Thursday, August 16, 2012

Is it wrong to think you're right?

A major faux pas today is to insist that your religious beliefs are exclusively right and true.  It can even be considered "extreme" or "cultic" to some, even to some very dear friends and family members.  As soon as they find out that I believe in something that strongly, they immediately avoid the subject at all costs and probably think I'm a little weird.

But there are a few problems with this.  First, the faux pas implies a belief itself, a belief concerning religious and moral truth.  That belief is essentially: it is wrong, even dangerous, to think that you have the exclusive truth on God and things of that sort.  But this belief is just that... a religious belief, even if it doesn't have a name like "Christian".  And it is a belief that the person believes is true, with things in contradiction to it by definition being false.  Otherwise, they would not look at a Mormon or a Christian and say, "They go too far when they think they alone have the truth."  In other words, this person is guilty of the same thing they accuse the Mormons and Christians of -having a belief concerning religious truth which they claim and believe is ultimately true.  Let's call this belief-set "religious pluralism."

I realize these folks don't mean it this way, but it is at least slightly hypocritical -to be guilty of the same thing you accuse others of doing and being wrong for.  But it gets a little worse.  Many people who believe this way also do not like having religious people "push their beliefs on them."  Granted, if one is discussing religious matters with another person, there is obviously a point where you need to give it up when you see they aren't interested or don't want to hear it.  But one cannot get around the fact that people will be "spreading" and "imposing" their religious beliefs, moral beliefs, and worldview on others regularly.  These folks do it, for example, every time they tell a religious person that they are wrong for spreading their beliefs around.  While folks like this don't show up at my doorstep uninvited to tell me about their beliefs, they can at times be just as "imposing" as the religious people, sometimes worse (for example, the mass secularization of public schools is simply the imposition of different beliefs, not the removal of belief).

Next, two things should be stated that are common sense when you think about it.  Truth claims are exclusive.  It doesn't mean a body of claimed truths cannot have things in common with a different body of claimed truths.  But it does mean that if you take one truth claim it will by definition mean that, if true, other truth claims that contradict are false.  Four plus four is eight, and that means it isn't three.  The other thing is that a belief necessarily implies that you actually believe it -otherwise it wouldn't be a belief.  Common sense, no?  So, to claim that it is strange to believe something and believe that thing is true is ridiculous.  If you didn't believe it was true, you wouldn't "believe" it.  The point here is that you cannot get away from people having beliefs (truth claims), having those beliefs be exclusive of other beliefs, and having those beliefs be believed to be really true by that person.  That is just reality for everyone, unless you are a stump or a rock or a frog.

Lastly, as mentioned above, the statement "it is wrong, extreme, or cultic to believe that your religious beliefs are right and others wrong" reflects a religious belief, one that the person believes is right and one they believe others ought to hold to.  It is part of a belief-set, as there are other beliefs that often go along with this belief.  Here are a few:

-Religion should be a completely private thing, often compartmentalized from the rest of life.
-Life is basically existentially individualistic.  This means that truth and reality and meaning are what I make of them in my individual existence.
-If there is a God, he doesn't care about what I believe or why.  He only cares that I try to live my life generally as a good person.  I define what that means and what I think God is like or should be like.
-Religious truth, especially, is a matter of personal preference and utility.  What matters is how it helps my life and how it makes me feel.

I'm not even going to take the time to answer these beliefs or disprove them.  That is not the point of this article.  The point is to dispel the myth that folks who believe in these ways are any different from anyone else.  They have a set of beliefs, they believe them to the exclusion of differing beliefs, and they think it is right or best for others to believe as they do (or for people who disagree with them to leave them alone).

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