Religions are worldviews. Each religion is making a claim to know how the world started and what meaning there is in the cosmos and how humans can fit into the picture. Religions are seeking to provide individuals with a pattern for living which allows them to harmonize with the order of creation. [at this point it is good to recognize that all philosophies including atheism are making this claim.] All worldviews seek to answer a series of questions and provide a framework for people to live their lives.
How did the cosmos come into being? Did a god create everything? If so how and why?
Is there a purpose to life? If so what is that purpose?
What are humans? How do they fit into the cosmos? Are they inherently good or bad?
No matter what a person believes about the cosmos, we can all agree that the cosmos is real (even if we are experiencing some sort of simulation the cosmos is real, long story). This means there are objective answers to the above questions which are true. Either God created the cosmos or God did not create the cosmos. There is no middle ground there. Like anything else a religion is true when it best answers the questions of life. Rather than doing this in an academic method I’ll simply give some of the answers that I have come to on these questions.
Full disclosure: I grew up in a Christian home and attended Christian schools but the Christianity presented to me (particularly at school) left me scratching my head and forced me to give serious attention to my own belief structure so I have read the major religious texts of the world with serious consideration to their validity and I have also read many works by atheists.
Did God create the universe?
I compared the arguments of atheists (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Steven Hawking) with those of Christian Theists (John Polkinghorne, Francis Collins, & Denis Alexander). While the atheist writings had goo points, particularly Hawking, I saw no evidence against the idea of God. On the contrary I found the claims of order stemming from God to be quite provocative, particularly Polkinghorne and his ideas of active information in the created order. I was also drawn to the fact that as Christian scientists encountered their respective fields they were drawn into a deeper presence and relationship with God. On the whole I found atheists always trying to disprove God while the Christians were always explaining God (rather than “proving”). What I mean is that Dawkins and company were constantly trying to show the simple physics or biology of an event and saying that because we can prove cause and effect we don’t need God in the picture. This argument is a “God of the gaps” argument. Where poor Christian writers use the gaps to say God is needed these scientists were saying there is no gap so God is not needed. The Christian scientists above were constantly showing how the cosmos works in sync and that synchronization is a deliberate tool of the Creator. This is a much more coherent argument (though admittedly I read popular atheists and expert Christians maybe there are better atheist arguments and I will continue to look for those). Basically as I read the arguments the Theists presented a more reasonable position. [Aside: please do not read Dawkins The God Delusion not because it is a threat to Christianity but because it isn’t. Dawkins only seems to be arguing with unintelligent Christians, he even questions how someone like Polkinghorne or Collins could be a Christian. Rather than reading their work and engaging their ideas he is simply dismissive, Poor intellectual work.]
If God created, what is humanity’s relationship to God and purpose on earth?
This is the question which allowed me to distinguish between religions. First the bland spiritualism so widely practiced today fell apart I have not found anyone who is able to give it serious intellectual weigh. The most I hear about it is that it feels right and feels right cannot be an accurate argument for truth since subjective opinion never produces rational truth. One would think there would be more certainty surrounding a true religion. the Eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism) Also leave a lot to be desired. There is an unexplained dualism which leaves more questions than answers. (dualism here means a divide between a good spirit and an evil material world which the spirit is trapped in). I also can prove that often it is not my physical body, nor even my physical desires which are the “evil” part of me. And Buddhism particularly believes that human life is nothing but sadness and needs to be escaped through enlightenment. Happiness is an objective part of human existence and if happiness is real in the material world, that undermines Buddha’s core (at least as I have read about it).
At this point I am left with the monotheist religions. Judaism is an option for truth, there is nothing in the central claims to which I object, God in an attempt to communicate with the world choose Abraham and his family to be witnesses to the divine, and this same God has continued to protect and speak to Abraham’s family in order to bring humanity into a relationship. Christianity has accepted this basic framework and said that God used this family up to a point and then entered personally into that family to continue the relationship and perfect it. After all Jews believed that this (in some way of thinking) was destined to happen. This is the climax of God working with and in creation as the greatest revelation of who we as a people are and what our purpose is. Islam claims that this story proposed by the Jews (and thus Christians) is false and that God tried to interact with Jews and Christians, but they rejected this dealing and thus it was left to Muhammad. As I read the stories of these three religions (and I try to continue to real in all of these philosophies) I have a hard time with the historical/theological claims made by Islam, they are radically different to the claims of Jews and Christians at points. So, I am left with two, Judaism and Christianity offer the best explanation of the world which I observe. The answers they provide for why the world is here, what is humanity’s purpose and other such question make the most sense. Since I do believe that that Christianity seems to be the logical outgrowth of Judaism and is internally consistent I have adhered to it.
I hope that it is clear that this is simply a sketch of how I have worked through the struggle, a detailed version, even of my own journey, would require a book. What I encourage people as they consider them is to look at which worldview incorporates the most facts, which one is the most internally consistent, and which one produces the best understanding of the world. Always attempt to read the best positions from each worldview (that is do not trust Dawkins to present Christianity clearly or a Muslim to present a completely clear understanding of Buddhism). For more information try these books [since I have done a lot of reading in this area and decided Christianity is the most accurate worldview I am going to list books which have helped me shape my views. For those interested in comparing worldviews understand this is difficult and takes a lot of time since everyone wants you to believe what they believe, including atheist comparative religion professors, and readily point to the difficulties of other belief systems while obscuring the difficulties of their own. The only book I’ve read which I will absolutely say stay away from is The God Delusion because it is pathetic, I really wanted it to challenge me and it flat didn’t, it is laughable at how little Dawkins understands the arguments he tries to undermine.]
John Polkinghorne & Nicholas Beale Questions of truth
John Polkinghorne Belief in God in an Age of Science
Francis Collins The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief
Denis Alexander Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?
I am far less thrilled about this author, but many do find him helpful