Monday, January 7, 2013

Can Religious Truth-Claims Be Verified?

I finished Paul Knitter's No Other Name?  A Critical Survey of Christian Attitudes Toward the World Religions.  In this post, I'll use as my starting-point something that Knitter says on page 269:

"[Alan Race and I] both agree that religious truth-claims can be made only in the actual praxis of dialogue and that whatever claims are made, the mystery encompassing humanity will always be more than any religious truth can express.  Race, however, insists that the criterion for verifying truth-claims within dialogue can be only subjective; any further verification can come only 'eschatologically'...The criteria I have drawn from Jung and from the liberation theologians try to reach beyond such subjectivism; they are intended to examine whether the 'vision of life' of a religion actually promotes the psychological welfare and the liberation of both individuals and societies.  Such criteria, it is hoped, can be applied now, in this ambiguous and ever incomplete course of history, and do not have to wait for some kind of eschatological judgment at the end of time."

How can we verify whether religious truth-claims are true or false?  Apparently, the view of Alan Race is that we really cannot in this day and age, but we have to wait for God to reveal himself to everyone at the end of history.  (Or so I am interpreting Race, based on what Knitter says.)  But Knitter believes that we actually can evaluate religious truth claims.  Do they promote psychological health and individual and societal liberation?  If so, then, according to Knitter, those religious truth claims are true.

I should make a note about religion and psychological welfare.  When I think about this issue, my initial impulse is to say that religious truth-claims that comfort me are true, whereas those that do not comfort me are false.  Overall, I wouldn't throw this criterion totally out of the window.  But I don't consider it to be the end-all-be-all.  On page 69, when Knitter is summarizing Jung's view on religious truth-claims and psychological health, Knitter states: "If religion is a crutch, if it does not allow us to assume responsibility for our own lives...then its truth must be seriously doubted."  The notion that I should passively wait for God to do stuff for me may comfort me, but that does not make the notion true or psychologically healthy.

So what can I say about the views of Race and Knitter?  Do I agree with Race that we need an eschatological revelation to know for sure what religious truth-claims are correct?  Or do I agree with Knitter that, on some level, we can evaluate religious truth-claims in the here and now, according to whether they promote psychological health and individual and societal liberation?  I think about one relative I have, whose worldview has elements of both.  On the one hand, he does not believe that God in this day and age judges people according to what religion they accept (if any), for he does not think that there is any clear evidence that one religion is right while others are wrong.  On the other hand, he himself is a Christian, and one reason is that he feels that he has experienced God through Christianity, and that he has seen that Christian morality works better for him and makes more sense to him than other worldviews.

I have to admit that there are religious truth-claims that work for many people.  The thing is, some of them are based on things that (in my opinion) cannot be verified in the here and now.  For example, I can have inner peace if I accept the idea that Christ defeated death and the devil by rising from the dead.  But, in my opinion, there is no proof that Christ rose from the dead.  So there's a sense in which even certain religious truth-claims that give Christians comfort, courage, hope, and even inspiration to pursue liberation need eschatological verification for us to know that they are true.

But my impression is that, for Knitter, eschatology may not be overly important.  I'm open to correction on this, but he seems to me to be rather utopian about humans' ability to get together and effect justice, as opposed to despairing in the human ability to do so and waiting for Christ to come back to bring about a paradise.  As I read Knitter's book, there was a part of me that had chills.  Why?  Because, over my life, I've been influenced by an eschatological mindset that regards people coming together to create a one-world government as the Beast system of Revelation 13.  Moreover, I was raised to believe in original sin, the idea that humans are corrupt and thus cannot create a utopia on their own.  I don't take this in the direction of saying that I shouldn't help the poor, even through support for certain political policies.  But I tend to regard globalist language as frightening, and optimism as naive and sappy.  Maybe I'm wrong on this.  Or perhaps I can believe that positive social change is possible, while also holding to a degree of realism.

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