I’ve been doing some thinking recently about where spiritual beliefs come from, and just recently, I had a kind of epiphany. Let’s see if I can explain it:
It all came about because I was having a conversation with a man who was telling me about his faith journey. His story is that he had done a lot of research into all manner of different religious schools of thought. He had been raised in a Methodist home, but had explored Eastern religions and such. At any rate, he settled into a faith that is mostly about “going with the flow” of life and finding harmony with nature. But what intrigued me the most about his journey was the fact that at key moments in his journey, he picked the path that “felt right” to him at the time.
I asked him what his foundation was.
The question obviously took him off guard, and he asked me what I meant by that.
I think God was teaching me something in that moment, because I began to think about things that I had never thought of before. This is what I realized:
Everyone has different feelings. Each person has a different sense of right and wrong or of pleasure and pain. We all have different life circumstances that make us unique and different as people. Of course, those are good things, our uniqueness and our diversity is what makes the world such a wonderful place. But the problem is that many people believe the pursuit of our feelings is the right thing to do. Few people will describe their journey as the pursuit of their feelings, but if their journey is about looking for things that feel right or seem right to them, then their journey is really just the pursuit of their own desires.
The Lie of Our Times
The lie of our times is that the spiritual journey people take should be unique to each person, and that each person needs to customize his or her faith in the same way we customize a Whopper at Burger King. However, and this is the realization I had in my conversation that day, if we each pursue our own unique spirituality by pursuing our own pleasure, even if intellectual, philosophical, or “spiritual” pleasures, then we are all following the same religion—the religion of self.
Me-ism is inherently dangerous
The unbridled pursuit of the desires of self breeds violence. Two boys want the same toy, so they fight over it. Two lions want the same pride, so they fight. Two nations want the same resources, so they fight. Violence results from desires, and therefore, any belief system based on desires (or even arrived at because something “felt good” to me) is a dangerous belief system.
Me-ism is fatally flawed.
If there is no afterlife, if there is no God, if there is no moral authority, then me-ism is really all there is, and therefore any atheist who claims to “care for others” is either fooling himself or at least saying, “I’ll feel better personally if these other people are cared for.” Nietzsche saw the truth of this and based his whole philosophy on the claim that there was no God and therefore, each human should strive only for his own self-interests. “Let the powerful win!” he would say.
However, if there is any moral absolute, any God, or indeed any shred of absolute truth in the universe, me-ism will never be able to guarantee access to that truth. Sure, some me-ists might stumble upon the truth, but no one else will have an obligation to believe them and in fact, there will be no proof that the fact in question is reliably true.
If there is the possibility of absolute truth, we need two things:
- An authority external to ourselves to teach us the truth.
- Some completely objective method to verify that authority.
What is your authority?
There are some very well-meaning people who have been trying hard to not be me-ists. Buddhists, scientists, Mormons, Muslims, Christians, and others have worked for centuries to avoid the draw of me-ism, and those who make the most progress in their quest have employed the two tools of authority.
Buddhists claim the external authority is the only authority and the way to verify that authority is to completely deny one’s own existence through meditation and asceticism. Others follow Buddhist morality without being true buddhists, though.
Scientists claim the external authority is the natural world and their scientific method is their tool for verification. However, though the scientific method can help us understand the natural world, it is actually powerless to tell us if that world should be trusted or if it should be our authority.
Monotheistic religions like Judaism, Islam, and Christianity claim that there is a God who revealed himself through prophets and prophetic writings. Their external authority is God through the prophets and there are even tests in each of those prophetic writings for people to determine if a prophet were a good authority.
Which do you pick?
But how do you decide between the Buddhist or the Monotheistic worldview and if you pick Monotheism, which flavor is the right one?
To choose based on feelings is to submit yourself to me-ism.
To choose based on your parents is to make them your authority without deciding for yourself.
To choose based on logical thought is to submit yourself to principles of logic developed by humans.
What if there was some way to have the true authority identify itself and prove itself beyond the feelings, logic, or cultural limitations people have?
Let the authority reveal itself!
This is what I believe to be so unique about Jesus:
He claimed this in John 14:6:
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
In this sentence, Jesus claimed that there is absolute truth, there is a God, there is an authority, and that he himself is the only pathway to God.
Others have made that claim before. Others have made that claim since.
But others didn’t come back to life after death.
The single most objective authority test in history is this: coming back to life after being dead.
- The person claiming to be the authority can’t fake this and pretend to use it to prove himself.
- The people investigating the authority can’t fake this and validate their authority by it.
- Since death is a universal phenomenon, it is not culturally bound.
- It gives hard evidence that something outside the human experience has taken place. It gives evidence that God himself has validated the claims of the one who was raised to life.
My foundation is Jesus himself.
The Big Questions
So in light of all this, three big questions remain:
- Which foundation will be yours?
- How do you select a foundation without letting your feelings get in the way?
- Can you base your faith on that foundation even if something doesn’t feel right about it?