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The Best Belief

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1. The Best Belief
2. Understanding God
3. God's Requirement
4. Need for Perseverance
5. Spiritual Dynamics
6. Fellowship
7. From Twelve to Sermon
8. Jesus in Galilee
9. Judea thru John's Gospel
10. Key OT Teachings
11. Hermeneutic; Definitions
12. Ecumenical Monotheism
13. History of Beliefs, Part 1
14. History of Beliefs, Part 2
15. Moral, Political and Doctrinal Issues
16. People and Isms
17. Poems, Songs & Sermonettes
18. Miscellaneous

A Logical Train of Thought...

My reason for writing this series of lessons is to share my fallible faith in the hope that you will find this expression of love helpful for understanding ultimate truth.  I am grateful to all people—both famous philosophers and anonymous acquaintances—who have helped to shape what I believe.  As the title page indicates, the first lesson presents a logical train of thought or path through the maze of reality, seeking to establish the best foundation for building a belief system and arriving at New Testament (NT) monotheism as the best belief:  better than any brand of atheism and other types of theism.  The second lesson builds on the first by seeking to clarify the concept of God per NT teaching. 

 

For those who agree that NT theism (Christianity) is the best belief,  I recommend reading Lesson 11 next, because it treats the important topic of a hermeneutic for interpreting the Bible.  Using a NT-based method/logic, Lesson 3 seeks to promote Christian spiritual unity on the basis of agreement about the essential Gospel:  God's requirement for salvation.  Then Lessons 4-6 build on the essential Gospel:  emphasizing the importance of perseverance, analyzing how God's Holy Spirit interacts with believers to form one spiritual body or church, and discussing various issues related to functioning as a church body. 

 

            I believe reality is interconnected, so that it is not necessary to worry about where to start or how to proceed.  However, it seems best for me to continue with what I have begun by asking the following question:  Is there some truth which is not debatable; which everyone uses as a common point of departure in discovering ultimate reality?  I think there is, because in order to study reality it appears that one must (logically) begin by assuming at least the reality of the student.  Thus, absolute skepticism in philosophy is like absolute zero in physics:  it serves as a hypothetical point that is not actually achieved or else nothing would happen.


           
Every “ism” seems to affirm some valid concept of reality.  No one is a perfect idiot!  The truth represented by skepticism is that finite human beings cannot know absolutely, infallibly, perfectly or objectively.  I find this truth expressed in the NT book of 1 Corinthians 13:9&12, “We know in part . . . We see but a poor reflection.”  However, the element of uncertainty does not prevent would-be skeptics from talking as if knowledge with some sufficient degree of certainty were possible the moment they attempt to communicate their doubts.  Even an agnostic has “certain” assumptions.  Thus, it seems impossible (while alive) to avoid affirming implicitly that truth is knowable, rational, meaningful or believable, even though perhaps unprovable or subjective.  [Definitions of isms cited and key words used in this series of lessons on ultimate reality are compiled near the end of Lesson 11.]

  

Again, I propose that these three affirmations seem to be a priori truth or unavoidable beliefs:


1.  Truth or reality exists.  Rene Descartes’  (d.1650)  cogito  ergo sum  (“I think, therefore I am”) is a classic expression  of  this assumption.  The Old Testament (OT) book of Exodus 3:14 says that God is "I AM", the essence of existence.

2.  (Objective) reality is subjectively known.  David  Hume (d. 1776) was a notable proponent of this opinion, and 2 Corinthians 5:7 expresses this truth when it says, “We live by faith, not by sight.”

3.  Knowledge of reality is meaningful.  Truth is communicable or able to be discussed rationally.  As Isaiah 1:18a (c.735 B.C.) says, “Come now, let us reason together.”  Perhaps whoever invented language should be regarded as the founder of this fact, because the discussion of reality uses language as the means, and in order to communicate sufficiently clearly, it is necessary to have a common language and cultural context.  I hope that as contemporary Earthlings using the English language these needs are met for you and me.


