bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 7

In the previous post in this series,  I argued that the Christian apologist James Sire makes a fundamental mistake in his book Naming the Elephant, by defining “a worldview” as being a kind of commitment.  A worldview is something that can be true (or false), but a commitment is NOT something that can be true (or false); therefore, a worldview is NOT a commitment.
One can have a strong belief or “intellectual commitment” towards a worldview, but in that case the worldview is the OBJECT of the commitment, not the commitment itself.  Although there are some other interesting points made by Sire in this book that are worth considering,  because Sire’s concept of  “a worldview” is fundamentally flawed, I’m going to set that book aside for now, and move on to consider another book by a different author who has also done much thinking about the concept of “a worldview”.
Ninian Smart is a recognized expert on religions, and in his book Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs (3rd edition, 2000; hereafter: Worldviews), he advocates that the scholarly study of religion be conceived of, and engaged in, as “worldview analysis”.  An important part of “worldview analysis” is that it encompasses the examination of both traditional religions (e.g. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.) and secular ideologies (Marxism, Secular Humanism, etc.).  In terms of my purposes here, concerning clarification of the concept of “a worldview”, Smart makes the interesting and plausible claim that a worldview involves six “dimensions”:
The doctrinal or philosophical dimension
The narrative or mythic dimension
The ethical or legal [dimension]
The ritual or practical dimension
The experiential or emotional dimension
The social or organizational dimension
(Worldviews, p.8)
This six-dimensional approach to worldviews appears to be contrary to my cognitivist view of religions and worldviews, since only the first of the six dimensions (doctrinal or philosophical) appears to focus on beliefs or claims.  However, Smart’s six-dimensional approach seems quite sensible and plausible.  Of course religions and ideologies involve narratives/myths.  Of course religions and ideologies involve ethics or laws.  Of course religions and ideologies involve rituals or practices.  It seems undeniable that religions and ideologies generally manifest all six of these dimensions, and thus that beliefs and claims are only one small aspect of religions, ideologies, and worldviews.
If I am to maintain my cognitivist view of religions and worldviews, then I need to explain and justify my viewpoint in relation to Smart’s interesting and plausible six-dimensional approach to religions and worldviews.  It is tempting to just say that Smart is right that religions and worldviews have these six dimensions, but that I am only interested in the first dimension (the doctrinal or philosophical dimension).
The doctrines of a religion or worldview can be analyzed and evaluated in terms of truth (or falsehood).  The philosophical beliefs/claims of a religion or worldview can be analyzed and evaluated in terms of truth (or falsehood).  Since my concern is with the evaluation of the truth or falsehood of beliefs/claims that are “contained” in a religion or worldview,  I could just focus on the first dimension, and do so while acknowledging that there are other aspects of religions and worldviews that I am setting aside and ignoring.
But while this is a tempting route to take, I think it fails to recognize the central role that beliefs and claims play in religions and worldviews.  My task, then, is to try to maintain the centrality of beliefs and claims in religion and worldviews, while also recognizing that religions and worldviews generally do involve the six dimensions to which Smart draws our attention.
First, I wish to point out the apparent centrality of beliefs/claims in Smart’s discussion about the concepts of “a religion” and “a worldview”.  The very title of his book suggests the centrality of beliefs:
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs 
Note that Smart did NOT use any of the following alternative titles:
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Myths
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Laws
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Rituals
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Experiences
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Emotions
 Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Organizations
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Institutions  
So, the very title of his book elevates “beliefs” above other aspects of religions and worldviews,  thus suggesting that the first dimension (the doctrinal or philosophical dimension) plays a more important role than the other dimensions, perhaps a central role.
Also, in the introduction, Smart says things that also suggest the centrality of “beliefs”.  Here is a comment from the very first paragraph of the Introduction:
…at the level of everyday life, a knowledge of worldviews is increasingly significant.  First, civilizations are importantly interwoven with them.  Whether you believe them or not is beside the point.  (Worldviews, p.1, emphasis added)
Smart immediately characterizes a worldview as something that can be believed (or not believed).   Smart does not speak here of rituals, experiences, or institutions; rather, he speaks of belief, which suggests he is focused on beliefs or claims involved in a religion or worldview, and thus is focused on the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of religions and worldviews.
