by Phillip Brown
The question of whether, or not some exposure to theism is better than none is, like many issues having to do with belief, not uncomplicated. So it is, admittedly, something of a precarious endeavour to attempt to provide a clear response to this question. And I do not have anything close to a definitive answer. It is however something that, in this age of religious pluralism, I believe needs to be at least addressed in some way. The goals of this article are simply to emphasize the importance of the question by discussing some of the core issues involved and hopefully to get more people thinking about how they come to believe what they do.
What ‘God’ are you seeking?
I want to begin the discussion by getting right at what I view to be the heart of the issue, that thing upon which all other factors hinge, namely, we need to know what is meant by the term ‘God’ when we ask whether, or not some God is better than no God. One needs to define what it is that they are pursuing when they decide to investigate theism as a general concept. Are you looking for something akin to the ancient Greco-Roman pantheon of gods and goddess to whom you might pray and offer patronage to for help with a specific problem? Are you searching for the many faces of the Hindu god/s who represent the vast separateness, yet unity that is the universe and our place within it? Are you hoping to find a deistic God who got the universe going, but who now generally has little to do with us? Are you looking for the God of Abraham and Isaac who led the Jews out of the desert and into the Promised Land, who is thought to have created the universe, and who continues to sustain it, who acts in history and who wishes a relationship with you? Answering that question is an important place to start your journey.
This question matters because it is directly linked to two major features of faith -our expectations and reality- which themselves are closely linked to one another. Our expectations determine much of what we do in life. We tend not to do things, which we expect to reduce the quality of our lives in some way. Conversely, we are inclined to engage in activities, or invest in people and things, which we determine will add to our life in a positive way. The importance of our expectations whether stated, or unconscious, should not be underestimated. And this is especially true when it comes to what we choose to believe because not all belief systems offer the same things. And our expectations may not be met because what we had hoped for is not really something that our chosen worldview offers.
Also, what we choose to believe is a reflection of what we view as ultimate reality. This is important to us, whether we recognize it, or not. And what we expect, or hope for, does not always line up with reality. When you decide to believe, or not to believe in God, for example, you are not just deciding what you like and what you don’t as if you were choosing which flavour of ice cream you want to have with your birthday cake. When you make a decision to believe, or not believe in God, whichever way you decide, you are also choosing to align yourself with a worldview that makes a number of claims about ultimate reality. You are, perhaps without even realizing it, deciding for yourself the answer to metaphysical questions, which have ramifications for everything you see around you. You are deciding how everything got here, why everything is here, and where everything is going. For the sake of emphasis, choosing a worldview entails deciding to rest on a number of metaphysical, philosophical, moral, scientific, historical, and eschatological presuppositions. So when you choose, say, to get baptized and become a Christian, you are effectively making the claim that there is an extremely powerful, spaceless, timeless, immaterial, and personal being who created the universe, who sustains it, and who entered into history in the person of Jesus who He said was His Son. You are also claiming that Jesus was crucified, rose from the dead on the third day and made it very clear that it was only through him that we may be saved and have eternal life. Those claims are packed with presuppositions, too many to deconstruct in this article. But it is sufficient to say that by choosing a worldview, we are often saying much, much more than we realize.
Reframing the question.
With all of this in mind, it would seem to behoove anyone who subscribes to a particular worldview to be able to account for the presuppositions that go along with their beliefs. And this means taking some time to actually research the violability and verifiability of your perspective. What that process will bring to light is that many worldviews are just untenable. We may begin this verification process by asking which God do I choose? Some positions just cannot be supported by the available evidence. And giving the importance of all of the above mentioned presuppositions, the verification process may lead us to begin to respond to the question of whether, or not some God is better than no God by saying that it looks like it depends on the God. In terms of verifiability, not all ‘gods’ are equal.
What the verification process will also bring to light is that, even within any given broader worldview, there are numerous sects who, while perhaps holding some of the same presuppositions, differ in some important ways also. That said, as this article will most likely be read by people who are already Christians, going forward, I will take it for granted that you have already ruled out, for whatever reasons, other belief systems. So now that you have chosen a belief system, what sect are you going to follow? There are groups in Christianity who believe that every letter of the Bible must be adhered to and there are those who say that there are in fact many ways to God and that Jesus is just one of them. These groups sometimes even include elements from other very different belief systems in their version of Christianity. Basically, you have some groups who one might say are thoroughly Christian and some groups who many would have trouble even calling Christian. At any rate, this sectarianism requires us to reframe our chief question. Instead of asking whether, or not some God is better than no God at all, perhaps we need to ask whether, or not some Christianity is better than no Christianity at all. And for believers and prospective believers alike, this is what it really comes down to.
The Final Analysis.
Giving the importance of recognizing and understanding the presuppositions that go along with any worldview and the importance of the idea that our worldview must reflect reality and the notion that our expectations must be managed and be realistic, I think that choosing a worldview requires us to go through a process of verification. This process will help to ensure that we are able establish which beliefs and presuppositions display verisimilitude, and thus which worldview is reasonable to hold. And where Christianity is concerned, in particular because of the eschatological ramifications associated with holding the right, or wrong, set of beliefs, we need to take our reframed question very seriously. As to whether, or not some Christianity is better than no Christianity at all, at the risk of positing a radical idea, it may be that some forms of Christianity are so far removed from what most Christian groups and theologians view as core Christian beliefs, that due to the extreme heresy of those perspectives, no Christianity at all would be a better option. But we also understand God to be filled with boundless love, long-suffering, and compassion for us. This would led me to believe that even though we may not get it quite right, and we never really do get it altogether right, God just wants us to keep trying to build a closer relation with Himself by seeking to know His Son.