           
Having begun by establishing what seem to be unavoidable or axiomatic beliefs, my intent now is to discover the logical point from which the varieties of beliefs extant in the world diverge.  Only the first student or one with a tabula rasa (blank slate)—like a newly sentient child—actually starts exploring reality from the beginning.  (An infant is completely agnostic or without knowledge of every ism.)  Nevertheless, the present study “begins” in the midst of this writer's life and learning by seeking to assume the position or condition of adult innocence (unprejudice).  
Imagine that you have suddenly begun to exist as a morally competent and normally intelligent human being (like Adam and Eve in Genesis).  Certainly, your immediate concern would be meeting your survival needs, but as soon as there was time for reflection, would you not wonder why you were “born”, how you should behave, and what you ought to accomplish with your life?


          Since absolute skepticism or agnosticism is practically unattainable for those who are mentally competent, there are only two qualitatively different ways of answering these questions.  One way is to assume that life has no ultimate "whyness" or purpose beyond survival and avoiding pain, so it does not ultimately matter what one believes or does, because humanity merely evolved from eternal energy/matter, into which it “devolves” at death.  You may desire for some reason to survive and to save the world, but if life becomes too painful you may wish you were never born and want to destroy the world, because there is no good reason you ought to be like Messiah rather than Mania or be maniacal.  You may pretend and act like evil exists or not, because life is a farce.  Human history is a continual King of the Hill (KOTH) war game and has no ultimate or essential and universal “oughtness” (moral imperative).   I call this  type of answer "cosmaterialism", because it views reality as consisting only of the material cosmos or universe and as having only four dimensions (space plus time), which are perceived by the five physical senses.  This answer implies moral nihilism, because it provides no rationale or imperative for universal morality.  Those who believe life is meaningless tend to commit suicide, whether by one act or by a downward spiral of self-destructive behavior.

 

  The second type of answer is to believe that life is not a farce—that existence has meaning, and how one believes and behaves does matter for some non-arbitrary reason.  I call this way of believing moralism, because—while accepting the reality of the physical/material—it also affirms a fifth dimension perceived by a sixth intuitive or spiritual sense that gives reality a logical basis for meaning and morality or a universal moral imperative (UMI).  This answer seems more appealing to me, but the question then becomes:  What gives existence meaning and undergirds moral conscience or provides a UMI?  The answer affirmed by theists is that meaning/morality is determined by a supernatural Supreme Being, who has a moral will for humanity that Christians view as most fully revealed in the NT.  Atheists including karmaists (Buddhists, Hindus, etal.) and humanists have argued, although not very convincingly, that either nature (karma) or humanity determines morality and meaning, 

 

 Karmaism's fallacy is assuming that the ground of meaning/UMI (karma and reincarnation) must be impersonal, merely natural or even subhuman.  Although there are occasional claims by someone to have memories of previous lives, if karmaism were true one would expect that everyone who was a good enough sentient human being in the previous life would remember much of it.  Humanism has three denominations including:  egoism - meaning is self-dictated (cf. Hitler), elitism - “might makes right” (e.g. Lenin) and popularism - “the majority rules” (atheist democrats).  Its fallacy is assuming it can escape moral relativity and thus moral nihilism by positing that humans instinctually accept the validity of morality or of acting in accordance with a reciprocity principle or the "golden rule" (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you), because  humanity also has had a proclivity toward evil throughout history, so there is no basis for saying the negative force toward others is not equally valid and for mandating a universal golden rule or UMI.  Logically, all atheism can offer is a "pyrite suggestion".  Morally, it merely describes KOTH.

 

   The choice between theistic moralism and atheism/cosmaterialism logically is the first fundamental choice in life (GN 3:5).  It can be thought of as a watershed decision that divides all people into two essentially different philosophical categories or world-views.  (This analogy breaks down at the points the various oceans connect :)   Until and unless the atheist/nihilist option were somehow proven beyond reasonable doubt, it seems to me that a logical person who values life and love would have a desire or propensity to choose theism/moralism (cf. the PP described below).  However the atheist opinion does express the truth that the existence of a supernatural Deity is not proven, which means that the evidence needs to be evaluated honestly.  Atheists assert that one cannot prove a negative, so the burden is on theists (or God Himself) to prove God exists, but this assertion is itself axiomatic or circular reasoning that assumes God is not the Positive "I AM".  A neutral statement about this issue would be something like, "It is logical to believe the possibilities which present sufficient evidence and to hope the most desirable rational possibility is true."  (The Bible indicates that the purpose of this life is rather for humans to prove to God they are worthy of—or qualify for—heaven.)