Another comment from the very first paragraph also supports the centrality of beliefs/claims to religions and worldviews:
Second, religious values and more broadly those of worldviews are in debate among the humanities.  Anyone who reflects about human values has to take into some account the values of the religions. (Worldviews, p.1, emphasis added)
Although “religious values” could be taken to include the “ethical or legal dimension”, the word “values” encompasses more than just moral values; it encompasses any sort of norms and any sort of evaluation.  Also philosophy encompasses ethics, so the “ethical or legal dimension” clearly has significant overlap with the “doctrinal and philosophical dimension”.  (Perhaps “ethical” refers to fairly specific rules and norms of behavior while the “philosophical” dimension includes more general ideas and principles regarding morality and behavior.)
In any case, if “religious values” and “worldview values” are “in debate among the humanities”, then Smart is clearly talking about something that is intellectual or cognitive in nature.  He is presumably talking about claims or beliefs concerning how people ought to behave or what people ought to care about.  Once again, this is an indication of the importance or centrality of the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of religions and worldviews.
The second paragraph of the Introduction also suggests the importance or centrality of beliefs/claims in religions and worldviews:
The modern study of worldviews…explores feelings and ideas and tries to understand what exists inside the heads of people.  What people believe is an important aspect of reality whether or not what they believe is true.  (Worldviews, p.1-2)
Here Smart mentions “feelings and ideas” in summing up what is studied when one studies a worldview.  The study of “ideas” clearly relates to the doctrinal and philosophical dimension of a worldview.  It could also relate to  the mythical and ethical dimensions, but the ethical dimension, as I have previously mentioned, can be encompassed by the philosophical dimension.
The word “feelings” points to the experiential or emotional dimension.  However, in the very next sentence, Smart talks about “What people believe” and “whether or not what they believe is true”.  This language again points towards the doctrinal or philosophical dimension.  Experiences and emotions are not the sort of thing that can be true (or false).  Rituals are not the sort of thing that can be true (or false).  Organizations and institutions are not the sort of thing that can be true (or false).    While myths and stories can be thought of as being true (or false),  myths and religious stories are often believed to have significance apart from whether they are literally true (or false).
When Smart talks about “what exists inside the heads of people” this relates most directly to beliefs and feelings and experiences, but not directly to rituals, practices, organizations, or institutions.
The focus on “beliefs” continues at the end of the second paragraph:
To some extent anthropology tried to give objective accounts of foreign beliefs, but often the other cultures were treated as uncivilized or inferior.  To some extent there were attempts through comparative religion to describe foreign beliefs, and sometimes Christian missionaries managed warm accounts of other faiths.  (Worldviews, p.2)
In these sentences Smart equates other “worldviews” and “other faiths” with “foreign beliefs,”  not with “foreign rituals” , not with “foreign practices”, not with “foreign experiences”,  not with “foreign organizations”, not with “foreign institutions.”  So, at both the beginning and the end of the second paragraph of the Introduction, Smart focuses on beliefs/claims, and this suggests that the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of a religion or of a worldview is more important, more central, than the other dimensions.
In paragraph three of the Introduction, Smart discusses the importance of “epoche” or suspension of judgment when one is studying the worldview of another people or culture.  One should, Smart says, “suspend your own beliefs about the other (whether that be culture, or group, or individual)”(Worldviews, p. 2, emphasis added).  So, the modern study of religions and worlviews attempts to acheive objectivity by setting aside one’s own “point of view”.  Thus, one’s own beliefs and point of view can bias one’s understanding of other religions and other worldviews.  Presumably, this is because the beliefs one has as, say a Christian, may conflict with the beliefs held by people who have a different religion or worldview (say Islam or Buddhism or Marxism).  So, it apears that paragraph three of the Introduction also suggests that beliefs are central to religions and worldviews.
