Thursday, September 16, 2010

On being right, and being wrong, in religion

Suppose I am a Protestant Christian, and Catholicism is true. Was I wrong about religion? Well, I was right about God, right about Christ, right about God having revealed himself, right about the Resurrection. Just wrong about church structure and the locus of authority. I am right about far more things than an atheist or even an agnostic is.

Suppose I am a Protestant Christian and Judaism is true. Then I was right about God, right about God's commands, just wrong about Jesus. An atheist or agnostic is wrong about the things I am right about.

Suppose I am a Protestant Christian and Islam is true. Then I am right about God, right that God has some things to say to us, right about Jesus as a prophet, just wrong about the Seal of the Prophets, Muhammad, and, of course, wrong about the Qu'ran. I am right about many things that the atheist or agnostic is wrong about.

Suppose I am a Protestant Christian and Hinduism is true. I am right about a transcendent reality, but wrong about its nature. Still, an atheist or agnostic is wrong to deny this transcendent reality.

It seems as if being in the wrong religion doesn't mean that you are completely wrong about religion.

Is it a bigger mistake to miss religious truth, if there is any, than to embrace false religious beliefs?

26 comments:

Dan Lower / KKairos said...

Suppose I am a Protest

I agree. You make quite a Protest.

Seriously, though, maybe the answer to your last question depends on the exact soteriology that is correct. I'm pretty sure that strict Catholic exclusivism of the sort that would condemn any and all non-Church members to hell is considered incorrect by the standards of the RCC. But certain sola-Scriptura Protestantisms certainly hold to a similar exclusivism and more openly doubt the salvation of those in the Catholic Church--now I, being a Catholic, might be worse off for having become so than for having been the prima-Scriptura Protestant I used to be. I'm not sure if there are many if any cases in Christian soteriology of any kind where a (good-faith) atheist could be better off than a (good-faith) religious person, though.

John W. Loftus said...

If you want to talk about common ground we share then we all share a lot of it. John Hick's pluralism actually takes atheists into consideration under his minimum common denominator of beliefs.

In fact I think the fewer the extraordinary claims a believer makes then the more likely his position is correct. Check this out. That puts evangelical Christianity out on the fringe of a Christian faith already on the fringe of religious beliefs, and thus more wildly improbable than the others.

Walter said...

Is life just one big theology exam? Does God get a kick out of seeing who will come the closest to an 'A+' before they shed their mortal coil?

Many religious groups are convinced that other religious groups are just as damned as the atheists and agnostics. Even the RCC has historically held to the doctrine of no salvation outside of the Church. So I guess you place your bet and take your chances.

Victor Reppert said...

There is no mathematical metric for extraordinariness. If there are objective antecedent probabilities, no one knows how to figure them out.

The documents of Vatican II explicitly repudiate Catholic exclusivism, and even Pius IX denied it.

No, life isn't just a theology exam. But we've got to make theological choices.

BenYachov said...

>The documents of Vatican II explicitly repudiate Catholic exclusivism, and even Pius IX denied it.

I reply: We might even go back to Alexander VIII & or St Justin Martyr.

Inclusiveness Vs Restrictive-ism was an open question in RC till the Popes weighted in on it.

Walter said...

The way it reads to me is that the RC only gives a pass to those Protestants who are ignorant of the fact that the Catholic Church is the One True Church. I am not sure how that is supposed to work?

Don't the ultra-traditionalist Catholics reject Vatican II ?

Either way, most conservative branches of Christianity aren't quite so pluralistic--Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and the people that go to the wrong church are all going to the same hell with the atheists and agnostics.

Place your bets.

Victor Reppert said...

Most Protestant philosophers that I knew when I went to a lot of Christian Philosopher meetings were inclusivists or universalists. Steve Davis is certainly an inclusivist, as is Jim Sennett, Robert and Marilyn Adams are universalists, and Lewis's Great Divorce is certainly inclusivist. I've been an inclusivist since undergrad days.

Alex Dalton said...

John -

That is a cute chart. Did you make that yourself?

Gregory said...

I am a former Protestant that's turned Eastern Orthodox.....I am still lacking vampiric powers. That's what I signed up for anyway. When I was told that God could raise the dead, so I'm like "shoot...sign me up, son. I've always wanted to be a vampire....and now, finally, I'm getting that chance."

Well, as it turns out....I won't be getting any powers of vampire. In fact, I'm not even getting the chance to be an emasculated vampire. I can still dress like one on Halloween though....well, maybe I can. I don't know.

Kidding aside.....I think that being "right" is less important than being "loving". If "love" is not at the center of one's theology, philosophy or ideology--meaning: that it's in both one's head and one's heart--then I don't see the use in such points-of-view. It's like eating food that lacks any substantive nutrient. In that case, you might as well start digging your grave.

