Friday, May 12, 2017

How Can We Tell if our Beliefs are Good or Bad?

How can we judge the quality of our beliefs? Is a change in belief, a conversion, good or bad? For those who believe in God, how shall we be judged?
Stefan Lochner's Last Judgement, ca. 1435
There are, I think, a few simple tests that will do the trick.

Do my beliefs make me more charitable, more loving of my neighbor, more ready and willing to do what is good for her or him? This is true of that especially annoying difficult neighbor who is on the wrong side of the political fence from me, or not of the same class, race, or background. Or do my beliefs cause me to be more hurtful or judgemental of others. Do they make me more selfish? Do they make me heedless of others and what is good for them? Do they lead me to being hurtful of others, deceiving myself that it is for their own good?

Do my beliefs make me more proud, or more humble? Do they make me realize that how very small I am in the universe, my dependency on others, and on the ultimate source of my being, or do they make me proud and self-righteous, convinced of my own superiority (and thus leading me to be uncharitable)?

Do my beliefs lead me to the truth, or do they lead me to disregard the truth? Or do I misuse the truth, using it as a weapon to hurt others? Am I, because I am convinced of the correctness of my own beliefs, willing to warp the truth in defense of my beliefs? Am I more interested in being right than in being truthful? Am I willing to admit it when I am shown to be wrong?

I see many, including many old friends, for whom a religious conversion, as opposed to making them more loving, more humble, and more truthful, tends rather to accentuate the vices and bad inclinations that they already have — it makes them worse. Sometimes I think this has not so much to do with the new beliefs they embrace (although these have consequences) as for the reasons they have done so. So it causes me to ask myself, is my faith helping me and others, or is it hurting? And the supreme test is charity, un-self-interested love, for, certainly from a Christian perspective, "without charity all our doings are nothing worth". It is our love that makes the ultimate difference.

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