            NT theism or belief in one almighty and all-loving God views the highest form of reality as intelligent personality, and so finds it logical (Word = Logos in JN 1:1) or more sensible that the world would be created intentionally rather than accidentally "banged" from an eternally-existing "singularity" (RM 1:25), although God may subsequently have created life using evolutionary methods.  Atheists claim there is no more evidence for the existence of God, the Creator and Judge of humanity than for the reality of patently fictional entities.  However, four types of evidence or reasoning may be viewed as supporting belief in a God who revealed His will for humanity by means of Jesus and the NT writers, although they do not prove He exists:  the unique universe, human history, the logical need and moral conscience.

        
         
Current scientific theory states that the universe began with a “bang”, when a marble of matter or a singularity of energy suddenly exploded, and that it will end with a “whimper” when the stars eventually fade to darkness.  This unique universe theory is compatible or consistent with belief in a God who created the universe “ex nihilo”, who sustains it by His power, and who will judge its moral agents at the end of time.

 

 

Current knowledge of world history suggests that humanity descended from one genetic source and evolved into various cultures.  Throughout this history, humanity has perceived some concept of deity to be the ground of meaning and morality.  This theocentric history arguably culminated in or reached its spiritual apex with the NT teaching that there is one almighty and all-loving God, who desires all humanity to live in harmony on earth and also in heaven, and who allows humanity to experience earthly existence including pain and disappointment for the purpose of teaching them their need for Him.


           
Current existential reality indicates that mortals need God in order to obtain immortality, that morality needs God for a universal imperative and ultimate justice, and that the NT offers the best hope that this "duo of desirables" (DOD) or heaven and hell (justice) can be attained.  Just as physical needs are satisfied by material realities, perhaps our metaphysical needs indicate the reality of supernatural solutions.

            Moral conscience indicates and logically requires accountability to a moral authority, and the supreme Authority or UMI would be God.  The apostle Paul wrote (in RM 1:28, 32 & 2:15) that although some people “did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God”, they know God’s decree that those who do evil deserve death, and their consciences show that “the requirements of the [God’s moral] law are written on their hearts.”  Our feeble attempts at earthly justice may reflect or serve as evidence of God's perfect justice.  This view is similar to Plato's idealism (cf. 1CR 13:12, HB 8:5, 9:23 & 10:1).  We may perceive perfect justice partially (1CR 13:9-12) using spiritual eyes/intuition/a sixth sense along with inference, logic, and even imagination.  [The slashes indicate equivalent terms.]

            This evidence is not proof, but perhaps that type of evidence will occur in the future at the eschaton, if souls are resurrected to judgment.  An apt analogy is modern DNA analysis, which currently is providing evidence that was future at the time the accused were tried, but on the basis of which some are now deemed to have been falsely convicted and are being released.  In the meantime, the existential needs make it logical for truthseekers to have a propensity to hope and believe God who provides the DOD and UMI exists until/unless He is disproved (which I call the propensity principle), to determine whether God has a requirement for heaven (UMI), and to cooperate with His revealed will.

 

            Let us note that because this hope and belief are based on evidence and logic, it is rational rather than “blind”, and it is made even more intellectually defensible by acknowledging ways that  God might yet be disproved, which would appear to include the following:

1.  If atheists or antichristians created eternal life, because the Bible teaches that eternal life is God’s gift only to believers in Him (JN 3:16).

2.  If the body of Jesus of Nazareth were discovered in a tomb, because Paul stated that if Christ is not resurrected, then faith is useless (1CR 15:14).