But charity and a good heart are not enough if one is out in the marketplace of ideas, proposing certain things and ideas. In this case, one had better be "right" at least as much as you are "righteous". Bad ideas have bad consequences, regardless of how well intentioned and loving a person proposing them might be. Let me give an example of how important an idea is:

Suppose that all I knew about Victor Reppert, aside from what he's written, is that he is a mean-spirited, old badger who find greater pleasure in hearing himself talk than with anyone else....including his wife!!! Imagine what I would think of Victor if some acquaintance mentioned,

"Oh yeah, and he hates animals and kids too. He even prays that little children be permitted...actually, required....to go unto God because he won't 'suffer' any of 'em. He's still a smart man, though. Bless his heart."

If I really thought that this was how Victor really was, then I'd have a really tough time trying to relate with him. And perhaps even an acquaintanceship would be out of the question.

Now, if all of this were true of Victor, then so be it. Now, suppose that it was all false. My reaction certainly wouldn't be different. But my negative reaction is based on a fantasy, and not on reality. It is good that I have this gut reaction towards what appears to be a modern-day Scrooge. But to believe these false ideas---and, even worse, to perpetuate those ideas--is harmful and dehumanizing. Make no mistake...everyone cares, to some degree, about their reputation. It does everyone a disservice to falsely malign someone's character because it undermines other people's attempts to get to know Victor, and vice versa.

If we--perhaps by a good upbringing--try not to play fast and loose with the "facts" about other people, then how much more ought we to pay attention to those things relating to the Divine Being?

Yet, in the end, only God is the Judge. What's more, the scripture says that God "rewards everyone according to what they have done." Meaning, everyone will not be judged by a single, universal standard of measure. Instead, God takes everything that's given to each individual--the good, the bad and the ugly--and makes a determination of whether a person was willing to repent and to love...even if a person had only stumbled and fumbled through life trying, in spots, to be "perfect".

Gregory said...

There will be those who had lived in despair, desperation and futility that will find a large celebration and rejoicing as they enter--completely shocked and surprised--the Kingdom of Heaven.
There will also be those who approach the Heavenly Gate with a cock-sure attitude and a prideful heart ripened with lofty thoughts about "eternal security", who will be told:

"Depart from me, you workers of iniquity, into the outer darkness and everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels....where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, forever."

Then, it will not matter whether you were theologically correct or not. But the real "horror" is that such a person will no longer even care about that. They will no longer be concerned, or even cognizant, about anybody or anything else.....being forever locked away in the prison of the impenetrable, Almighty Self.

Joshua Blanchard said...

Loftus says, "In fact I think the fewer the extraordinary claims a believer makes then the more likely his position is correct."

This statement is just too true. Extraordinary claims are only such in virtue of their unlikelihood. Loftus has discovered that the more likely it is that your beliefs are true, the more likely it is that your beliefs are true. Yet another original argument from Loftus that shall surely serve as "the undoing of Christianity."

Gregory said...

The idea that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof" fails to appreciate the historic contexts which determine the meaning and significance of the word "extraordinary". Telling a person living 1000 years ago that we would one day walk on the moon based on the advancements made in particle physics and chemistry, would be--for him--an "extraordinary" claim.

Telling someone living 2000 years ago that "miracles never happen" would, also, appear to be an "extraordinary" claim.

Today, miracles are only thought of as "extraordinary" because we live in day where most are acclimated, if not overtly indoctrinated, to secularism. For the person who wants to easily live outside the purview of religion....this is the age for you!!! And there is no end to all the marvelous things that are given to us that help foster and reinforce the secular ideal. There is also an easily accessible network of "skeptics", whose efforts to build a strong community of like-minded atheists is the single largest factor accounting for "why" people become, and remain, atheists. And, as the scripture says:

"Two is better than one"

and

"A three-fold cord is not easily broken"

Wolves run in packs because there is strength in numbers.

There is a story about St. Athansios who, during the heat of the Arian controversy, was approached by a confidant who said:

"Athansios....it looks like the whole world is up against you."

To which he replied:

"No, the 'whole world' isn't up against me. I am up against the whole world."

Being a Christian--at times--means that you will be abandoned by those people whom you once thought were your friends and your family. Sometimes....many times....this has to do with a difference in "values" and in "ideals". A practicing Christian cannot hope to overcome the prejudices and petty animosities of a thoroughly secularized family. I know this from my own experience.

But it's when the rest of the world had receded that I discovered that my true friend--perhaps my only friend left--was God.

Have I seen "miracles"? Yes, I have!!! For me, the claim "miracles never happen" is not only "extraordinary", it's also false.

But God will not play the Carnival Barker that puts on shows for packs of greedy voyeurs.

