Guiding Principle #2: – Comprehensiveness

Common Sense Statement: Trust those who know their subject well and answer your important questions thoroughly. Distrust those who claim to be experts/guides but cannot provide answers to your basic questions and who deflect those questions when they are asked.

Life Illustration: If you are thinking about hiring a financial manger to guide how to arrange your assets, banking, investments, and plans for a retirement nest-egg, and you ask her important financial questions to test her knowledge, and she fails to demonstrate expertise, you will not trust her with something as important as your financial future. The so-called expert’s inability to demonstrate comprehensive knowledge of her subject will quickly make you apprehensive about placing the management of your financial portfolio in her hands. This is only commonsense.

Application to Faith: Any religion which provides solid answers to life’s questions and does not sidestep them is bound to be more trustworthy than those who don’t. Again, that’s just commonsense. Any faith worth believing must at least provide some explanation for the hard questions of life and not duck them the way so many dishonest politicians skillfully do. To provide comprehensive answers to life’s toughest questions does not mean the religion has to know everything in the universe. However if they are brushing the tough questions of life under the rug or telling you that you are wrong for even asking the questions, your built-in truth detector should sound an alarm. There is something fishy going on. They are not answering them because they don’t know the answers. Since they don’t know the answers, they can’t be a spiritual guide to you. As Jesus taught, “A blind man can’t lead a blind man unless they both fall into a pit.” Therefore, each worldview must look squarely at the mystery of life and provide a coherent explanation for the whole. After all, this is what it means to be comprehensive. Those who are not comprehensive are giving you a clue, that they don’t have a clue. So walk away; Don’t buy in!

The comprehensive answers must include the toughies like …  telling us where we came from, who we are, why we are here, what we are supposed to be doing, where the world is headed, how to know good from evil, how evil got started, what’s going to be done about evil, who will win in the end, what happens after we die etc … If the religion answers a couple of these questions, but leaves you dangling on most of the others, they are not comprehensive and not worthy of your faith. In fact, if they have a tough time with even a couple of them, that is reason for caution.

A comprehensive worldview must explain the mystery of origins. How can any worldview be true and reliable if it does not at least attempt to explain life’s beginning? If you don’t know how it began, how can you explain life’s purpose? A comprehensive worldview also explains the end. No one who is ignorant about how it ends can possibly guide others. A comprehensive worldview must also explain the divine. If God or gods are real and have been communicating to humanity in some form, the religion should know about this crucial and treasured revelational information. If they don’t know about it, how could they possibly lead the way into truth?

Again, for emphasis, the question must be asked: What is the point of a religion or philosophy or worldview claiming to guide the rest of us into enlightenment and truth, if it can’t answer the most basic questions of life and does not answer the question of God? It needs to provide a comprehensive view of the universe so we can know they are competent in their subject. Otherwise joining their religion becomes a venture in fantasy and guessing. It leaves its adherents in ignorance.

Egregious examples of non-comprehensiveness in religion:

Atheism

As with agnosticism, atheists generally don’t consider their view of the world to be religious or spiritual or related to faith. Some in their camp would argue it stretches the meaning of the word “religion” unrealistically to label atheism a religion. They consider such a labeling incredulous and maybe even an exercise in chicanery. In a previous post, though, we demonstrated that atheism is a worldview, and since its adherents must exercise a ton of faith, it is appropriate to speak of it as a “faith.” We don’t have to call it a religion to speak of the faith which atheists must exercise. If one has to exercise faith to believe it, then it is a faith. So in this sense it must be evaluated as a controlling belief system, which is how I am using the concept of faith in this series. Atheists who duck the evaluation of their worldview on the grounds that it is not a faith are really the ones being tricky. They are not being straightforward and are therefore not trustworthy.

