Don’t We Need to Investigate All Religions?

According to a Pew Research survey conducted at the end of 2017, 80% of Americans say that they believe in (some) God. But for any person convinced of God’s existence – perhaps by arguments for General Theism – the question immediately arises: which God? In the next several posts I’ll lay out the framework of a case that God has revealed Himself uniquely in Christianity by examining the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Before that, though, we need to address the elephant in the room: many religions claim to be the unique revelation of God. Don’t we need to investigate all of them before we can make any judgment as to which of them is right?

Being a math major, I’ll attempt to answer the question with a mathematical analogy. Suppose you’re taking a timed, multiple-choice math exam. You encounter one problem that you don’t know how to solve; fortunately, you do know enough to determine whether a proposed solution “checks out.” The rational (and usual) strategy would be to assess each answer choice and, upon finding one that does “check out,” record your answer and move on. Then, if you have time after completing the exam, you can return to the question and assess the rest of the answer choices to make sure that they do, indeed, fail. It’s also worth noting that if, for some reason that doesn’t fit into the analogy, you had data on how many of your peers chose each answer choice, you’d probably assess the most commonly selected answers first.

In precise parallel, the problem of which religion (if any) is God’s unique revelation can’t be solved directly. But we can assess each religion to see whether it “checks out” as God’s unique revelation, and if we find one that does, we can adopt it and move on unless and until we have the time to return and check our work. If we want to save time, we can check these religions in a meaningful order, perhaps by looking at number of adherents, number of converts, age, cultural impact, and so forth. The key point here is that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be bogged down in exhaustive investigations of even the most remote alternatives before we feel confident enough to record our answer; our lives are indeed timed. To be clear, I’m not endorsing recklessness either; if you investigate Christianity and are sincerely unimpressed, I join with C.S. Lewis in saying that “I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it.” Don’t be pressured into “believing” before you’re well and truly convinced, but conversely, don’t let timidity cause you to withhold belief long after you have the evidence you need. If you find the evidence for Christianity compelling, you’re rationally justified in believing it even before you investigate its competitors as completely as you’d someday like to. With that, let’s turn to the evidence!

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