Paragraph four provides a brief characterization of “worldview analysis” and once again focuses on “beliefs”:
The study of religions and ideologies can be called “worldview analysis.”  In this we try to depict the history and nature of the symbols and beliefs that have helped form the structure of human consciousness and society.  This is the heart of the modern study of religion.  (Worldviews, p.2, emphasis added)
Note that Smart does NOT say that “worldview analysis” depicts the history and nature of “rituals” or “experiences” or “feelings” or “organizations” or “institutions”.  I will argue later that “symbols” have a very close connection with the beliefs and claims of a religion or worldview.
At the beginning of paragraph six, Smart talks about our understanding of “others’ beliefs and values”, and about exploring the “thoughts and values of others” in characterizing efforts to “explore other people’s religions”.  At the end of paragraph six, Smart talks about bias that existed in the early history of “the comparative study of religion”:
But such explorations were often somewhat supercilious in regard to alien faiths.  Westerners were often inclined to dub other beliefs as primitive.  (Worldviews, p.3, emphasis added)
He does not say that there was an inclination to dub “other experiences” as primitive, or “other rituals” as primitive, or “other institutions” as primitive.  Once again, Smart’s focus is on “beliefs”, thus suggesting that the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of a worldview is more important, more central than the other dimensions.
In short, in the opening paragraphs of the Introduction to Worldviews, Ninian Smart repeatedly talks about worldviews in terms of “beliefs”, “ideas”, “thoughts”, and, perhaps most importantly in terms of truth (or falsehood):
What people believe is an important aspect of reality whether or not what they believe is true (Worldviews, p.1-2)
This emphais on “beliefs” is also present in the very title of the book:
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs 
Therefore, although Smart argues that the modern study of religion should touch on at least six different dimensions, it also seems to be the case that he recognizes that “beliefs” or the doctrinal or philosophical dimension is of greater importance (or is more central) than the other dimensions or aspects of a religion or a worldview.
In the next post, I will start walking though the other five dimensions of worldviews, and examining how they relate to “beliefs” or to the doctrinal or philosophical dimension of worldviews.

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 5

In his book The Universe Next Door (IVP, 3rd edition, 1997; hereafter: TUND), James Sire speaks of worldviews as things that can be true:
…I am convinced that for any of us to be fully conscious intellectually we should not only be able to detect the worldviews of others but be aware of our own–why it is ours and why in light of so many options we think it is true.  (TUND, p.10, emphasis added)
In the opening pages of Chapter 1, Sire loosely equates faiths, worldviews, and collections of beliefs:
The struggle to discover our own faith, our own worldview, our beliefs about reality is what this book is all about.  (TUND, p.15)
This seems right to me.  The Christian faith can be thought of primarily as a worldview, as the Christian worldview, and the Christian worldview is basically a collection of “beliefs about reality”.  Furthermore, if this is correct, then it makes sense to ask the question: Is Christianity true?  This question would be equivalent to asking the question: Is the Christian worldview true?  These questions would make sense because a worldview is basically a collection of beliefs about reality, and beliefs are the sort of thing that can be true (or false).
This understanding of the nature of the Christian worldview is captured in Sire’s definition of “a worldview”:
A worldview is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic makeup of our world. (TUND, p.16)
According to this defintion, a worldview is made up of a set of presuppositions or assumptions.  Presuppositions or assumptions are the sort of thing that can be true (or false).  Thus, a “set” or collection of presuppositions can be true (or false) too, if all of the presuppositions in a set are true, or all of them are false.   If some presuppositions in a set are true and others are false, then the situation is more complicated, and some standard would need to be established to distinguish between sets that are “mostly true” and sets that are “mostly false”, and with sets of presuppositions we probably need to leave room for a gray area between truth and falsehood, where a particular set has a good number of true presuppositions combined with a good number of false ones.
