Where do we get our beliefs?
by Bob Morris
To open a discussion on this article, please use the contact page to provide your comments.This started as a story about a priest preparing to take a three month sabbatical, but it became much more. A parishioner forwarded me an e-mail claiming that the pastor was going out of state for AIDS treatment. I quickly realized that this was not news, and that somebody just made it up. If he's not going for AIDS treatment, it's clearly made up, but even if he is, he didn't announce it, and the accuser had no access to any medical information of any kind about the pastor. He just made it up.
Many people believed the accusation, and I soon realized the story goes much deeper. Anything we know, anything we believe comes either from our own personal experience or a report from someone else. The report can be accurate or not, it can be intentionally fraudulent or not, the reporter may or may not believe it, and it may or may not be true. When we decide to believe it, we may be right or we may be wrong.
Where do we get our beliefs about God? I've never had a personal experience of the God I hear about in church, so it's all second hand. The people who tell me about God haven't had a personal experience, either. Sometimes they rely on the reports in the Bible, but mostly they just repeat what someone else has told them. Where did it come from originally?
Does anybody have any personal experience of God? I'm not talking about a sudden flash of insight or surge of emotion that people characterize as "a religious experience." I wonder about the truth of the things they teach in church. Does anybody have any personal knowledge that belief in Jesus forgives sin? That the reward is eternal life in heaven? That nonbelievers are doomed to eternal damnation? That believing in God will make us better people? That God wants us to do (and not do) various things?
Does anybody know that God thinks nudity and homosexuality are sins? That theft, adultery and murder are sins? That God destroys sinful cities with hurricanes? That God will do things for you if you pray? That if you pray and God doesn't answer, it's because your conviction is weak? That Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born? That Jesus is a human incarnation of God? That God looks like a person, lives in the clouds, and throws lightning bolts to punish people?
The answer is simply no. Nobody knows that any of those things are true. Maybe they're true and maybe they're not, maybe they're good and maybe they're bad, but they didn't come from God. Somebody just made all those things up.
But what about the Bible? Isn't it the word of God? Didn't God guide the hands of those who wrote it to make sure there are no errors? Again, the answer is no. Somebody made that up, too.
Fortunately, there are religions that teach their followers to experience God. I'm not a follower of Buddha, but I can see where his teachings are a threat to Christianity as it is practiced today.
"Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense." --Buddha