Monday, April 8, 2013

Ranking the Philosophical Systems of 5 Major Religions

A reader graciously commented on a recent piece I wrote defending the zeal of atheist leader Richard Dawkins. In the course of this conversation, I stated that Protestantism is the weakest of the major philosophical systems that underlie major world religions, and was challenged to explain myself.

This post will serve as an explanation for my assertion, by ranking the philosophical systems underlying five major world religions/belief systems: atheism, Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, and mainline Protestantism.
I will not bother with cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which are patently absurd upon even cursory examination. I am not qualified to comment upon Buddhism, Hinduism, or any form of Eastern religion, so this ranking will not include discussions of those faiths.
5. Mainline Protestantism – It will surprise many to think that a Catholic Christian could rank the belief system(s) of fellow believers in Christ so low. After all, most Protestants believe in the Trinity and the divinity of Christ, which none of the other faiths presented in this post, save Catholicism, can claim. 
There are three main reasons why Protestantism is last on this list. The first is the Protestant assumption of sola scriptura. Protestantism holds that the Bible is the chief, if not the only, source of revelation from God. If that is so, how was the Gospel preached before the works of the Bible were written (The Gospel of John was written around 90 AD) and the canon of the Bible was worked out (4th century AD)? Christianity predates the Bible; the Bible cannot be the sole source for revelation concerning the truths of Christianity.

The second is that personal interpretation of the Bible is inherently fractious. Most sects of Protestantism hold that individuals can personally interpret the Bible. If that is so, then why are there so many denominations of Protestantism (and the chart shown in the link is only the tip of the iceberg), many of which hold contradictory notions of God and whose moral teachings conflict with one another? Does this not contradict the prayer of Jesus for His followers, "that all of them may be one?" (John 17:21)
And the third is that Protestantism was founded 15 centuries after the coming of Christ. What happened to Christianity for 15 centuries after Christ? Were individuals who lived in the Middle Ages damned until Luther came along? 
Protestants sometimes attempt to explain away this objection by claiming that the church was corrupted in its early days, and that true religion survived in the form of various heresies suppressed by a corrupt Catholic Church. There are two problems with this theory: 1) It contradicts Matthew 16:18, where Peter is told that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church, and 2) the heresies of the Middle Ages contradicted each other.

4. Judaism – Judaism is the root of Roman Catholicism. So one might think that that a faithful Catholic would rank Judaism much higher on this list. Indeed, multiple people have questioned me on why I rank Judaism so low.
Protestantism and modern Judaism get so much right about God, yet hold to positions untenable throughout history. The very closeness of Protestantism and Judaism to the truth of Catholicism is the reason that they rank so low on this list – they come close to the truth, but miss the mark because they deliberately reject Catholicism. (Protestantism was formed in protest against the Catholic Church, while Judaism rejects their own Messiah.)  
Judaism is based upon the longing for a promised Messiah who has already come. The Jewish people were the Chosen People of God, who were promised the Messiah, and were given certain signs to recognize the Messiah when He came. A man who fulfilled the conditions of the many prophecies of the Messiah came, and the Jewish people and elders rejected Him because they did not like the way in which He fulfilled the prophecies. And Christianity has risen since His coming, while Judaism has been eclipsed. There have been no Jewish prophets since the coming of Christ; there is only the endless wait in Judaism for a Messiah who has already come. 

3. Islam – Islam ranks above Protestantism and Judaism? Surprisingly, in my estimation, yes. For Islam is not the deliberate rejection of one's own teaching, like Judaism and Protestantism, but a corruption of other teachings.
Islam believes in a God (Allah) of pure will. Allah is the maker of all things, the creator of both good and evil, unconstrained by anything. But if Allah is the creator of evil as well as good, then Allah must be in some measure evil - which would mean that His punishment of evil would be problematic, since evil is His creation. Why would He expect His followers to reject what He Himself created?

