William James

William James
We must get by on what truth we have today, and be willing to call it error tomorrow.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

On "Church-Shopping"

The questions were put:

"Should you look for a church that agrees with your beliefs, or a church that agrees with God?

Is there a difference? Or are you sure that your way and God's way are the same?

How can you know what God's church is? Or if He even has one.

Should one church be right (or right for you) throughout your life? Or is it appropriate to change churches now and then, because your needs change?"

To which I responded:

This raises a host of other important questions, and this subject seems like it could go on indefinitely. But here are a few points that I think are worth making:

1) Ultimately, no matter how good our intentions are, and no matter how selfless and honest we are in our search for truth, all we will have to go on are our own perception, experience, study, and reason. No matter how convincing these evidences may be to us, we must recognize and accept from the outset that they are limited and we might err despite our best efforts. This includes our perception when it comes to spiritual experiences as well.

2) The mere fact that our perception and abilities are limited and prone to error, however, should not prevent us from arriving at preliminary conclusions and convictions about what is true for now. We may ultimately be proven wrong, but if there is a just God out there who considers it our duty to find out the truth, without unmistakable signs and clear indisputable objective revelations, then I believe he will at least not fault us for erring in good faith.

3) In attempting to discern the truth, we have to balance two critical and equally important concerns, namely: (a) that our carnal selves will have an inherent bias to favor those beliefs which tend to make our lives easier and more pleasurable in the short run; and (b) that we are morally entitled to our own happiness, because God created mankind that "they might have joy." Therefore, our inquiry into what is morally right and wrong can never be limited to the simple question of whether it would be a "character-building sacrifice" to give up something we would otherwise want to have (I personlly believe it is that very principle of the quest for super-human sacrifice, taken to an extreme, which has led to a great deal of human suffering and internal misery, such as that brought about by vows of celibacy, extreme fasting, etc.). But neither can morality simply be determined on the oft-quoted and highly erroneous maxim, "if it feels good, do it," without regard to the consequences which naturally flow from our choices.

4) In selecting a religion (or set of beliefs) to adhere to, people should select one which is consistent with both their conscience and their grasp of what is true and right. To the extent people choose their religion with a disregard for the truth they have been given to understand, I think they do so at their peril. But a decision made in good faith, even if erroneous, is not frowned upon by God.

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