The Value of Religion

Religions seem strange, at first glance. Why do you need a group of people to find the truth? You should be able to find it on your own, right?

Of course, there are a bunch of competing truth-claims out there. One is true, the rest are false (unless you want to say that they’re all true, or there is no truth, in which case green pineapple rain.) The question is, which one is it?

The answer is – you can’t know for certain. You can’t prove anything is true without relying on something else that is assumed to be true, so you can’t conclusively divide the true from the false. You can show that a system is inconsistent, but if a system is consistent you can’t show that it’s false, even if it is.

Take creationism, which is often said to have been disproven. Yes, in a secular scientific framework, it makes no sense. But if you assume that God did in fact create the world in 7 days, you don’t arrive at any contradictions – for example, fossils are said to show that the world is ancient. But what do they really show? God could have put them there and made them look ancient. Etc. (I’m not interested in an argument about creationism right now, this is just an example.)

I’m not saying there is no truth. I believe there is. But it is almost impossible for us to know what it is.

So why are religions useful? Because they present us with systems that many people have examined and found to be pretty much consistent. I haven’t gone through and examined every point of Catholic doctrine and dogma to make sure I agree with it, because I agree with pretty much everything I have examined, I agree with all of the major theological points, and I’m not confident enough in my judgment on the points I do find less than persuasive to reject Catholicism because of them. I’d rather accept them and try to find out what is wrong with my reasoning about them.

This is part of my problem with ‘cafeteria’ religiosity – you can’t pick and choose what you think it best from each religion, because chances are pretty high your system won’t be at all coherent.

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3 Responses to The Value of Religion

  1. curtismchale says:

    I use my blog as a sounding board for the things that I am still struggling with. This public statement of my beliefs, that I make in posts, makes me examine them and open them up to challenge.

  2. Stephen Wang says:

    That’s a pretty interesting take on so-called cafeteria religiosity. I think I can agree with you, but in this post you propose this idea and don’t really back it up too thorougly. I’d love to read about some good reasoning behind the point that religions are generally coherent and consistent systems of beliefs.

  3. xuanji says:

    You say that religion is useful because it is consistent…

    But just because it’s consistent doesn’t mean useful; it does not follow. For example, maybe you’ve heard of this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_spaghetti_monster

    As far as I can see, there’s nothing inconsistent about it, but I definitely don’t think it’s useful. Consistency does not imply useful.

    Another side note: Useful does not imply consistent, either. From wikipedia, once more, on Godel’s incompleteness theorem:

    “That is, any effectively generated theory capable of expressing elementary arithmetic cannot be both consistent and complete.”

    So if the theory in question is consistent, it cannot possibly be useful.

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