How Do We Evaluate Competing Revelations?
At a recent event with college students, someone posed this question on the online Q&A, “How do you know Christianity is real? Every religion claims that they are real and they also have historical facts and miracles working in their religion.”
I’d like to take a stab at the question as it refers to HOW WE EVALUATE COMPETING REVELATIONS (OF THE DIVINE). Our world has so many religions, so many beliefs about God or gods or demi-gods, etc. — why should anyone think that Christianity is the so-called “correct” one?
Now, the tricky thing about this question is I cannot appeal to the Bible itself, can I? Because that’s a form of question-begging. So I won’t.
Instead, what I’ll try to do is present a list of CRITERIA which I will argue a so-called #1 “correct” religion must fulfil, after which I’ll double back and suggest that Christianity best meets everything on the list (note: after writing this, I decided I’ll just stick to the list).
So, anyway, here goes the list of criteria I hope we all agree a “correct religion” must possess:
1. For a religion to be the correct one, it should go sufficiently ‘far’ back HISTORICALLY
It’d be strange for a religion (or its “divine beings”) to appear in the middle of the 17th century claiming to be the real one, cos how can it then apply to or ‘explain’ the human race before that? Why so late after so much has happened?
2. For a religion to be the correct one, it cannot require SPECIALIST OR ELITIST knowledge or skills; the “entrance requirements” have to be extremely broad
(Self-explanatory?) But ok, I mean, if the only people who are “saved” are those who can speak Japanese or cook tomyam or write a book or code Java then the rest of us are screwed, right? At the very least, there should be avenues or channels to include as many people as possible.
3. For a religion to be the correct one, it must make sense of PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS
This is quite important because if, say, God was a Cat or a Watermelon that’d be strange, wouldn’t it? Cos’ His/Her/It’s nature would be pretty alien to us, our emotions, our desire, our fears, our cultures, etc.
The deities involved in this true religion, therefore, should be of a sufficiently relational nature in a manner that 99.999% of humanity can identify with? It also suggests that this religion should offer a sense of ultimate meaning or what the ‘endgame’ is in personal terms.
So, eg, if ‘heaven’ is just a place where all of us turn into statues (or cats or if we and our loved ones simply ‘disappear’) then something would be amiss.
4. For a religion to be the correct one, it must be CROSS-CULTURAL
(Self-explanatory?) I guess I should also include an element of equality as well. Eg, if a god promised heaven which seems to grant superiority to a certain ethnic group or, say, elevate guys over girls or leave one group of people forever in subservience to another, then maybe we should rethink it?
5. For a religion to be the correct one, the MEDIUM OF ITS ‘REVELATIONS” must be sufficiently accessible (or at least ‘translatable’) throughout the world
Imagine if a religion’s holy scriptures was only communicable via music or dance or signs or nature or secret codes. This de facto would remove a majority of people from accessing it.
Hence, a correct religion should, in my view, require LANGUAGE as its main medium of passing the message along. Why language? Because language offers the best ‘balance’ between content and emotion. Compare this to Math (where it’s all ‘content’, zero emo and also impossible to tell a story with) or music or art (where it’s the opposite where few will be able to agree on its “meaning”).
6. For a religion to be the correct one, it should offer an account of RIGHT AND WRONG
Put simply, it’d be awkward if a god or system or whatever said that, hey, you human can do whatever you want or “there is no real right and wrong”. This isn’t just a philosophical issue but, as we know, it’s very political and practical too.
Hence, I’d imagine that a ‘true’ religion should help the world navigate and make sense of our values, morals, ethics, etc.
7. For a religion to be the correct one, it should be the one most open to historical verification and other forms of evidence
(Self-explanatory, but)…If I claim that I got a special message/note from God but there’s simply no way to verify my claim then that kinda messes up my credentials a bit, won’t it?
8. For a religion to be the correct one, it should be LOGICALLY COHERENT
I hope this is self-explanatory! (smile) I’m not saying we can or should understand everything about this particular God or Goddess or whatever, but since logic and reason permeate our world and our minds, it’d be problematic to ‘believe in’ a god whose logic comes across as faulty. If this criterion is accepted then, well, clearly those religions that claim that “All religions are true” would be in trouble because, logically, this would also INCLUDE any religion which says that “Not all religions are true” (which, uh, wouldn’t make sense).
I’m sure there are about 3–4 more key criteria which slipped my mind, but can’t think of them now. Feel free to share your thoughts, challenge the criteria, add your own, etc.