Is Christianity True? – Part 1: What is Christianity?
I have been producing a series of podcasts on the question “Is Christianity true?”. So far, four podcasts have been published, and I’m currently working on podcast # 5:
The first four podcasts are introductory in nature, but in podcast #5, I will be shifting gears and will start working on an evaluation of Christianity. The first four podcasts are introductory, because I was working on the questions “Why think critically about whether Christianity is true?” and “What is Christianity?”. These are questions that help to clarify the main question at issue, because clarity is of fundamental importance:
Clarity is a gateway standard. If a statement is unclear, we cannot determine whether it is accurate or relevant. In fact, we cannot tell anything about it because we don’t yet know what it is saying. (The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts & Tools, by Richard Paul and Linda Elder, p.7)
In podcast #5, I will briefly review my thinking about the question “What is Christianity?”. This post will cover similar ground.
1. Christianity is a RELIGION, not a RELATIONSHIP with Jesus.
Dictionaries define “Christianity” as a religion, not a relationship with Jesus. Sociologists, religious studies experts, and philosophers of religion consider “Christianity” to be a religion, not a relationship with Jesus. Intellectual defenders of Christianity (Christian apologists) assert that “Christianity is true”, but a relationship with a person is NOT something that can be true (or false). So, those who defend Christianity logically imply that Christianity is NOT a relationship.
A religion, however, is something that could be true (or false), so the common-sense view that Christianity is a religion supports the assumption that Christianity is something that could be true (or false).
2. Christianity is a MULTI-FACETED historical phenomenon.
I agree with the religious studies expert Ninian Smart that religions, such as Christianity, have multiple aspects or dimensions. Here is Ninian Smart’s list of six key dimensions of a religion (Worldviews, 3rd edition, pages: 8-10):
1. Doctrinal and Philosophical
2. Mythic and Narrative
3. Ethical or Legal
4. Ritual or Practical
5. Experiential or Emotional
6. Social or Institutional
3. RELIGIOUS BELIEFS (the “Doctrinal and Philosophical” dimension) are the MOST BASIC Aspect of a Religion.
I defend a cognitivist view of religion. Although my cognitivist view is consistent with and is supported by most of what Ninian Smart says about religions, I don’t think Ninian Smart sees the cognitivist implications of his own views about religion, so I doubt that he would agree with me on this point.
Although we must acknowledge that religions have several dimensions, including religious experiences, religious stories (or “narratives”), and religious rituals, we can identify religious experiences, religious stories, and religious rituals, and distinguish them from secular experiences, secular stories, and secular rituals only by determining whether the experience, story, or ritual has religious significance, and we can determine that something has religious significance only if we can identify and recognize religious beliefs.
Religious significance or religious meaning is grounded in religious beliefs. The identification of religious experiences, religious stories, and religious rituals depends upon the identification of religious beliefs. Therefore, religious beliefs are more basic logically and conceptually than the other dimensions of religion.
4. The WORLDVIEW Associated with a Religion is the HEART (the Most Basic Aspect) of the Religious Beliefs Associated with that Religion.
A religion is fundamentally a system of religious beliefs. What makes a collection of religious beliefs a “system” is that they are built up around a set of core beliefs called a “worldview”. There are different ways of conceptualizing worldviews; I favor conceiving of worldviews as problem-solving schemas, on analogy with medical problem solving, involving four basic questions/concepts:
1. SYMPTOMS: What are the most important problems of human life?
2. DIAGNOSIS: What is the root-cause problem that underlies the problems that are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life?
3. CURE: What is the best solution to what is (allegedly) the root-cause problem that underlies the problems that are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life?
4. TREATMENT PLAN: What is the best way to implement what is (allegedly) the best solution to what is (allegedly) the root-cause problem that underlies the problems that are (allegedly) the most important problems of human life?
The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism have this logical structure, and I believe The Four Noble Truths provide a clear analysis and explication of the Buddhist worldview, and this logical structure should be used as a model for the analysis of any religious worldview or secular worldview.
5. Although there are MANY VERSIONS of Christianity, there is just ONE CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW.
There are three main branches of Christianity: Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant. Catholics and Protestants disagree about several religious beliefs and practices. Orthodox Christians disagree with Catholics about various religious beliefs and practices, and different Protestant denominations disagree with each other about various religious beliefs and practices. It is clear that there are many different versions of Christianity. Christians do NOT all accept the same collection or system of religious beliefs.