Here is some of what we wrote in a previous post about atheism …

The atheist’s worldview is that there is no god and never has been a god. There is no designer, no creator, no spiritual cause to the universe. All talk of god to them is nonsense. Yet it is obvious that our universe exists. How did it get here? If the atheist provides no answer, he would only prove how untenable his position is. Atheism would be exposed as being pure faith and irrational. So the atheist has to come up with some answer to the existence of this universe. Since there is no cause behind the universe, he has no choice but to believe everything came into existence without a supernatural Creator or Designer. The universe then would be an effect without a cause. That requires them to believe that all the brilliant, intricate design we behold at every level of nature is merely an accident, without plan or purpose. The so-called design, no matter how brilliant, complicated, and intricate it is, is only imagined. Even though our logic tells us this looks and acts like a design, we must keep telling ourselves there is no design. It is all just pure accident. The atheist must believe, without proof, that all the order in the universe, all the beauty, morality, personality, consciousness, DNA, logic, etc… and even the universe itself had no cause, no purpose, and no design. That’s truly amazing mountain-sized faith, because it is so counterintuitive and runs against logic! After all, everyone sees the design in nature. Its design is extremely intricate, so meticulously put together, every little piece has a part to play. Everyone is also aware of the morality the human race cannot separate itself from! Human morality is a reality too. Atheism does not have much of a cause for it either. Then there is science. Science proves in increasing ways the incredible design of our planet and universe, even at the smallest building-block level. Everyone intuitively knows there must be some great cause to such a great effect. To speak otherwise does violence to the intellect.

Now pause a moment and think how deep this faith must be for the atheist. An atheist ultimately has only three logical options to explain the existence of the universe. (By the way, they can’t even explain why we should attempt to be logical if logic is nothing more than part of a great accident called humanity.) One explanation is that everything that exists came into being from nothing. However nothing is not much of a cause. In fact, nothing is nothing. That means it has nothing, contains nothing, does nothing. With nothing there is no space, no time, no matter, no energy, no activity, no movement, no intelligence, no plan, no black hole, no black matter – nothing. Actually if nothing every existed at any time in the past, then nothing would exist right now, (Think about that for a moment.) because nothing produces nothing. Nothing always produces nothing, because it is nothing. But since in their view there is no god, no creative power, no plan, no intelligence, no energy, no matter, no particles, what is left to cause the universe? Not the universe itself. Not a black hole. Not radiation! Not a singularity! Not super condensed matter! Not God! Not even chance or luck! Nothing! This is the height of irrational belief. It is pure faith!

Another option is for the atheist to believe the universe is its own cause. That takes a ton of faith too. For something to be its own cause, by definition, it has to exist before the effect it causes. How can the universe exist before the universe existed? That’s a faith which contradicts logic and science. Or some posit another twist to this cause: they believe another universe or a previous state of this universe caused this universe. They will defend this view by taking the approach that the present state of the universe was caused by a previous state of the universe. In turn that previous state of the universe was caused by an even earlier state and so on. However this is nothing more than pure speculation. Not a sliver of data exists for another physical universe. It’s pure theory, if even that! No data exists for a previous universe either. It must be assumed. Such an alternate universe or a previous universe would not solve the problem of origins anyway, for then a cause for that alternate universe or previous universe would need to be posited. This problem will not go away for the atheist.

A third option is the universe had no cause and always existed. The universe is a reality without a cause. It is just a brute fact. Logic screams against this theory. Everything we know about reality argues against this. Besides, science has disproven this theory already. The Steady State theory has been refuted due to facts discovered in the universe itself including quasars and Cosmic Background Radiation. The universe we are told, definitely was caused and had an origin. Science demonstrates that time/matter/space require a cause. This is not debatable. So this explanation also must be rejected.

An atheist has no other direction to go. Usually atheists just make fun of the “god hypothesis” but provide little defense for their own beliefs. They go on the offensive against believers in God and try to find holes in their arguments or assumptions. When it comes to defending their beliefs intelligent arguments are hard to find. They argue in a circle by starting with the assumption that only things we can prove by our senses can be proven to exist, then they come to the conclusion that only things which can be proven to exist by our sense are real. It’s a marvelous display of unjustified, circular reasoning. Such thinking only produces arrogance not light. No wonder they never get beyond it.

So it takes a mountain of faith to believe that nothing could produce anything much less everything. It takes a boatload of faith to believe something caused its own existence or that another universe exists or that the material universe is an effect without a cause.

So atheism does not explain where anything came from. Since it cannot explain where anything came from, it cannot explain why we are here, what our purpose is, or what anything means. While boasting to be an educated, sophisticated, or factual system of belief, it is the least comprehensive worldview of all. In this it miserably fails the comprehensive test. Atheists are not competent to assert anything with metaphysical implications.