But in a more recent book called Naming the Elephant (IVP, 2004; hereafter: NTE),  Sire takes a closer look at the concept of “a worldview”, and he changes his mind about the kind of thing that a worldview is, and he no longer considers a worldview to be “a set of presuppositions”.  His new definition goes like this:
A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides a foundation on which we live and move and have our being. (NTE, p.122, emphasis added)
I don’t think this is an improvement over Sire’s original definition.  There are a number of problems with this new defintion, but the most basic problem is that Sire now defines “a worldview” as a kind of commitment, not as a set of presuppositions.  The problem I have with this is that a commitment is NOT the sort of thing that can be true:
1.  If a worldview is a kind of commitment, then the Christian worldview is a kind of commitment.
2. If the Christian worldview is a kind of commitment, then the Christian worldview cannot be true (or false).
Therefore:
3. If a worldview is a kind of commitment, then the Christian worldview cannot be true (or false).
Premise (1) is obviously true, and (3) follows logically from the combination of (1) and (2), so the only possible mistake here would be if premise (2) was false (or its truth was not known).
But it seems clear to me that a commitment is NOT the sort of thing that could be true (or false).  If I am correct about premise (2) being true, then one is forced to choose between Sire’s definition of “a worldview” and a claim that Sire and nearly all Christians wish to make: Christianity is true (i.e. The Christian worldview is true).
If I borrow twenty dollars from a friend and make a commitment to pay back the twenty dollars within a week, is my commitment true or false?  Does it even make sense to speak of my commitment as being true or false?  In this case, my commitment is basically a PROMISE.  Can a promise be true?  Can a promise be false?  I don’t think so.  Promises don’t describe reality.  Promises also don’t describe or predict the future.  In promising that I will pay the twenty dollars back next week, I’m NOT predicting that I will pay the money back next week.
I can be insincere in making a promise.  That happens if I have no real intention of paying the money back when I make the promise to pay it back.  An insincere promise is a deceptive promise, but that does not make the promise false, because the function of promising is NOT to describe how things are or even to describe how things will be in the future.
If I was sincere in making the promise to pay back the money, then the promise was a sincere one, but even so I might fail to pay the money back.  Perhaps a theif steals all my money shortly before I was going to pay back the loan.  Perhaps I have enough money to pay back the money but I get into a car accident and because of a head injury I go into a coma that lasts for two months.  Does this mean the promise I made was false?  No.  Truth and falsehood don’t apply to promises.  In these scenarios, I fail to keep my promise, but have a good reason for my failure.
If a promise is not the sort of thing that can be true (or false), then this suggests to me that a commitment is not the sort of thing that can be true (or false), since a promise is a kind of commitment.  Are there other types of commitments that can be true (or false)?
What about a parent’s commitment to love, raise, and care for, a child?  No doubt it is a good thing for a parent to love, raise, and care for his or her children.  Sometimes it can be difficult and challenging to love, raise, and care for a child, especially if the child becomes sick or disabled or has emotional problems.  Commitment to loving, raising, and caring for a child is needed to ensure that these activities are persisted in for the long haul and even when this becomes difficult and challenging.
Can such a commitment be true (or false)?  I suppose that a person might pretend to have such a commitment towards a child, while secretly looking for an opportunity to escape from the situation and to abandon the child.  That would be a fake or insincere commitment.  But we don’t talk about a parent’s commitment to a child being true (or false).  We could say that a parent was “truly committed” to loving, raising, and caring for his/her child.  But that just implies that the commitment is sincere and strong.  If a parent publically declares “I am committed to loving, raising, and caring for my child.” that might be either like making a promise (to love, raise, and care for the child) or it might be an assertion which describes his/her attitude, an assertion that could be true (or false).  But what is true (or false) in this case is NOT the commitment, but the STATEMENT about the existence of that commitment or attitude.  Statements or assertions can be true (or false), but commitments and attitudes cannot be true (or false).