3.  If it were proven that free will is an illusion, because the premise of biblical morality is that human souls are accountable (DT 30:19-20).


4.  If human-like beings on another planet had no salvation history involving God and Christ, because the Bible teaches that God is Lord of all (PHP 2:9-11).


5.  If God could prove His existence to people without abrogating free will, because God does not do so, which means He is unloving if He could. (2CR 5:7)

6.  If it were proved that the universe is not created, because resurrection or re-creation presupposes creation and thus a Creator (ACTS 17:24-31)

 

7.  If it were proved that Messiah's atonement was unnecessary in order to provide just forgiveness for the sins of humanity, because this is the crux of the NT Gospel (RM 3:23-27, cf. Jesus' prayer that his death would be unnecessary in MT 26:36-44)

 

 

 

The absence of disproof does not constitute proof of God’s existence, but it shows that everyone lives by faith regarding ultimate reality, and the structure of earthly reality forces souls to choose between various contradictory beliefs and to make (albeit sometimes rather subconsciously) the second watershed choice described in this lesson:  between the various atheistic beliefs and theism (especially as found in the NT, which is arguably the highest morality and most credible claim of immortality).  On the other hand, the absence of undeniable or miraculous proof of God’s existence does not constitute its disproof.  Another explanation is that God performs deniable miracles only as necessary in order for history to accomplish His plan of salvation.  [See the discussion of Miracles in Lesson 15 on Issues.]  Both theism and atheism are unproven opinions or opposite subjective conclusions requiring faith.  However, the NT teaches there will come a time—at the resurrection or eschaton—when the proof atheists demand will be provided, and KOTH will end.  At that time theism will be revealed as the right or true ideology (MT 7:24-27), as souls reap the opposite destinies of heaven and hell in accordance with their moral choices, beginning with their decision whether to love or to disregard God.  

The choices regarding the ground of morality correspond to the following questions:  For a humanist it might be, “Is there any reason I should not be selfish?”  [No/Yes, depending on how you feel or what the rulers decree or how the majority votes.]  For a karmaist it could be, “Does how I live ultimately matter?”  [Not unless you can remember previous lives.]  For a naturalist it should be, "Does instinct negate volition?  [If not, then why is evil/hatred not equally right or existentially lawful?]  And for a theist it would be, “What does God desire for me?” [That depends upon what message or revelation is from God.]  Which option is best, most logical or closest to the truth?  Answering this question involves understanding how truth is acquired (epistemology).  Natural or scientific knowledge is gleaned from direct or personal experiences and is available to all who seek to know the truth with an open mind (like Socrates or Buddha) by means of reflecting or meditating on experiences logically.  The apostle Paul indicated the world even reveals God’s “invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature” (RM 1:20) and “the requirements of the law” or UMI (RM 2:15).  A second possible way of obtaining knowledge is by learning from the insights or inspiration of others.  Divinely inspired knowledge was claimed by Moses, Mohammed, Jesus (in JN 14:9-11), Paul (in GL 1:11-12 & TIT 1:1-3), and many others.  Insights could be a combination of reflection and inspiration, perhaps taught by God’s indwelling Spirit, who Jesus said would “guide you into all truth” (JN 16:13), including the two watershed decisions I have cited.

            The problem for us truthseekers is evaluating the various teachers or claimants to knowledge, especially when their messages are contradictory.  In my opinion humanism provides no hope for ultimate “oughtness”, because there is no logical way to avoid moral relativism without a superhuman Judge/UMI.  Karmaism would offer hope for life beyond death and ultimate justice, but I have explained why I view it as incredible.  Naturalism does not even provide a Rationale for morality/the UMI, but rather suggests or implies that what is, is right.  However, I do find some evidence for—and thus reason to believe—theism is true in the Christian/NT form.  

