This page in brief
Is there any objective and rational way to choose which religion (if any) is most likely to be speaking the truth about God? If you think logic is the best way to know God, there are some criteria we can use, based on the reasons why we might believe in God in the first place.
How could we know a true God?
This is the crucial question for anyone seeking to find if God has revealed himself on earth, but how can we possibly answer it? The clues section of this website looks at many aspects of the universe and human life that seem to show that God probably exists. It therefore seems logical that those same considerations should give us clues to what a god may be like and thus how we would recognise the true God amongst all the alternatives.
So perhaps a true God would be like this:
- If our belief in human-ness and love suggest there may be a God who made us, then perhaps she has personality and is loving?
- Perhaps our belief in reason and logic indicates that a true God would value truth and could be known through logic? Belief in a god should therefore be compatible with the discoveries of science.
- If our deep-down belief in the truth of ethics indicates God may be the source, then surely he must be ethical too? We may also wonder if God has a way of dealing with human evil.
- The big bang and the beauty and order in the universe point to a creative God, with enormous power, but the ‘harshness’ of nature may indicate that God is ‘tough’.
- Because the universe looks like it was specifically designed to allow life, we may perhaps think that God is interested in life, especially human life, and to have a purpose in our existence. This being so, we might also expect God to have revealed herself to a lot of people (otherwise what is the point?).
If the shoe fits …..
This is how we may assess the claims of the gods of the many world religions (see the table below for a summary).
As we have seen, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Baha’i, Zoroastrianism and Sikhism all believe in one God. These Gods meet most of the above criteria – they are creators, have ethics, are ‘personal’ and reveal themselves. They have a lot in common, but they each place different requirements on those who believe. Christianity, Islam and Judaism are generally considered by historians to have promoted the rise of modern science.
However only Christianity and Islam have really become ‘world’ religions, believed by a significant percentage of people, so belief in the others is more problematic.
Hinduism, some other Asian religions (Jainism and perhaps Shinto), and many local or tribal religions (for example, ancient Greek, Roman or Norse, and animistic religions today), believe in many gods, or a God or spiritual force revealed through many aspects which may appear as separate gods.
These Gods don’t satisfy the criteria so well – some are ethical but some are not, they are not always seen as the great creators of the universe and they appear to be less connected to the human race. Philospher Mortimor Adler and
physicist-theologian John Polkinghorne both suggest that some aspects of eastern religions (and probably many polytheistic religions as well) are incompatible with the scientific method – for example, often their worlds are chaotic or even an illusion, lacking the hard reality and physical laws we are familiar with, and their logic can allow mutually exclusive things to both be true, which does not fit with modern science.
Of these religions, only Hinduism can really claim to be a “world” religion.
Less knowable gods
The Buddha did not teach much about God, the taoic religions (Confucianism, Taosim, and perhaps Shinto) also stress ethics and philosophy rather than faith in a god. Thus these, also, do not meet many of the criteria we have suggested – it is hard to see a ceator god among them, nor a god interested in people as individuals. Only Buddhism can claim to be a world religion.
These beliefs may be more attractive to those who don’t believe that the evidence points to the existence of a creator God.
Roll your own gods
Surveys show that many people in the west these days have a belief in a God, but are not strong adherents of a particular religion. Their God has some characteristics of the Christian God (good, powerful, loving) but few of the ‘tougher’ characteristics (high ethical standards, interfering).
Other people may talk about the divine presence within all people.
It is hard to assess such beliefs, because they offer little beyond personal faith as a reason to believe. However they do not satisfy the criteria that God has communicated to many people, nor do their gods have much of the tough realism required by other criteria. It seems that most of these believers claim no more than subjective “truth” for their belief.
The table below shows my assessment of how the Gods of each of the major religions measure up against our criteria. I encourage you to develop your own criteria and make your own judgments (if you are interested).
Key to table
1. Personal & loving – interested in people br>
2. Values truth & logic + compatible with science br>
3. Ethical br>
4. Creator of universe br>
5. Revealed truth to many people
|Religion||1. Personal & loving – interested in people||2. Values truth & logic + compatible with science||3. Ethical||4. Creator of universe||5. Revealed truth to many people|
A tentative conclusion
This brief survey suggests that one of two approaches to religion seems most logical for those who are looking for a spiritual approach to life.
We could investigate the two great monotheistic religions, Christianity or Islam, on the basis that their Gods are the only ones that look like they could have created the universe and human beings, and have attempted to communicate to the whole human race.
We could believe that God exists, but is unconcerned about which belief we hold, as long as we live in a moral way. (Such a belief has a lot in common with Deism – the belief that God exists but has not communicated with humans.) We could thus make a choice to hold a personal and ethical belief which doesn’t involve a god. We may pick up on some of the ethical ideas in any of the religions, but would not hold completely to any of them.
What do you think?
Do you think we can trust our logic to decide our spiritual beliefs, or does it require something different? Does this rather theoretical approach appeal to you, or do you need to approach these questions with more passion and feeling?
Which view, or which religion, seems most promising to you?
All photos from MorgueFile: Buddha, Sikh women, church, lanterns, prayer banners, Wailing Wall Jerusalem, mosque, priest.
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