In the earlier book The Universe Next Door, Sire clearly believes that the Christian worldview is true, and his defintiion of “a worldview” in that book supports this idea, because it makes sense to talk about “a set of presuppositions” being true (or false).  But it seems that in his more recent book Naming the Elephant, Sire still wants to talk about worldviews as being true (or false) even though his new definition seems to rule this out.  In the opening paragraph of the Preface, Sire speaks about worldviews in terms of truth:
For almost fifty years I have been trying to think in worldview terms.  It was worldview analysis that made the literature of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance come alive for me in graduate school at the University of Missouri.  It was the history of worldviews that formed the skeleton on which as a teacher I hung the flesh of English literature.  Moreover, developing a congnizance of my own worldview has provided a way of orienting not just my own thoughts but my whole take on life itself.  I have, in short, long been interested in detecting the basic intellectual commitments we make as human beings, reveling in their variety, delighting in the depth of their insight when they have grasped the truth and despairing over their disastrous consequences when they have proven false. (NTE, p.11, emphasis added)
To what does the prounoun “they” refer in the last sentence of this paragraph?  Since the opening sentence, the second sentence, the third sentence, and the fourth sentence are all about worldviews, it seems reasonable to take the pronoun “they” as referring to “worldviews”.  In that case Sire assumes that at least one worldview has “grasped the truth” and that at least one worldview has “proven false”.  So, Sire appears to still want to say that a worldview can be true (or false).  But given his new definition of “a worldview” it seems to me that it no longer makes any sense to talk about a worldview being true (or false).
In the opening paragraph of the Preface to Naming the Elephant, Sire appears to assume that a person’s worldview consists of “the basic intellectual commitments” that a person makes.  What is an intellectual commitment?  Can an intellectual commitment be true?  By modifying the term ” commitment” with the adjective “intellectual” it seems to me that Sire is trying to build the idea of a belief or proposition back into the sort of thing that a worldview is.  An “intellectual commitment” is something much like a FIRM BELIEF, or better: FIRM ASSENT.  But assent is NOT the sort of thing that can be true (or false), in my view.
Think about the traditional Justified-True-Belief analysis of KNOWLDEGE:
Someone S knows that proposition P is the case IF AND ONLY IF:
1. S has sufficient justification for believing that proposition P is true, 
AND
2.  Proposition P is true, 
AND
3.  S believes that P is true.
The belief condition (3) can be satisfied even if the truth condition  (2) is not.  In other words, we can believe a FALSE proposition.  It doesn’t matter how FIRMLY S believes P, even if S feels completely certain that P is true, S might be mistaken, and P might be false, in spite of how strongly S believes that P is true.  It is not the believing or the ASSENT that is true (or false); it is the proposition, the object of the believing or assenting, that is true or false.
Someone might firmly believe that proposition P is true, but have no good reason for believing this.  Such belief might be irrational or unreasonable belief, belief which is lacking in rational justification.  Such believing is generally bad or undesirable, but we don’t say that foolish or irrational believing is true (or false).  It is the OBJECT of belief or assent that can be true (or false), not the believing or assenting.
If “intellectual commitment” means something like “firm belief” or “firm assent”, then this attitude is NOT something that can be true (or false). Therefore, if “intellectual commitment” means something like “firm assent”, then, based on Sire’s new definition, a worldview is NOT something that can be true (or false), and thus the Christian worldview is NOT true (or false).  But Sire does not appear to realize that his definition of “a worldview” turns Christianity into something that CANNOT be true (or false).

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 4

I think of Christianity as being a worldview. But what is a worldview? How should we analyze and compare and evaluate worldviews?
There are different ways of understanding and analyzing worldviews, so before I defend my cognitivist view of religions, I should make an attempt to clarify the concept of “a worldview” that I plan to use in my evaluation of Christianity.
Here are some books that analyze worldviews and/or discuss the concept of a worldview:
CHRISTIAN APOLOGISTS
Worldviews In Conflict by Ronald Nash
The Universe Next Door by James Sire
Naming the Elephant by James Sire
OTHER PHILOSOPHERS/SCHOLARS
The Religions of Man by Huston Smith
Seven Theories of Human Nature by Leslie Stevenson
Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs by Ninian Smart
Leslie Stevenson and Ronald Nash both treat worldviews as philosophies or systems of beliefs, so their understanding of the concept of a worldview is closest to mine. Nash does, however, briefly mention the idea that there are “Nontheoretical foundations of theoretical thought” (Worldviews in Conflict, p.23-26).
