Thursday, March 31, 2011

Existential relevancy, and other theological lies

I have of late noticed the same lengthy theological exhortation being posted in forums and discussion sites all over the internet, as if with each posting it was a new and spontaneous pronouncement -- it begins by posing the question (or pretending to answer the question, posed by someone else), "With all of the different religions, how can I know which one is correct?" The tract then launches into what would seem to be, actually, a promising discussion, insisting, "How do we arrive at the truth about God? We use a systematic methodology that is designed to separate truth from error by using various tests for truth, with the end result being a set of right conclusions." It therefrom deigns to outline characteristics which a theological model must possess to pass the sort of scientific muster contemplated by the tract.

So the piece begins by setting forth that a "true" faith must evince

1. Logical consistency—the claims of a belief system must logically cohere to each other and not contradict in any way. As an example, the end goal of Buddhism is to rid oneself of all desires. Yet, one must have a desire to rid oneself of all desires, which is a contradictory and illogical principle.

Now it is surely true that that which is determinable to be true must be logically consistent, for that is itself one of the chief ways we are able to test truth -- all else ultimately falls to gibberish, belief for the sake of believing something no matter how irrationally held. How sad then that this author misunderstands or chooses to misrepresent Buddhism in so doing, for any person knowledgeable enough to speak competently on the subject would know that the goal of Buddhism is to rid oneself of only those desires which stand in the way of enlightenment!! Naturally, it is not to rid oneself of the desire for enlightenment itself, though in the end the enlightened soul, having achieved this final thing, is indeed shed of all desires.

Let us consider a comparable misrepresentation which could be made against the deity popularly presented by the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Mormonism). That deity is claimed to command its adherents to rid themselves of sin. But disobedience to this deity is a sin, and since it is claimed to be an all-knowing Creator which knew all of the outcomes each of us would come to even before we were born -- including all expressions of the sinfulness with which we were made -- then attempting to change the outcome which such Creator has foreseen for us is a form of disobedience, and so we sin by seeking to rid ourselves of sin. Whether ignorant or deceitful, precisely such an error made as to Buddhism bodes ill for any wisdom coming from this source. But we continue.

And so the tract goes

2. Empirical adequacy—is there evidence to support the belief system (whether the evidence is rational, externally evidential, etc.)? Naturally, it is only right to want proof for important claims being made so the assertions can be verified. For example, Mormons teach that Jesus lived in North America. Yet there is absolutely no proof, archaeological or otherwise, to support such a claim.

Again, the author identifies, in empirical adequacy, a necessary element in at least measuring the probability of a possible truth. But again our author ignorantly or for malicious purpose misstates the teachings of an example faith. Mormons, as it happens, do not teach that Jesus "lived" in North America, but rather that Jesus simply appeared for a time before the people living in the unidentified settlement described by their scripture. While it is true that Mormons traditionally assign such a geographic identity to this settlement, empirically it may as easily have been South America or Australia or Indonesia, and so far as the message of the scripture is concerned the location is irrelevant. And, as to our tract author's exemplar objection, wherever it is that Jesus may have appeared, it is an absurd stretch to suppose that men would find archeological evidence of the transitory appearance of one such as Jesus in this settlement, where there is no more determinative archeological evidence of Jesus' presence in the Middle East, where it is claimed he was born, traveled, and was buried.

But thus far, we have been presented with rational requirements of a religious truth; it is only the examples presented which have been in error. So the truly shocking error, the one which even runs against and overcomes the first two points (which, at the least, identify true elements of a logical examination) is

3. Existential relevancy—the belief system must conform to reality as we know it, and it must make a meaningful difference in the life of the adherent. Deism, for example, claims that God just threw the spinning world into the Universe and does not interact with those who live on it. How does such a belief impact someone in a day-to-day manner? In short, it does not.

This is a lie. A clumsily hidden one, for it begins with the reasonable observation that "the belief system must conform to reality as we know it," which verily simply repeats the "empirical adequacy" standard enunciated above it, and has naught to do with "relevancy." But as for the rest, it presents the wishful thinking fallacy in its most naked and adulterous form, and so it vitiates the whole of the lengthy and tedious argument to follow. Our Universe and all of its contents may be logically and empirically explained by a theological model which makes no "meaningful difference in the life of the adherent." To contend otherwise reveals a rather vain self-serving bias (unsurprisingly the most well-reported--and hardest to shake--of the cognitive biases, as it feeds directly into the very defensive human ego). Any further contentions based on such a deeply flawed supposition must be rationally disqualified, for this proposition contends, in sum, that a God is not allowed to exist unless it exists for our sake, to get on its knees and service our spiritual desires.

Now, as with the other examples, the author fails to understand Deism, or simply lies about it as well for reasons so fundamental that it would take another essay of this length to explain just how wrong it is. But as a beginning, Deism proposes that our Universe was set forth by mechanisms capable of bringing about all we now observe without need for intervention beyond the moment of Creation. It is true that classical Deism has been criticized for not encompassing an explanation of why such a Creator would create, but this critique is answered by variations such as Pandeism and Panendeism, which account for this by incorporating concepts from Pantheism, discerning a Creator who becomes our Universe to experience existence through the lives of the beings which come to inhabit it. But though this understanding and its implications indeed is attested to provide a meaningful difference in the life of Pandeists, this is the pure meaningfulness of a truth perceived absent the need for the deity to serve human interests. Nevertheless, whatever sense of satisfaction may be derived from a deistic or pandeistic model, these factors have no bearing on whether a theological model is rational.

Unlike the objectivity inherent in logical consistency and empirical evidence, "meaningfulness" is a bucket of mush, utterly subjective, immeasurable and unquantifiable. If meaningfulness must be universal, then it disqualifies all visions of God, for there is no vision for which some portion of persons will find that that enunciation is simply not meaningful to them. Naturally, it is conceivable that some person adhering to some faith (or knowing of none, even) might find that no theological model makes a "meaningful difference" for them unless it justifies abhorrent behavior--in which event, this proposition essentially forces the God it envisions to be the justifier of such.

And it is for this reason that the assertion of this element as a necessary, or even as a reasonable part of the enquiry is, in no uncertain terms, a lie. As for the religion which the unknown author of this deceitful propaganda piece purports to to boil out of its nest of lies and fallacies--well, I will spare it the shameful association with a hit piece like this, though some faiths are, obviously, absolved of suspicion by the very fact of the attacks slung against them in the essay. But, I will comment that any faith whose followers so naturally fall into reliance upon fallacies to sell itself ought not to be given much serious standing in the quest for truth.

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