There is even more to the deficiencies of atheism. Because no other questions can be answered, it cannot establish any lasting basis for morality. It can only point to how humans have chosen to live by morality and possibly how this morality served man in his earlier stages of development. It cannot give certain guidance to any of us concerning what is actually right or wrong, because right and wrong require some standard of right and wrong which, in an atheistic worldview, does not exist. Any attempt to define right or wrong in an atheist universe would be arbitrary. So the conclusion would be indefensible. Atheism has no standard other than what people choose for themselves and their happiness. Everything is random and relative to the individual.

The deficiencies go further. Atheism cannot establish meaning to life. If we don’t know how we got here, don’t know where we are going, can’t bring significance to life beyond this present time, then what objective meaning can be assigned to life at all? Why should one even choose to live if existence has no meaning? Indeed the meaningless of existence is the logical outcome of atheism.

The past is not known with atheism either. The future is not known. There is no known unifying principle in the present universe. So there is no meaning, no way of agreeing on how to achieve meaning, and no basis for meaning. There is nothing which holds the universe together, and nothing which gives the individual purpose in the universe. Atheism is bankrupt of ideas!

So Atheism is the least comprehensive of all systems of thinking. It knows the least. It says the least. Don’t buy into it. It claims to be educated while yielding the least light. Some of its adherents hide its great deficiencies by going on the attack against other religions while not allowing or offering a cogent reason for their own religion.

A second example of an egregious lack of comprehensive belief is … Buddhism

Buddhism is a religion which was born out of a reaction against the perceived weaknesses of Hinduism and its cast system in the 6th century B.C. in Northern India near Nepal (The exact date of Buddha’s birth varies widely among scholars from the 7th to 5th century B.C). Little is concretely known about Buddha’s early life because of the lack of biographers. However the following is an outline of what is generally accepted.

Buddhism’s founder, Siddhartha Gautama, was born into a privileged family and was sheltered from the real world inside a palace in Lumbini in Nepal by his father and mother, King Suddhodana and Queen Mahamaya (or Maya). Siddhartha was their only son. It appears that he was a member of the Śakyas clan, and his father was the king of the clan. The name Siddhartha means “one who achieved his goal.” And Gautama was the clan name.

At 16 he was married to Yaśodhara who birthed his son Rahula at 29. After this, by some set of circumstances he was able to witness some of the terrible suffering which was occurring outside his privileged and controlled world. Aghast at the reality of suffering, that night he left his family, luxurious lifestyle, role as future leader, wife, and son, to go on a quest for truth and meaning – a quest which would change the world and the beliefs of millions. (In those days it was accepted for certain men to leave their homes and become ascetics.) During this quest, after years of attempting asceticism, various religious teachings and spiritual guides in Hinduism, he determined none of those brought enlightenment. He rejected Hinduism’s cast and sacrifice systems. So he made a fateful decision and chose a new tactic. He dedicated himself to meditate in solitude for 40 motionless days and nights under the Bohdi tree until he attained, what he called, “Enlightenment.” He committed not to move until he had found and discovered what he was looking for. He wanted to know how to solve what was troubling him about the condition of the world.

From that time forward he was called the Buddha or “The Enlightened One.” Rather than focusing on the rituals of Hinduism he taught an ethical religion or path. Properly enlightened he claimed he was rescued from the cycle of samsara. Samsara, as used in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism, means “journeying” or “wandering on” and refers to the cycle of birth, death, and reincarnation they believe all humans venture through in this present world system. Since the cycle is filled with suffering and desire, the goal in Buddhism is to escape it. A summary of his teachings are the Four Noble Truths namely: 1. Suffering is universal   2. The cause of suffering is craving  3. The cure for suffering is to overcome ignorance and eliminate craving  4. Suppress craving by following the middle way. Under this fourth point, in order to help others escape samsara, Buddha became a teacher of the dharma – the 8 fold path to enlightenment he claimed tapped into the universe’s natural law and order of things. Dharma, in Hinduism and Buddhism, is a bit hard to define, but it involves law, order, and religious duty. The teachings of Buddha are characterized by “The Middle Way” between asceticism and wanton desire. Life is to be lived in moderation, they claim, and meditation is key to understanding. Though there are significantly different forms of Buddhists today, (the three major branches are Theravada, Mahayana & Vajrayana – or Tibetan) generally they follow this prescribed path.