Huston Smith analyzes Buddhism in a way that is very similar to the way that Stevenson analyzes worldviews (compare The Religions of Man, pages 102-103, with Seven Theories of Human Nature, pages 5-9).
Ninian Smart is a religious studies expert from UC Santa Barbara (he was commencement speaker at my wife’s graduation from UCSB, and my plan was to ask him to be part of the comittee for my dissertation on the resurrection of Jesus). Smart’s conception of a worldview includes philosophical beliefs or doctrines but also includes other “dimensions”:
1. Doctrinal and philosophical
2. Mythic and Narrative
3. Ethical or Legal
4. Ritual or Practical
5. Experiential or Emotional
6. Social or Institutional
(Worldviews, p.8-10)
So, Smart’s conception of a worldview represents a challenge to my congitivist view of religion, which focuses on beliefs or doctrines.
James Sire’s book The Universe Next Door treats worldviews as systems of beliefs, in keeping with my cognitivist view of religions:
A worldview is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the makeup of our world. (The Universe Next Door, p.16)
However, after reviewing a number of different thinkers who have discussed the concept of a worldview, Sire made some significant revisions to his conception of a world view. He develops and explains his new conception in his book Naming the Elephant:
The time for rethinking the concept of worldview has come. If the analysis that follows is correct, four important revisions to my own earlier definition of worldview are in order. First is a recognition that a worldview is not just a set of basic concepts but a fundamental orientation of the heart. Second is an explicit insistence that at the deepest root of a worldview is its commitment to and understanding of the “really real”. Third is a consideration of behavior in the determination of what one’s own or another’s worldview really is. Fourth is a broader understanding of how worldviews are grasped as story, not just as abstract propositions. (Naming the Elephant, p.13)
Near the end of the book (see Chapter 7), Sire puts forward his new definition of a worldview:
A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being. (Naming the Elephant, p.122)
This revised definition of “a worldview” by Sire appears to depart from the purely cognitivist view of religion and worldviews that he had in his earlier book The Universe Next Door. So, his more recent concept of “a worldview” represents a challenge to my cognitivist view of religions and of Christianity.

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? – Part 1

Since I am planning to invest the next ten years (or more) of my life in an effort to investigate and answer the question “Is Christianity true or false?”,  I need to start out by clarifying and defining the word “Christianity”.
There are those who would argue that Christianity is not the sort of thing that could be true, and is not the sort of thing that could be false.  If Christianity is not the sort of thing that could be true, and is not the sort of thing that could be false, then I would be investing ten years (or more) of my life on a wild-goose chase, so it is important to do a bit of thinking now about the meaning of my basic question, and whether this question even makes any sense.
[Note: “As wild-goose chase literally means ‘a chase for wild geese’, it is usually hyphenated as shown for clarity. The form without the hyphen is also commonly seen, and can be construed as a ‘wild chase’, not an inevitably fruitless one, after a possibly domesticated and flightless goose, rather than after a wild goose.”Wiktionary article on wild-goose chase.]
What sort of a thing is “Christianity”?  The genus seems fairly obvious: Christianity is a religion.  There are many different religions, and Christianity is one of them.  What is a religion?  Is a religion the sort of thing that can be true or false?  People sometimes talk about the question “Which religion, if any, is the true religion?”.  Does this question make any sense?
I am a cognitivist when it comes to the concept of a “religion”.  To me, a religion is fundamentally a point of view, a philosophy of life, a worldview.  I focus in on the intellectual or cognitive aspect of religion.  This way of looking at religion is somewhat controversial.  Not everyone thinks about religion in terms of claims, ideas, and beliefs.  Some people are opposed to a cognitivist view of religion, so I need to consider some of the main objections to my cognitivist view of religion, and consider alternative views of the nature of religion, to see whether there is a different view about the nature of religion that is as plausible or perhaps more plausible and more reasonable than my cognitivist view.