           While conducting a comprehensive comparison of theistic religions is not my desire (although I discuss monotheism in Lesson 12), I think any truthseeker who compares the NT teachings of Jesus and Paul with the founding scriptures of other religions will reach the same conclusion as I:  The NT is the most credible canon or collection of writings purporting to be a communique from God.  The NT hope for heaven is based on evidence in support of Jesus’ claim to be a revealer of ultimate reality, which includes the prophecy or foreshadowing of His life (in various OT scriptures, including IS 53 and PS 22, and by the sacrificial system), the purpose of His death (as explained in the NT, such as HB 7:18-10:18), and the probability or credibility of His resurrection (in history as recorded by the last chapters of the Gospels and RM 1:3-4).   Christianity qualified OT theism (which emphasized God's love for some people) with a UMI to love everyone beginning with God, continuing with oneself and one's neighbors (whether Jew or Gentile) and even including one's enemies.

Again, the evidence I have cited is not proof, but (as mentioned previously) until it is disproved or the evidence for another edifice seems stronger, it seems more logical to me (given the facts of death and imperfect justice) that an unbiased truthseeker would have a propensity to hope the Judeo-Christian scriptures teach the way to eternal joy, because there seems to be no better (more credible and desirable) way to believe than NT theism and no more worthy candidate for Messiah or Way to heaven (or to attain the DOD) than Jesus.  This propensity principle (PP) restates Pascal's wager in terms of comparison shopping instead of gambling.  Atheists deny the validity of this argument, but in the absence of disproof, I find the decision to reject the PP and biblical Gospel (salvation from selfishness, spiritual death, and a miserable destiny) to be irrational, illogical or foolish.  This is why all truthseekers should agree at least tentatively on NT theism as the best belief (credible and desirable), while admitting that future evidence may prove atheism to have been an unlucky correct guess.  As someone has said, heaven is like a vision of water in the desert:  the scoffer will surely die where he/she is, while the believer will live if right.  However, the factual reality of death does not mean we should pursue the vision of heaven because of irrational fear, but rather because of rational hope.  True love for God is evoked by His love for humanity; it cannot be coerced.  [See the discussion of distanciation in Lesson 2.]

            A biblical illustration of the PP is the OT story about Naaman being told to bathe in the dirty Jordan River to cure his leprosy (2KG 5:10-14).  The story teaches us not to let sinful pride prevent us from being cured of spiritual sickness by methods we think are silly or do not understand.  A NT story that teaches the same truth is the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus (JN 3:1-17), in which Jesus illustrates lack of understanding of how to be born again with lack of knowledge why the wind blows.  This teaching may be called the Naaman-Nicodemus Principle (N-NP).  Such so-called "silliness" or incomprehensibility is made rational by the certainty of death, which makes alternative "medicine" worth trying.  Some people might not understand why God ordained Messiah to atone for humanity’s sins, so they think the Gospel seems foolish or silly (cf. 1CR 1:18-25).  However, they accept physical reality without necessarly understanding very well how it works.  Some people who reject the PP and N-NP apparently employ a logical fallacy I call non praecessit ("does not precede", cf. to non sequitur, which affirms a conclusion that does not logically follow facts), forming an unwarranted conclusion which precedes unknown facts, namely the cause for the universe “banging bigly”.  Atheists assume a natural cause will be discovered, but until it is known why the "singularity" existed and expanded, their assumption is premature and thus inappropriate per the PP.

        In these lessons, I emphasize logic/reason without intending to demean emotion.  Both are important aspects of personality, but their synthesis is analogous to that of saving faith and works (Lesson 3).  Faith precedes love (GL 5:6), and reason should guide emotion.  Biblical passages that seem to support the view that human logic is a divine gift include the following:  

1. “Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. (IS 1:18a)

2. “They hated me without reason.” (JN 15:25)

3. "So [Paul] reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there." (ACTS 17:17)

4. "We do, however, speak a message of wisdom [right reasoning] among the mature..." (1CR 2:6)

5. "When I was a child... I reasoned like a child.  When I became a Man, I put childish ways behind me." (1CR 13:11)

6. "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." (1PT 3:15b)

These passages indicate that we should at least think and attempt to learn the best opinions or solutions regarding issues, even if we have little power (beyond a vote) to enact them.  In Lesson 2, I will share my understanding of the best way to explain four problematic issues relating to faith in God.