If the best that "reason" has to offer will not convince someone that there is a God, then neither will such a person be convinced by "miracles".

Gregory said...

Read C.S. Lewis' novel "Till We Have Faces". He understood what I'm talking about.

John W. Loftus said...

Alex, yes, it's going into my next book.

--------

Joshua, people like you are so brainwashed you cannot recognize quite plainly that an incarnate god is easily and obviously an extraordinary claim. There are many of them you believe. So you make some irrelevant statements as if you've said something important. You haven't.

The only kinds of extraordinary claims I ever make are those that meet two criteria: 1) It lies within the range of what I consider naturally possible (I am, after all doing the evaluating); and 2) There are good reasons to think it's true.

The reasons why they must meet criteria 1 are a bit multifaceted but mainly because all other extraordinary claims fail the Outsider's Test for Faith. Here's another reason why.

Joshua Blanchard said...

Loftus says: "Joshua, people like you are so brainwashed you cannot recognize quite plainly that an incarnate god is easily and obviously an extraordinary claim. There are many of them you believe. So you make some irrelevant statements as if you've said something important. You haven't."

I didn't make any statements about the incarnation doctrine. What are you responding to exactly? I only pointed out that what you said trivially followed from definitions. Without responding to this accusation, you declare what I said was "irrelevant" and not "important." Should I have responded to someone else?

Loftus says: "The only kinds of extraordinary claims I ever make are those that meet two criteria: 1) It lies within the range of what I consider naturally possible (I am, after all doing the evaluating); and 2) There are good reasons to think it's true."

This clarifies the triviality of Loftus' statement even further: Prima facie unlikely claims are, without evidence, unlikely. Thus was the undoing of Christianity.

As for your rather insubstantial link, you've now sent that to me twice, and to Reppert a few times. I have responded to it directly.

John W. Loftus said...

Joshua, trivial, eh? Brainwashed is what you will here from me. Trivial. Just think one time for yourself without leaning on what your mother told you on her knees. What would you think if someone told you he met someone who was God incarnate in India last week? What would it take to convince you of his testimony? Again, what would it take to convince you of this by this guy? Let's say he was a personal friend of your who you knew would never lie. THINK. THINK. THINK.

YOU STILL WOULD NOT BELIEVE HIM OR YOUR ARE AN IMBECILE.

Now, what we find about Jesus is the same kind of testimony but this time we don't meet anyone who claims to have met him. It's all written down. We don't know the authors nor can we adequately judge their honesty (honest writing can be faked).

But we do know these authors lived in an era where people believed demigods walked the earth and that there were many sons of gods who had virgin births.

Come on now, this is not trivial, and THAT was my point.

What kind of evidence could possibly lead you to think some man in the first century was an incarnate son of God.

BenYachov said...

>The way it reads to me is that the RC only gives a pass to those Protestants who are ignorant of the fact that the Catholic Church is the One True Church.

I reply: Technically the terms are invincible ignorance & or non-belief by negation(i.e. People who don't know the Catholic Faith is the truth threw no fault of their own vs person who could know but refuse to find out because of a sinful malice against following the truth). Of course non-belief by negation merely means God won't hold your non-belief against you as mortal sin. He will still judge you for your other sins. However as Pope Pius IX & others taught if you follow any extra-ordinary Grace God give you(threw Christ) you can be saved even if you are not Catholic or Christian.

Pius IX said we can't know who among the non-believers falls into this category & we are forbidden to try to find out as a pretense not to preach the Gospel. Pius XII said even if we could know we rob people of blessing & Graces by not inviting them into the Church founded by our Lord.

>Even the RCC has historically held to the doctrine of no salvation outside of the Church.

I reply: Yes but she never held it in a restrictive manner. Though some individuals might have held retictivist beliefs. Anybody here who dies in a State of Grace is in someway not outside of the Church.
Thus they can be saved.

It's not hard.

Joshua Blanchard said...

John, let's assume that the incarnation has no evidence for it. Let's assume in fact that it couldn't even have evidence for it, because it suffers from some incoherence.

You said, "In fact I think the fewer the extraordinary claims a believer makes then the more likely his position is correct."

I was pointing out that this is essentially a tautology, because "extraordinary" (barring certain ways of begging the question, which I could explicate if you'd like) just *is* "unlikely".

Thus, "the fewer the unlikely claims a believer makes then the more likely his position is correct."

I don't have any formal problem with you disputing the truth of the incarnation, or giving reasons why it is, despite the best inductive arguments there are for it (probably offered by Swinburne and Wright) ultimately unlikely. However I think you (and your opponents) would make more progress if you avoided some of the subterfuge, such as making (truly!) irrelevant statements of the sort I have pointed out.

Walter said...