If religion is fundamentally about ideas, claims, and beliefs, and if Christianity is a religion, then it would make sense to ask the question “Is Christianity true or false?”  Ideas, claims, and beliefs are the sorts of things that can be evaluated as true or false, so if religions are fundamentally sets of ideas, claims, or beliefs, then we can evaluate the ideas, claims, or beliefs that constitute a particular religion, and make an overall evaluation of the truth of the whole religion that way.
Suppose that my cognitivist view of religion is correct, and that a religion is fundamentally a collection or system of beliefs.  There are at least two dimensions of evaluation that can be applied to a set or system of beliefs: (1) each individual belief can be evaluated as true or false, and (2) the logical relationships between the beliefs can be evaluated to determine whether some beliefs contradict or disconfirm other beliefs in that system (and whether some beliefs imply or support other beliefs in that system).  Note that if we discover that one belief in a system of beliefs contradicts another belief in that system, this should cause us to reconsider previous judgments that both of these individual beliefs were true.
Ideally, we would find a system of beliefs such that (1) every belief in that system is true (as far as we can tell, based on a careful evaluation of each individual belief), and (2) none of the beliefs contradict or disconfirm any of the other beliefs.  However, reality is rarely so kind to us.  It seems reasonable to suppose that in virtually every human system of beliefs there are some beliefs that are false (as far as we can tell, based on a careful evaluation of each individual belief), and that in virtually every human system of beliefs there are some beliefs that contradict or disconfirm other beliefs in that system.  I don’t expect to ever come across a human system of beliefs that is completely flawless.
If there is no such thing as a flawless human system of beliefs, does that mean that ALL human systems of belief are FALSE?  Should we conclude that all religions are false? and that all secular worldviews and philosophies are false?  I don’t think so.   Everything we touch, see, hear, smell and taste is imperfect and flawed in some way and to some degree.  Nevertheless, there is a difference between eating a delicious steak hot off the grill and eating a dry moldy crust of bread.  The steak might not be absolutely perfect, but it is clearly better than the dry moldy crust of bread.  I see no reason to have a different view about imperfection in the intellectual realm.  Given a choice between two systems of beliefs, even if neither one is perfect or flawless, one might well be much better than the other, much closer to the truth.
This is partly a matter of quantity.  If 95% of the beliefs in system X are true, and only 75% of beliefs in system Y are true (as far as we can tell), then system X is to be preferred over system Y, other things being equal.  But quality is also important.  A set or system of trivial beliefs that was 100% true might well be less desirable than a system of significant beliefs where only 80% of the beliefs are true.  Thus, truth is not the only relevant consideration in evaluating a system of beliefs.
In any case, declaring ANY particular system of human beliefs to be TRUE will require some degree of qualification and some degree of sophistication in spelling out what that means, since it presumably does NOT mean that every single belief in that system of beliefs is true and that no belief in that system contradicts or disconfirms any other belief.  We need to allow some room for imperfection in systems of belief, while still drawing a line between systems that are epistemically GOOD and systems that are epistemically BAD, with probably a significant portion of systems of belief residing in a gray area between epistemically GOOD and epistemically BAD.
While composing this post, a few objections against my cognitivist view of religion have come to mind: (1) What about the important role of rituals and symbols in religions?  Doesn’t that imply that a religion is more than just a system of beliefs?  (2) What about the importance of ethics and morality in religions?  R.B. Braithwaite, for example,  argued that the primary function of religious assertions was not to make factual statements, but to express a personal commitment to a certain ethic or way of life.  Doesn’t that imply that religion is not the sort of thing that can be evaluated as true or false?  (3) What about Wittgenstein’s view of the nature of religious language?  If Wittgenstein or philosophers of religion who follow in his footsteps (e.g. D.Z. Phillips) are correct, then religious assertions that appear to be making factual claims actually have a different purpose and meaning, and thus are not the sort of assertions that can be evaluated as true or false. (4) “Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship with Jesus Christ.”  – I cannot neglect responding to this popular little bit of stupidity.
I will start dealing with objections to my cognitivist view of religion in the next post in this series.