(In Catholic theology, God did not create evil; He creates beings with free will, giving them the opportunity to choose Him. If they do not choose Him, that is evil. He may permit human beings and angels to act contrary to His will, but He Himself is not the cause of that evil.)
An Islamic God might be possible, at least in an abstract sense, but He would have to be schizophrenic. There are other (lesser) problems inherent in Islam, such as the fact that Islam believes Jesus to be a prophet born of a virgin while the greatest prophet, Mohammed, was born naturally. Why would God allow a lesser prophet to receive a greater honor than His greatest and final prophet?

2. Atheism – This will surprise a lot of people, since I have written numerous posts attacking atheism. Why give such a lofty ranking to a system which I have spent an inordinate amount of time refuting? The answer is fairly simple: I write against atheism because I respect honest atheists as intellectual opponents, and because secularism is the biggest threat modern Catholicism faces.
It is possible to construct a semi-viable atheistic philosophical system. There are a few caveats: The problem of how exactly the “Big Bang” took place is problematic: how and why did an unimaginably dense mass suddenly explode into the universe as we know it? Atheists have difficulty explaining away certain miracles (the dance of the sun at Fatima comes to mind). However, there is the possibility that naturalistic explanations can be discovered for seemingly supernatural phenomena. Atheists can always point to the possibility of scientists making future discoveries explaining previously inexplicable events. (And I have never been a fan of “look at the sky” type arguments for the existence of God, but more on that in a later post.) 
The main problem with atheism as a philosophical system is the problem of morality. For most atheists argue that morality is a human evolutionary construct. It is perfectly logical to argue that human evolved to develop a system of morality, which prevents them from hurting one another and facilitates the survival of the species.
However, the human species is composed of intelligent individuals who seek to maximize their own self-interest. Highly intelligent individuals recognize that morality is merely a tool to protect the weak from the strong, and that the strict practice of morality hinders their self-interest. If the most intelligent individuals of a species evolve to overcome their genetic hard-wiring, could not evolution be said to be working against itself? An atheistic worldview cannot logically preclude the vision of an amoral superman, who can transcend societal customs to impose his will on the rest of society.

Obviously, the atheistic inability to justify morality doesn't necessarily disprove atheism, per se. It does, however, render the atheistic insistence that morality is an evolutionary construct untenable. 

1. Catholicism – Obviously, I am a Catholic writer - 250+ posts should suffice to prove that! But I am something of a reluctant Catholic. A world without many of the strictures of Catholicism is tempting. And my numerous posts on atheism should indicate at least a willingness to entertain the notion of a world without God serious thought, or at the very least an intellectual hearing. I have given the idea of switching faiths some thought – indeed, I believe that the question of God MUST be answered before any other question is asked, because the question of God's existence has so many implications for the rest of humanity.

I have written a fairly literary defense of my Faith elsewhere, but much of it bears repeating.
Catholicism fuses the desire for the supernatural inherent in every human (and necessary for religion) with a grounding in the natural world and an appreciation for logic. Faith and reason work hand in hand in Catholicism;miracles and syllogisms happily coexist in the Catholic Faith.
Catholicism was founded by a man who claimed to be God and who wrought many miracles to prove His Godhood; a man whose simple yet profound teachings still strike like lightning across 2,000 years.
Catholicism was preached by uneducated cowards who ran away when their Master was killed, yet were so emboldened after their Master's death that all proclaimed His Godhood for the rest of their lives, and all but one were killed by secular authorities for their bold proclamation of their faith.

The teachings of the Catholic faith on theology and morality have not changed, as befitting a Church claiming to be the keeper of the timeless teachings of Jesus Christ; Her customs have indeed changed greatly, as befitting a Church which claims to be the universal beacon of salvation to all men. 
In short, I believe in Catholicism because the Catholic Church dares to claim that She is of divine origin, and 2000 years of history has more than proven Her claim.

1 comment:

Rules for Posting Comments:
1)All commentary is to be respectful.
2)Foul language/crude commentary is prohibited.
3)Use proper punctuation and capitalization.
4)Keep all posts in understandable English.
5)Refrain from personal/ad hominem attacks.
6) Sarcasm, humor, and witty commentary are welcomed.
All posts that violate these rules will be removed.
And the most important rule:
7) All posts are to reflect a spirit of Christian charity.