The Believer’s Dilemma: Which belief system? Why?

 

All belief systems attempt to make sense of the universe and our place in it. The scientific method has been particularly effective in identifying relationships that are predictable and reproducible, such as the causes and effects that make technology work.  Flipping a light switch produces the same result whether or not you believe in electricity.  

 

Religious thought has employed a different methodology. It begins with divine revelation: via inspired scripture, angelic visitations, visions and dreams. This cornerstone of revealed truth is then used to extrapolate all other knowledge. 

 

The first problem with this methodology is scope. Every region of the earth is subject to the same natural laws, but all religions do not receive the same revelations, and most religions have believed that their own sacred scriptures are true, while the dreams, visions, visitations and sacred writing of other religions are false. Some religions claim to be ‘universal’ but none can claim to have been known to all nations and races at all periods of history  

 

The second problem with using dreams, visions and revelations as a basis for understanding reality is that they may have been mis-understood, mis-reported or mis-recorded (not to mention mis-translated).  Disciples of Love understand this possibility, as do disciples of Anti-wrath, while Disciples of Wrath deny it adamantly, as least so far as their own scriptures are concerned. 

 

The third problem with using revelations, visions and dreams as a basis for understanding reality is that our day-to-day experiences encompass situations and circumstances that were never part of any revelation. The Bible, for example, has little to say about chemistry, biology, or physics. The Bible does say that the sun ‘rises’ and ‘sets’ and therefore it appears to revolve around the earth. This is a reasonable extrapolation and one which Christian authorities relied upon to ‘prove’ that the solar-centric system of Copernicus and Galileo must be in error. This failure to correctly interpret scripture raises questions. Who has the authority to extrapolate scriptures reliably to make sense of the universe and our place in it?   

 

By definition, all divinely inspired dreams, visions and revelations result from a direct intervention between God and humans. All the transmitted stories involve blessings for the righteous (individuals/nations), temporary chastisement for the wayward, and wrath for the wicked. Therefore, it appears logical to extrapolate that God is constantly involved in human affairs. Some believers make the extraordinary claim that their God answers ALL prayers; that no prayer is unheard and no prayer is left unanswered.  

 

This ‘law of constant divine intervention’ is not predictable or reproducible.  Skeptics note that many prayers – eg, recovery from mild illnesses – require no divine intervention, while those that do – eg, growing a new limb to replace an amputation – have a zero response rate. Disciples of Wrath have a different explanation: their God can answer prayers positively (yes), negatively (no,) or conditionally (not now and not in the anticipated manner). To reconcile with observable reality this ‘law of constant divine intervention’ requires a factor called ‘mystery.’  God is always there, always working, but in mysterious ways which can’t be predicted. This conception of ‘reality’ is inconceivable to rationalists, although they will admit that our universe is large, complex and mysterious. The most hard-nosed sceptic has to admit there are things which cannot be explained at this moment in history. We are required to live in a world that is partly explicable (events are predictable and reproducible) and partly mysterious.  We are left with no option but the religious response – God’s answer to prayer is not now and not in the anticipated manner– or the rational response – we will eventually find an explanation but we do not have it now and it might be nothing like what we currently anticipate. 

 

The universe is large, complex and mysterious. The most hard-nosed sceptic has to admit there are things which cannot be explained at this moment in history.  We are required to live in a world that is partly explicable (events are predictable and reproducible) and partly mysterious. It is easy to get lost and confused.   

 

If the laws of nature have not been fully revealed in scripture, does religion at least provide principles for human behaviour? Two of the greatest religious figures in history proposed simple guiding principles to help make sense of this complicated universe and our place in it. Jesus stated these guiding principles clearly and concisely in response to a question about the greatest commandment. (Mathew 22:34-40) ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the law and prophets hang on these two commandments. 

 

Fifteen hundred years earlier, the same guiding principles were offered by Moses. ‘Love God with all your heart and soul’ (Deuteronomy 30:6); 'Love your neighbour as yourself' (Leviticus 19:16).

 

How closely do the dominant Christian belief systems (Wrath, Anti-wrath and Love) follow these simple and clear guiding principles? 

 

Disciples of Wrath love their God passionately. They expect to have a personal relationship and they can testify to the moments when God has touched them. They expect believers to be transformed and can document tangible changes in their lives. They expect prayer to be answered and can list hundreds of examples. 

 

Disciples of Wrath are conditional in their love of fellow men, particularly convicted sinners and followers of false gods. Not all disciples of Wrath are violent zealots but all disciples of Wrath, without exception, are prepared to accept that their God acts in ways that are violent and incomprehensible. If their God chooses to bless the few and condemn the multitude, it may appear horrible, but disciples of Wrath are prepared to believe that the victims deserve their fate and that their God deserves Glory for executing justice. Disciples of Wrath love the neighbours that God loves (the chosen, the elect, the blessed) but will condemn neighbours who have incurred the wrath of their God. There are certainly Old Testament verses that call for the righteous to murder sinners by stoning. It is less violent to merely threaten neighbour with eternal torment, but only the distorting lens of the Gospel of Wrath could claim that this violence is as an act of neighbourly ‘love.’  

 

The Gospel of Anti-wrath is a reaction against the Gospel of Wrath.  Disciples of Anti-wrath are very strong on tolerance, equality, and social justice. They have distanced themselves from the narrow religion of the Gospel of Wrath. Disciples of Anti-wrath are more inclined to find God in the books of Nature than in the books of Scripture. A caricature of the disciples of Anti-wrath is a tree-hugging, earth-mother worshipping, New Age liberal who is tolerant of everything and everyone. Disciples of Anti-wrath strive to love their neighbours, particularly the outcasts, the rejects, the sinful and the suffering. The Gospel of Anti-wrath actively practices the teachings of Jesus and aspires to be a truly universal, all-inclusive faith.

 

Disciples of Anti-wrath find it hard to reconcile a God of Love with much of the violence recorded in the Bible, and with the violence and injustice experienced in the world. Disciples of Anti-wrath— because they have rejected much of the theology of a wrathful, micro-managing God of eternal bliss, for the few, and eternal torment for the many — frame their relationship with God in questions and doubts.   Disciples of Anti-wrath do not expect God to micromanage a world that is governed by natural laws.  They rarely experience the power of God in their lives in a direct or personal manner that transcends the natural order.  Disciples of Anti-wrath love God, in so far as they understand this mysterious deity, but they put their faith into practice, acting as the hands, feet and heart of God in a suffering world. 

 

Disciples of Love believe in practical faith, serving the suffering alongside disciples of Anti-wrath. They also believe in a living God who intervenes in the material world in ways that are both supernatural and predictable.  They are regarded as wicked Universalists by disciples of Wrath and as deluded Holy Rollers by disciples of Anti-wrath. 

 

Let us now look at how these belief systems attempt to explain the great mysteries that confront us.  

 

9.   The Problem of Evil 

 

10.  Sin and Salvation

 

11.  Judgement and Justice

 

Questions or Comments?