Some Buddhists claim they believe in god or higher beings called devas. However they don’t really believe in a creator god, and Buddha himself did not think the answer to God’s existence was all that important. He sidestepped the issue by claiming it was unimportant.

Buddhism encourages a moral life in the way it defines what is moral. Some of those morals are similar to other religions. Some are not. Buddhists try to gain good karma. Karma is what you get, good or bad, based on how you live morally in the world. The term Karma means “action” or “doing”. People’s actions are driven by their desires, intentions, and motives. Any kind of intentional action whether physical, mental, or spoken is Karma. These intentional actions in Buddhist thinking lead to consequences. As you do your actions, you build up Karma which is passed on to your credit or demerit as you reincarnate back into this life in another form based on how good your karma was. You accumulate karma based on your actions. Since they also believe in reincarnation, they accumulate karma not just from this life but previous lives as well. That determines how well you live in the present and future lives.

The only way of salvation, that is the only way to break out of this cycle of reincarnation, is to reach enlightenment. Enlightenment is the goal. Enlightenment involves doing away with all your desire. Desire is bad in Buddhism. Buddha did not distinguish between good desire and bad desire. All desire causes attachment, and that attachment leads to ill will and hardship. As Buddha put it: Desire is the root of suffering. When you have desire you get attached. That attachment leads to suffering. According to him, enlightened people don’t get attached. They seek detachment until they reach complete detachment – a state called Nirvana. Nirvana is not so much a heaven or a paradise. Rather It is the perfect state of mind with no aversion, no passion, and no ignorance. The term Nirvana means “blow it out” or “quenching.” The candle of their desire, so to say, is blown out. What actually becomes of a person who reaches Nirvana is not known. Why someone should try to reach Nirvana is not adequately explained.

Each person is on a single path which only they can control. No god controls them, but some Buddhists rely on divine beings to aid them on their path. Their goal is to become a Buddha one day.

Obviously there is much more to this world religion than this brief sketch. It is enough though to point out how much Buddhism does not answer about life. Buddhism fails as a comprehensive religion or worldview in a number of ways.

First, it gives no explanation for the origin of the universe, life, existence, or anything. Similar to Atheism without a knowledge of origins, they forfeit any certainty about the present life or the future. A philosophical approach to how to live must be based on where we came from and our purpose. This they do not even claim to know. Therefore, they can never lead others toward enlightenment if they have no knowledge of these basics.

Second, Buddhism does not give an explanation for who or what started Karma. Karma is crucial to their system, but they don’t seem to know where it came from or how even it could be. They assume it to be logically necessary but can’t explain why it is here. Since karma regulates all of life and is important for their life’s evaluation, one should at least be told who came up with this idea of karma. No explanation is given. It just is. They are literally following a blind principle with no lawgiver and no substantiation that the law if properly understood.

Third, this faith does not explain why there is a cycle of death, life, and reincarnation. They affirm that there is, but why must there be a cycle of reincarnation? How did it get started? No real answer is provided to the inquisitive. We all can tell that death and life are real, but no proof is even offered that reincarnation is real. It could be that this is the only life, and all talk about previous lives is fictional. They don’t address this other than to encourage people to discover their previous lives. We are not even told why there would be previous lives. Just that they are.

Fourth, Buddhism assumes, but cannot prove, all desire is bad. In fact, Buddhists seem to contradict itself in this – they make their supreme desire to rid themselves of all desire. They pursue ardently the removal of desire, which therefore, must be characterized as a controlling desire in their lives. How can all desire be bad? How could love of neighbor be a bad desire? How could mercy upon the poor be a desire we must try to discard? Is their desire for Nirvana good or bad? These are left unanswered.

Fifth, it does not explain or prove why Buddha was the enlightened one. He claimed to be enlightened, but how do we know he was enlightened? What evidence is given he attained what others did not? How do we know he was not self-deceived or fell woefully short of true understanding? Certainly he strongly disagrees with the teachings of the Bible. He did not answer lots of questions. He only bore witness to himself which is not all that convincing. Furthermore, what about other teachers who came before or after Buddha who claimed there were entirely different and divergent ways of entering into the light, such as Moses, Elijah, Jesus, Mohammed, or Mani? Is Buddha claiming they are all wrong because none of them got their enlightenment by doing away with desire? What explanation does Buddha give about those who follow other ways? Are they on a lesser path? Are they deceived?

