I generally don’t discuss religion on the internet, as it is too easy to be misunderstood or appear offensive when you don’t intend to be. But, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the logic of religion recently, and wanted to write down my thoughts, in a way that would be accessible to Christian and non-Christian readers.
So if you’re interested in my thoughts, read on. If not, feel free to ignore this, and remain in eager anticipation until I write another post that’s a bit more to your liking.
I hear a lot said about Christianity from my friends, who are a mix of believers and non-believers of various degrees of conviction. And I see a lot written about it in the media, and on the internet. I feel strongly that each person is entitled to their own beliefs, and I’ll never tell them that they are ultimately right or wrong. But, I do consider a lot of the statements I hear to be logically incorrect (irrespective of which side of the debate they are coming from).
Thinking about Christianity is difficult, because there are several angles to look at it, and they tend to get confused.
Firstly, at its core, Christianity is a statement about the past, present and the future (that God created the world, that Christ died and rose from the dead, etc). These things (summarised in the Creed) are either true or they’re not. This contradicts the idea that Christians and non-Christians can both be right, that it is all just inside your head – but I don’t think that is what Christians are saying they believe in.
I don’t believe any of us know we know beyond all doubt whether these things are true, and so the best we can do is form a belief one way or other (we can also choose to ignore the question, but that isn’t a great starting point for a discussion!). Belief is a complex thing – it is formed by a mix of experience, what we read and are told, analysis, and quite a bit of gut feeling. So it is not surprising that different people, despite living in the same world, use reason to form different beliefs about whether the core Christian beliefs are true, and I’m not inclined to criticise their conclusions.
As well as the question of whether it is true, and the question of whether you believe it, the third angle to look at is how you live your life, as this is likely to be influenced by your beliefs. From a personal perspective, I consider this the least important of the three angles (behaving like a Christian while not believing, to me doesn’t count as being a Christian). But from a societal perspective, this seems to be the aspect that Christians are judged on most and indeed often use to justify their faith.
In once sense, I find this logically flawed, for example, when I hear people say “I don’t believe in God, because Christians do bad things”. But in other ways, it makes sense; given we live in a society where a large minority don’t believe in the Christian faith, it is only their actions that others have any right to judge. But, we should stay mindful that in doing so, we are judging their actions, not their faith, and not the ultimate truth of what they have faith in.
Part of the reason that Christian belief has become fundamentally intertwined with ‘Christian’ behaviour comes from it having been the default, or state religion, for so many centuries. Many behaviours that society consider virtues, are considered Christian behaviours (think what we mean when we call someone’s behaviour ‘unchristian’). Though I do admire such behaviour, I worry about it being so linked in people’s minds to a belief. You don’t need to hold Christian beliefs to display what we’d commonly consider Christian virtues. You can hold Christian beliefs without displaying these virtues (whether you aspire to have them but fall short, or don’t feel them appropriate). And, if society decide Christianity is good by virtue of some of its deeds, it will be forced to then accept other Christian behaviour that it doesn’t consider good.
To summarise, I feel it would make more sense from a logical perspective if, instead of trying to judge the worthiness of a belief based on the actions of its believers, we could instead judge whether we think the action is good based on more objective grounds, and if we’re going to judge the reasonableness of the belief, do so more directly.