, lessons you have learned from others, and your past experiences. You assume that there must be some truth to what you have learned along the way from parents, school, books, history, coaches, and life experience. If something does not make sense to you, you are not forced to buy into it right away. You may shelf it for later consideration.
Don’t misunderstand! This approach is not foolproof. It alone will not solve all the world’s mysteries or land your faith on absolute truth with no remaining doubts. If it did, everyone would believe pretty much the same things. This approach is a start, not a finish. It gets you going out of the gate but does not bring you past the checkered flag.
The disadvantage of the “Bottom-Up” approach is that after you have applied what appears to be sound reason to your evaluation, you are still left with a measure of uncertainty. Ironically by trusting in your own thoughts, if you are humble, you will come to a point where you question your own thoughts. Why is that? Because deep inside you know you are not the expert in determining ultimate truth. You also fear your motives are not always pure, so your sight will not always be clear. Most people recognize their inherent selfishness, egotism, and willfulness. That can and does cloud judgment. If, for example, the religion’s message about you is more negative than you want to affirm, you may be tempted to dismiss it because you don’t like it. No one likes to be told he is part of the problem. Yet flattery in religion is very dangerous because our egos love to be stroked by false messages. To pursue truth, even the negative truth about you must be embraced, not precluded due to pride.
So you should know that you will need some help along the way. I am banking on your having enough humility to know you could be wrong – and wrong about some very important things. Only someone with a highly inflated ego would put so much trust in his own opinions and insights to the disregard of evidence outside himself. If brilliant scientists, doctors, and engineers need the affirmation of the rest of their academic community to approve their findings, then spiritual investigators even more so need their thoughts tested and buttressed by something outside of themselves. Spirituality needs a standard too. That standard is not you or me.
For now, though, this approach is a nonthreatening starting point, and it is valuable to eliminate many false claims.
The second avenue to take is The Top-Down Approach.
This approach recognizes that a man or woman, no matter how smart, how educated, how experienced, how connected to life, still needs help from above or beyond for guidance. This approach recognizes the weaknesses and limitations inherent in human knowledge and perspective. It accepts that man is not a demigod nor all-knowing. For man to learn ultimate truth, the divine must reach down and reveal himself and his plan. If there is a Creator out there, and if he has spoken, and if he has prescribed what is supposed to happen in true religion, then there must be some truth he has provided to guide people to himself. This approach desires to avail itself of that unique assistance.
One of Jesus’ disciples once asked Jesus when he claimed he was departing to go to Heaven, “How do we know the way (there)?” That is the question everyone should want to know. Jesus’ famous answer was, “I am the way,” John 14:6. Jesus had earlier claimed to come down from heaven to light the way for others, John 8:12, 23. Jesus was teaching his followers that the right religion has its own authority above all other authorities. It comes down from above and reaches down from above with its own authority and cuts through the confusion, fog, and darkness. It brings light into the world and shows the pathway forward. It overcomes human prejudice by humbling people to see the truth about themselves which they would not accept on their own.
So while man gropes about on earth trying to know the right way or the right god, ultimately, if man is to have certainty, God will have to reach down to him. Certainty only comes with a higher point of reference. Put another way, science & philosophy only goes so high and no farther. They have a ceiling. From there those who want the truth and claim to be openminded must be open to a greater mind with a higher perspective. Not to do so is to fail to be educated.
Of course, there is danger in this approach too. For it must be asked: How does one discern God’s truth or voice? How does one know some benevolent spirit is reaching down to you or whether an evil spirit is deceiving you? What if the whole idea of a spiritual realm is just a bunch of hullabaloo and malarkey? Or what if by my religious zeal I mesmerize myself and think I see something which is not actually there? What if my feelings fool me? What if by hoping too hard for hope, I hope in an illusion?
These are legitimate concerns, but they should not deter your pursuit of faith. Like a ship which has to navigate through treacherous waters to arrive at the paradise island, a carefully chosen course will land you at a smooth and sandy beach. This approach may not be completely dismissed, for it will be needed at some point. Maybe by then you will have some answers to your tougher questions which will put you in a better place to evaluate spiritual claims. Answering these questions may seem daunting as a novice, but you don’t have to remain a novice. You can learn!
Since most people are more comfortable with the first approach, in this series of posts we will begin with the “Bottom-Up” approach. In the future, I will be presenting the positive characteristics of the Christian faith (a top-down approach) and attempting to answer the tough negative critiques against it. (And I know there are many. I won’t shy away from the tough ones.) I will also explain my personal faith journey so you know where I’m coming from. I think it is only fair to make sure you have that background. For now, though, I want to lay out helpful principles to use to decide on a good faith. In the realm of faith there is a vast supply of creative ideas. Buyers beware! Not all are as insightful as they claim.
So here we go …
Let’s ask ourselves what we already know about trust. Yes, faith is akin to trust. Faith always involves trust and confidence in another. What do you already know about who to trust and what not to trust? For example, what qualities or attributes do you look for in a person, product, company, or organization which acclimate you toward them? Right now there are some people you trust and don’t trust. Why? Faith necessarily involves trust and confidence in another. So what makes wise, discerning people trust some people and products and not others? What would make you very cautious and guarded around other people? What would send you running in the other direction? I think you already know.
I propose that those same commonsense tests be used when choosing a faith. In many cases, it’s not rocket science. You already know what speakers are not worth your time and who stands the test of time.
As we continue this series we will present 8 guiding principles we think you can easily affirm. If you use these same principles in evaluating religions and worldviews, you will be able to discard quite a number of spiritual claims as unsuitable for your confidence. You will be able to tell, they just don’t pass the smell test.