Sixth, the Buddha does not provide an explanation of whether there is a Creator god, what that god is like, how he/she could help, what power he/it has over us, etc… So though Buddha acknowledge the existence of the Hindu gods, he was essentially agnostic – at least in practice. He did not think the gods were important in understanding ultimate things or becoming enlightened. That is quite a boastful position for the Buddha to take. If there are higher beings surely they know more than we know. How could he acknowledge the existence of higher beings then discount their knowledge as relevant? Concerning the One Creator God he did not seem to comment – quite an oversight in terms of ultimate knowledge. Obviously the answer to the question of God will influence all other metaphysical topics, for if there is a Supreme Being who knows all things and created all things, God’s message must be given greater weight than anyone’s including Buddha’s.

Seventh, Buddhism does not tell us why our goal should be Nirvana since that is not a place of wonder and awe but a place of total nothingness or absense. Why should I want not to be happy forever with friends and family? Why is removal of desire superior to increase in desire with joy in paradise?

All these deficiencies and more demonstrate Buddhism is far from knowledgeable or comprehensive. The Buddha does not provide answers to our deepest metaphysical questions about life and seems to even disparage people from asking. Without real answers, use your commonsense and reject this path due to its inability to explain life, existence, and meaning. A self-declared enlightened one is not too enlightened!

A third example of non comprehensiveness is Dualism.

Unlike theism, atheism, monism or polytheism, dualism (at least in its pure or radical form) asserts that there are two equal, uncreated, antagonistic energy forces or gods in existence – one good and one bad. Both the good side (bright and beneficent) and the evil side (sinister and destructive) exist from eternity and are the cause of the universe.They each have been in existence forever and are not the source of the other. They run parallel with each other and do not originate or explain each other. They are two independent forces and irreducible to anything else. In contrast, Monism believes in only one substance or principle from which all things flow. Polytheism holds to many gods, some good and some bad.

Various religions have dualism at the base. Zoroastrianism is likely the most famous. In ancient times Manichaeism also asserted a form of dualism. As before, it is not our purpose to analyze these religions or ones like them in detail. Our concern again is with the foundational beliefs and whether those beliefs pass the commonsense test. If dualism is not comprehensive, than any religion based on dualism will run into its logical problems and should be rejected.

In considering the merits of dualism, you can Immediately see that there is a logical problem. Who or what started these two forces? If they run parallel with each other, they cannot be the explanation of each other. If they cannot explain one another, then we have two principles which are uncaused. This is not logical. Logic demands that there can only be one uncaused cause of all other things. For once you admit a second uncaused cause you no longer have the comprehensive explanation for all other things.

Also how do we know if one of the two principles is stronger or more effective or more lasting than the other one? It is claimed they are equally eternal and powerful, but that claim is not substantiated outside of itself. So which side do you listen to in order to know if one or the other is stronger? There seems to be no authority to tell us which is the greater, if one is greater at all.

If we cannot tell which one is greater except by trusting one side while ignoring the other, which side should we serve, evil or good? It does not seem to matter! You may just pick either side and serve it, but you cannot know if you are serving the stronger side or better side.

If both are foundational, are both sides creative? If they are both creative, how can one be called bad? It would seem only the “good” side would call the bad side “bad.” If you were serving the so-called bad side, you might think of the good side as less than ideal. You could easily justify bad actions as necessary or just the way things are. Dualism gives evil a substantive position and justification for existence. Logically it makes serving evil as valid as serving good. There remains no incentive for choosing good any more than choosing bad.

Another problem with dualism is its inability to explain personality and intelligence. If the two eternal principles are not personal nor intelligent, how did we become personal and intelligent? If the two forces are personal, why are they called forces? If they are personal which of the two was the first? If they are not intelligent where did the plan and design of the universe come from?

Dualism cannot escape these problems and leaves its adherent without answers to the most basic questions of life. These opposite, eternal, energy sources, do not explain each other. Dualism is not comprehensive and should not be the basis of your faith.

Entry 14 Finding a Trustworthy Faith - A Commonsense Approach Pt. 3
Entry 16 Finding a Trustworthy Faith - A Commonsense Approach Pt. 5