Five Critical Questions

by Phillip Brown

          In this brief article I simply want to provide you with five very important questions to ask yourself and your friends. Whether you are a Christian, or not, it is vital that you have sound reasons for believing whatever it is that you may believe. The following critical questions are designed to help you rationally work through and dig deeper into your beliefs. It is my hope that by asking and responding to these questions you will be able to challenge your pre-conceived notions and previously held views about life, death, truth, meaning, morality, where we came from, and where we are going. All with the ultimate goal of developing a rational and coherent worldview.

1. What do you believe?
          Before we can really know where we are going, or where we came from, we really need to know where we are now. Often people make claims about what they reject as being a reasonable belief, without even knowing what it is that they actually do believe. We also need a starting point for our assessment of our beliefs. In any investigation, one usually starts with an hypothesis of one sort, or another. Consider your current beliefs your hypothesis and begin your investigation from there.

2. What conclusions lead you to your current beliefs?
          Once we have figured out what it is that we actually do believe in, it then becomes important to know what reasons lay behind that belief. Typically, our reasons, or conclusions are rooted in pre-conceived ideas that we have taken as axiomatic. In other words, ideas, which we consider to be either self-evident, or which are so broadly held that we just accept them as being true. Believers and non-believers alike are guilty of this kind of thinking, or lack thereof. It is not reasonable and it is potentially dangerous. History testifies to the fact that what might at first appear to be simple and harmless ideas can lead to catastrophe. Simply put, we should not rely one what we think we already know, or what is considered to be general knowledge. We need to question those pre-conceived notions.

3. How did you come by those conclusions?
          Following directly from question number two, it is not enough to know what conclusions lead us to our world-view. Those conclusions need to be rational and rational conclusions are only arrived at by rational means of investigation. In previous articles, I have made reference to the idea of circular reasoning. This type of reasoning is such that not only does the conclusion rely on the truth of premises in order for it to be shown to be true, but also the premises require the conclusion to be true in order to establish that they are true. An example might be the following statement; everyone says X, so it must be true, but X is only true because everyone says it. This is faulty reasoning. If X is true, its premises must be true. And one would need to prove that the premises are true, independent of the conclusion, in order to show that the conclusion is itself true. Confused yet? Believer it, or not, this is how many people come to their beliefs. Thorough and rational investigation of our conclusions must be carried out in order for us to rationally hold any position on any topic. This is even more important when it comes to answering life’s “big” questions.

4. Did you come to those conclusions on your own, or are you just taking someone else’s word for it?
          This question is sort of answered by question number three. If you have done a thorough enough investigation into how you came by your conclusions, you will know whether you have been intellectually honest and have found evidence to support your conclusions, or if you are just repeating what someone else told you. Nonetheless, this is an important question to ask. Just because someone claims to be an expert, or because you perceive them to be, it does not mean that they are. And even experts can be wrong. When you go that extra mile and really try to find out whether, or not a claim made by an expert is reasonable, you can at least rest assured that you have decided something for yourself and are not just repeating what someone else said.

5. How does your worldview impact your life?
          Finally it is important to ask how your beliefs affect the way that you live your life. All of the “big” questions would not be so big if their answers had no affect on how and why we do what we do. Even though this is the last question on our list, it may also be a good starting point. Often we change our worldview when life does not seem to be going as planned. Or when some sort of tragic, or impactful event occurs in our lives. These events tend to cause us to reflect on how we have been living our lives and how we do better. And this leads us, hopefully, to start asking the above questions.

          Whether, you have been a believer for many years, you are questioning faith, or you are staunchly opposed to all forms of religion, knowing what you believe and why you believe what you do is essential if you are going to be truly honest with yourself and with others. And especially for the believer, you cannot give good reasons for the hope that is in you if you have not gone through the process of answering the five critical questions above.