Last time I introduced you to the most famous atheist of the 20th century, and how he changed his mind 180º based on scientific observations. I’m certainly not the only one to discover that the best way to live is to submit to the truth no matter where it leads, but there’s a problem. Sounds good in practice, but when a person actually attempts to follow the truth, the work of discovering that truth often seems like too much trouble. That’s because it IS a lot of trouble. And even if the pursuit of the truth about life and death and our responsibilities is seen as important enough to pursue, it never seems urgent. Lack of urgency can easily turn into lack of motivation, and lack of motivation often turns into abandoning the pursuit altogether. And if all this weren’t enough, even if you do end up pursuing the truth, it’s very likely to change you in big ways, and change often comes with a cost. I know because I’ve had truth change my perspective 180º in several key ways over the course of my life. And I have to admit that this change has been painful and costly sometimes. Assuming you’re the kind of person who doesn’t mind putting some honest effort into the quest for truth (you’d be in the minority in my experience), and you don’t mind the risk of having your world turned upside down (even a smaller minority), I offer some thoughts that build on the three previous articles in this 6-part series. Here they are in case you missed them:
Over these previous articles here at BaileyLineRoad.com, I’ve pointed towards a few of the many examples of mounting scientific evidence that suggests there’s some kind of intelligence behind our universe. I really just touched on the surface in that previous article. As people learn more about the complexities of living cells and the highly unlikely conditions that allow life to flourish on earth, more and more people are coming to realize that it takes a great deal of blind faith to believe that the world all “just happened” somehow. Too much faith for some. A surprising number of prominent former atheists have come to admit publicly that there must be a creator of some kind precisely because of scientific evidence like this. And that’s the kind of thing that always gets me thinking.
So where does this leave us? This article is the fourth of a six-part series about making sense of life before the opportunity to make sense of it is gone for you. And make no mistake, someday this opportunity will be gone, gone for you forever. Of course, sooner or later, topics like these always lead to religion, and this is also where things sometimes get difficult, though I don’t believe they have to. Despite the fact that reasonableness, goodwill, basic manners and politeness are in short supply these days, I’m banking on the fact that civil conversations are not entirely out of the question just yet. At least I hope so.
Are All Religions The Same?
There are thousands of different religions in the world, and possibly millions of different ideas about exactly what those religions stand for. And to make matters more challenging, a great many of these religions make opposing and contradictory claims. “Wait a minute!”, you say. “All religions are basically the same. Be good, be kind, be selfless, go to “heaven”. Isn’t this what all religions teach?”.
The only people I know who believe all religions are basically the same haven’t looked into the details very far. The “all religions are the same” claim only seems true until you actually take more than just a passing glance at the facts. Actually, each major religion in the world teaches completely incompatible things. The biggest stumbling block to accurate ideas about faith is not an opposition to the facts, but rather the unwillingness to work a little to find accurate answers among completely opposite claims. Even hard-working, diligent people are often quite lazy when it comes to working to discover the truth about the biggest questions of life.
Hinduism, for instance, follows millions of different Gods, while Judaism says there’s only one God. This cannot be true t the same time. Both Christianity and Islam also maintain that there is only one God, though Islam and Judaism vigorously oppose the completely unique central Christian idea that God came to earth as a man who died to offer the chance for all people to have the mistakes, hurts and errors of their life forgotten. And while Islam and Judaism may agree that Jesus Christ definitely is not God, they certainly disagree on a great many other points, as most evening newscasts prove. And if all this wasn’t enough, many atheists believe that all world religions are just one big source of trouble anyway, and we’d all be better off abandoning the superstition of religion sooner rather than later. I always smile when I hear an atheist claim they’re non-religious. All the word “religion” means, is what a person believes. The “religion” (belief system) of atheism and it’s doctrines were responsible for at least 100 million civilian deaths in peace time during the 20th century. The fact is that it’s impossible for anyone to live in a morally neutral way. Values are either chosen consciously or lived by default. The only question is what those values are. Pursue the truth and you’ll find it. Fail to pursue it and you’ll end up with a set of wishy washy, meaningless (and sometimes dangerous) values that are the product of a lifetime of non-work and sloppy thinking. Non-work and sloppy thinking never cuts it in the workshop or under a vehicle you’re fixing or when you’re laying out a house foundation. Why would anyone expect sloppy thinking to work in even more important areas of life?
So, what do we do with all this? Does any of it matter? What we really need is truth, though even that word needs defining these days.
Ever since the word “truth” was coined in the English language, it used to be something that means “as it really is, regardless of what you believe”. More commonly nowadays, however, truth means “whatever you or I believe or feel or hold dear even if those truths are opposite”. This is an entirely different meaning and it has changed the way people think and live in a big way. Something can now be “true for you”, and a completely contradictory thing “true for me” at the same time. Some people have even come to feel that there’s no such thing as absolute truth in any realm, and in areas of personal preference that’s very reasonable. I like vanilla ice cream and you like mint chocolate chip. You like petunias but your neighbour never plants them. My old truck is a Ford, but some people drive GM. There are no old fashioned, absolute “truths” when it comes to personal preference, but that’s not all there is. Not nearly.
If you think about it, none of us lives without putting some kind of absolute truths into practice everyday. Not even people who maintain that there is no absolute truth anywhere can live like this in the real world. That stop sign at the corner means STOP if traffic is coming in the opposite direction. If the truth of a STOP sign for you means GO, pulling out in front of the reality of a transport truck barreling down the highway will someday prove that your personal ideas don’t always count for much. If it’s “true for me” that I can go into your garage and take your new lawn mower home and use it as my own, then the law will certainly have something to say about my self-centred notions of truth. So will you.
Law, mathematics, business, science, medicine and personal relationships depend entirely on absolute truths in many areas. And when you think about it, there’s every reason to believe that questions of God and faith, life and death fit into this category, too. The question of life and death and the big picture is more like a 2+2 = 4 “absolute truth”, rather than a what flavour of ice cream do you like “preferential truth”. Come back next time to see why so few people choose to look for truth in the big questions of life, and what happened to a few honest people who did.
Click for the next instalment 5 of 6: “Pursue Truth & It Will Take You Places”