However as Pope Pius IX & others taught if you follow any extra-ordinary Grace God give you(threw Christ) you can be saved even if you are not Catholic or Christian.

Are you saying that a Protestant who believes the Catholic Church is the "whore of Babylon" mentioned in Revelations might still be saved?

Do you believe that an atheist who denies belief in any god might still be saved if they "follow the grace given them?" If so, what does that entail? Does an atheist just need to feel contrition for wrongdoings to make it inside the pearly gates? What if an atheist or agnostic does not see a problem with premarital sex, homosexuality, are pro-choice on abortion, vote Democrat, etc. Do they still get eternal bliss in the afterlife?

John W. Loftus said...

Blanchard (pulling out last names for effect), the more extraordinary claims made balled up into a cluster whereby the denial of any one of them makes the whole cluster qua cluster improbable and the more unlikely that cluster is.

The point is that your faith is very unlikely. There isn't enough evidence even possible to support your claims of faith.

Joshua Blanchard said...

John repeats, "[T]he more extraordinary claims made balled up into a cluster whereby the denial of any one of them makes the whole cluster qua cluster improbable and the more unlikely that cluster is."
So the more unlikely (A) and (B) are, the more unlikely (A and B) is. I'm asking you to avoid triviality, not compound it.

John says, "The point is that your faith is very unlikely. There isn't enough evidence even possible to support your claims of faith."
We'll grant for the sake of discussion that my religious beliefs, whatever they are supposed to be, are very unlikely, and on top of that false. I think you need to reread my comments to see that you are responding to nothing I said.

According to you there isn't even a "possible" set of evidence (I have no idea how you come by this conclusion, or if it can even be defended) to support these faith claims of mine. It doesn't add anything for you to say they are unlikely to be true. You've already said that. It doesn't help to say something twice.

Can someone else find a way to make this even clearer?

Tim said...

JL: "There isn't enough evidence even possible to support your claims of faith."

That's a pretty bold assertion -- it's not even possible for there to be enough evidence to support Joshua's beliefs.

Well. That should clear up that Christianity thing very tidily.

Joshua Blanchard said...

Upon rereading your convoluted statement,

"[T]he more extraordinary claims made balled up into a cluster whereby the denial of any one of them makes the whole cluster qua cluster improbable and the more unlikely that cluster is"

I think I treated it too charitably. You actually might be saying nothing, or adding more layers of redundancy. You are saying that the more prima facie unlikely claims there are in a cluster, "whereby" the denial of any one makes the cluster improbable, then that cluster is (even more?) unlikely. On top of being unlikely in its parts, the cluster is already unlikely, because it is a cluster of unlikely beliefs, which are stipulated to be interdependent... on their unlikely counterparts?


Only on the Internet.

BenYachov said...

>Are you saying that a Protestant who believes the Catholic Church is the "whore of Babylon" mentioned in Revelations might still be saved?

I reply: Maybe, I’m not God I don’t know. It’s not my job to judge. Besides trying to figure out the mechanics of how non-Catholics can be saved is as Pius IX said counter productive & metaphysically impossible. We have to aim to spread the Gospel not figure out how the unbelievers by negation might be saved if God in his mercy provides a way for them to be saved.

>Do you believe that an atheist who denies belief in any god might still be saved if they "follow the grace given them?" If so, what does that entail? Does an atheist just need to feel contrition for wrongdoings to make it inside the pearly gates? What if an atheist or agnostic does not see a problem with premarital sex, homosexuality, are pro-choice on abortion, vote Democrat, etc. Do they still get eternal bliss in the afterlife?

I reply: To quote the Priest character form the movie RUDY “My Son I know two things from all my years of being a Priest. There is a God & I’m not him”. We don’t know the mechanics of how God might save non-believer by negation & we where not meant to know. I’m sorry Walter but the only normative way for an Atheist or Deist to be saved is to “Believe & be Baptized etc”. I’m not allowed to recommend anything else. But I will say any Atheist who says “Hey in Catholicism there is a way for Atheists to be saved all I have to do is be that type of Atheist & I don’t have to join” by definition is not a non-believer by negation and is in danger of Hell.

Victor Reppert said...

Steve Hays and I have had some pretty intense disagreements in the past (when the topic is either Calvinism or politics), but I think he is right about the outsider test. It's not the Outsider Test for Faith, it's the Insider Test for Infidels.

That's not to say that I got my assessment of Loftus from Steve. If I took his assessments of people at their word, I'd have to take his assessment of me as well, and at least some of them are ones I would very much like to deny.

Mike Darus said...

Victor asked: "Is it a bigger mistake to miss religious truth, if there is any, than to embrace false religious beliefs?"

Jesus had little good to say those who lead others away from the truth (Matt 23 echoing Ez 13). It seems much more dangerous to actively promote falsehood than it is to miss a truth.