Dear Theophilus: Should We Believe Our Religion Is Best?

By Brett A. Berger, ThM

Man reading his Bible in a coffee shop

Dear Faculty,

Why do people think that their religion is the best if they do not know the others?

Sincerely,

Theophilus

Dear Theophilus,

I am glad you asked. I am going to assume that what you mean by best is really what we mean when we use the word truth. That is, we believe our religion to be truer than other religions. The problem you raise is that we maintain this belief in the truthfulness of our religion while being generally (if not completely) ignorant of the other religious options.

As I think about your question, there are at least three things that I think are important to address. First, I want to address whether it is good for us to believe what we believe is true. Second, I want to address our motivation to be certain our beliefs are true. Finally, I want to address where we should go in our pursuit of the truth.

We Should Believe What We Believe is True

We often speak about certainty or confidence in our beliefs negatively. It is associated with arrogance and close-mindedness. We have in our mind the dogmatic and abrasive person who has strong opinions about everything, thinks everyone around them is stupid and often has extremely poor reasons for their opinions.

We rightly want to avoid being “that guy.” Does that mean, however, that believing what we believe is true is a bad thing? Is that really the problem? I want to say, “No!” I do not know what it would be, but it would not be sanity, to be a person who simultaneously believed in something and believed that something to be false. The reason we believe anything over and against some other competing or conflicting option is because we believe it is true. We believe it better aligns with reality than the other options.

This is no different from our religious beliefs or preferences. We ought to believe our religion is the best, but more importantly, we ought to pursue the religion we believe is the best. This leads to my second point.

We Should be Concerned to Believe True Things

If we believe in our religion, it is because we believe it better aligns with reality than the other options. Your question really is getting at these other options. Should we have this certainty or confidence in our beliefs without having knowledge of the other options? Yes and no!

When it comes to religion (or anything else), it is impossible to have complete knowledge of all possibilities. It is also not necessary to have complete knowledge of all the infinite possibilities to have enough knowledge of what is true. That is, we can test the truth claims at the foundation of our religious beliefs without doing a comparative analysis with all other options.

That said, we should not simply assume our beliefs are true if we want to have intellectual integrity. We should be open to the possibility that we are mistaken and we should be concerned with the pursuit of the truth. This is especially true when it comes to religion. Our religious beliefs are foundational. They shape our thoughts, our words and our actions. Moreover, eternity may be at stake! So, we should be motivated to think critically about our beliefs and test them to make sure we are not—as Jesus put it—building our house upon sand. This leads to my last point about the best way to do this.

We Should Move From Worldview to Religion

If we approach this question at the level of all the religious options, we will look at the tens of thousands of denominational options from all the major (and no-so-major) world religions and conclude it is impossible to know. Too often, we admit defeat before we even begin.

I believe this is the wrong place to begin. Rather than trying to compare the thousands of religions in pursuit of the right one, we should begin with the foundational assumptions upon which all of them rest. I am referring to worldviews and here we only have three options.

All the religious denominations and sects rest upon one of three foundational worldviews. If we can gain some clarity about which of these worldviews is true, then we can focus our pursuit of true religion down that path. It is much easier to begin by testing the truthfulness of three basic worldviews than it is to get bogged down in thousands of questions about denomination distinctives and practices.

The three worldviews upon which all religions rest are naturalism, pantheism and theism. That is, when we boil all religious beliefs down to the foundation, they will answer the question of ultimate reality in one of three ways. The naturalist answer says, “The natural, material universe is all there is. There is no God or spiritual reality.” The pantheist answer says, “The universe is all there is, but the universe is a divine or spiritual reality. The universe is God.” The theist answers, “The universe has come into being by the will and work of a creator God. There is a distinction between creator and creation.”

I believe that if we begin to do the comparative work at this level, we can gain greater clarity. Now, this is not necessarily the level where our faith begins. Few begin their faith journeys by evaluating all the evidence and arguments for these worldviews and move from there to religious belief. We generally begin already situated within a religion. However, as we test our beliefs and other religions or philosophies challenge our beliefs, I believe working from worldview to religion will help us gain a greater clarity without getting bogged down in the myriad denominational differences.

I hope this helps. Continue to search for the truth!

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