However, the Catholic church, Orthodox churches, and many Protestant denominations do share a number of core religious beliefs, and I have argued that among the shared religious beliefs are beliefs that constitute a Christian worldview (i.e. Christian answers to the above four worldview questions). Because the Catholic church, Orthodox churches, and many major Protestant denominations teach beliefs that constitute the same Christian worldview, we can reasonably conclude that there is just ONE Christian worldview (that is taught by Christian churches and denominations that include at least 80% of the population of Christian believers).
6. To Evaluate the Truth of a RELIGION, One must Evaluate the Truth of the WORLDVIEW associated with that Religion.
More specifically, to answer the question “Is Christianity true?”, one must answer the question “Is the Christian worldview true?” If the Christian worldview is false, then we can rightly conclude that Christianity is false. If the Christian worldview is true, then we can rightly conclude that the most basic beliefs of Christianity are true, and we can also rightly conclude that the worldviews associated with other religions and secular worldviews are false (or are mostly false), making the Christian worldview the best available worldview, and also making Christian systems of religious beliefs superior to other systems of belief (that were based on false worldviews).
If the Christian worldview is true, that would NOT imply that Catholicism is completely true, nor that Orthodox Christianity is completely true, nor that any Protestant denomination’s teachings are completely true, but it would mean that these various Christian belief systems are built on a solid foundation; they would be based on a true worldview. So if the Christian worldview were true, that would make those Christian systems of belief superior to other religious or secular systems of belief (that are built upon false worldviews).
7. To Evaluate the truth of the CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW, One Must Evaluate the Christian Answers to the FOUR BASIC WORLDVIEW QUESTIONS.
The Christian worldview is composed of four main parts, so it makes sense to evaluate the truth or correctness of each of these parts of the Christian worldview in order to arrive at a full and complete evaluation of that worldview:
1. Are the SYMPTOMS/PROBLEMS presented by the Christian worldview correct?
2. Is the DIAGNOSIS/ROOT-CAUSE PROBLEM presented by the Christian worldview correct?
3. Is the CURE/BEST SOLUTION presented by the Christian worldview correct?
4. Is the TREATMENT PLAN/IMPLEMENTATION PLAN presented by the Christian worldview correct?
8. Because there are FOUR BASIC PARTS to the Christian Worldview, there are (potentially) SIXTEEN different possible EVALUATIONS of the Christian Worldview.
It is probably an oversimplification to think strictly in terms of only two evaluative options, namely “true” or “false”, so we might want to keep in mind other categories (e.g. “partially true and partially false” and “mostly true” or “mostly false”); however, what we are shooting for ideally is a decision to accept or reject specific aspects of the Christian worldview, so ideally we will arrive at determinations of “true” or “false” for each of the four parts, to the extent that this is humanly possible to do.
Click on the image below for a clearer view of the chart:
“TCW” means: “The Christian Worldview”.
“ATQ1” means: “Answer To Question One” (of the Four Basic Worldview Questions).
Note that to the extent that ALL WORLDVIEWS can be analyzed in terms of the four basic worldview questions, this same chart can be used in the analysis and evaluation of any worldview.
Obviously, if the Christian answers to all four of the basic worldview questions are correct, then the Christian worldview is true. Similarly, if the Christian answers to all four of the basic worldview questions are wrong, then the Christian worldview is false.
But it is possible that some parts of the Christian worldview are correct and that other parts are wrong, and it is not immediately clear how we should evaluate the Christian worldview in those cases. In some such cases, the most reasonable evaluation might be that the Christian worldview is “mostly true”. In other such cases, the most reasonable evaluation might be that the Christian worldview is “mostly false”. In some such cases, the most reasonable evaluation might be that the Christian worldview is “roughly half-true and half-false”.
But we have to consider each of the various possible scenarios or permutations of truth and falsehood in order to determine (a) whether the possible permutation is a coherent possibility (some permutations might contain a contradiction and thus be ruled out), and (b) to what extent the specified false parts (of a given permutation) diminish the overall correctness of the Christian worldview, and (c) to what extent the specified true parts (of a given permutation) enhance the overall correctness of the Christian worldview.