Why would anyone want to seek to be apart of some kind of organized or even unorganized religion? Over the last several years several studies have been done peering into the psyche of various generations, trying to determine why is religion attractive, why it is not attractive, why some seek out organized religion and others flee from it, yet still, enjoy a certain kind of spirituality. We could further ask why some religions are preferred over others.
The reasons people seek out religion are as numerous as world religions themselves. Whether the spiritual experience, community, belonging, hope, love, and acceptance, making a difference in the world, moral upbringing for children, meaning in life, even revenge, defiance, or any other number of reasons; humanity remains on the hunt for something greater than themselves. So if, you were an honest seeker of a religion for any of these reasons above, then which of the hundreds of religions do you choose?
Recently, a study of over 230 countries and territories conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, determined that there are “5.8 billion religiously affiliated adults and children around the globe, representing 84 percent of the 2010 world population of 6.9 billion.” In other words, 84 percent of the world’s population has some kind of religious belief. This study even includes the lesser known religious groups like the Baha’i faith, Jainism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Taoism, Tenrikyo, Wicca, and Zoroastrianism. Essentially, there is an overwhelming amount of people around the world who are looking for meaning, significance, love, or simply something greater than themselves. However, whether you’re a first-time seeker or veteran expert on religion, I would argue that any honest seeker of religious life and what it offers, would start their search with Christianity.
Forget for a moment that the world’s Catholics, Protestants, Pentecostals, and everyone in between make up almost 44 percent of religious people. Forget for a moment that in the U.S. alone there are over 243 million people who identify themselves as Christians of some kind. Forget for a moment that despite the many similarities among all religions—including beliefs regarding an afterlife, following some type of teacher, or seeking to make the world a better place—Christianity stands out as particularly unique. Although it is not unique because it somehow contains a secret formula that all the other religions are missing, but unique, I would argue, for two specific reasons and therefore worth being first on the list of religions to check out.
Christianity as the best possible option
1.Truth and Reality. The first unique feature of Christianity is how it is grounded in truth and reality, and not entirely dependent on experience. I am sure most of you are no strangers to the ever-so-popular Coexist bumper sticker. The basic idea behind this sticker is the mantra of tolerance and equality. Or so we think. The sticker is meant to perpetuate the idealistic notion that all religions are basically the same and we, therefore, should be equally tolerant, equally accepting, and give equal consideration to any or all religious thought. Experience is the driving force behind religious thought and life and no experience is greater or lesser than another. Christianity, however, moves beyond a religious existential ideology to being firmly planted in what is true and real and providing the lens in which followers of Jesus are meant to see the world.
Contrary to most other religions (with the exception of Judaism and Islam) Jesus makes the clear proclamation of being the “way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Which to many in our world is seen as bigotry, hate, narrow, mindedness, etc. Yet despite the insistence of our postmodern culture, Jesus’ words are not meant as an intolerant rant but providing the means by which Truth is revealed. Essentially Jesus is defining himself as the means by which we understand objective and absolute truth. Following Jesus is not merely one potential way to find meaning and purpose in life. Following Jesus is the only way to find significance and meaning in life.
But what is truth and what does it have to do with Jesus?
Truth is what corresponds with reality. What if I told you that based on experience the sky, at noon, on a cloudless day, was not blue but actually fluorescent purple? What if I even worked out some very practical reasons for this claim? The simple fact is, no matter how much convincing I did to prove my claim, the reality is, the sky, on a cloudless day at noon, is blue. This truth claim then has very little to do with what seems to make sense to me or what works for me. Instead, truth is what corresponds to reality—completely independent of me. Certainly, in my experience, I can interact with truth, make claims about truth (whether correct or not) and live according to what I believe to be true.
What I choose to believe may be true, but what is true, I may not choose to believe. So when I look up and see that the sky is, in fact, blue, I am interacting with what is true, but if I do not see it, or cannot see it, nothing changes; the sky is still blue. Therefore the propositional statement, “the sky is blue,” is a true factual statement. However, just because someone utters some seemingly coherent statement about the sky, or shows the practicality of it being fluorescent purple, does not make it true. That would be nothing more than a matter of opinion of one person over another. Allowing opinions to be the sole governance of defining what is true is no more than relying on subjective truth. In fact, to rest solely on the subjectivity of truth and claim that there is no objective reality, only what one experiences, is actually a claim about reality itself.
2.Testable and Verifiable. The second most compelling reason for any sincere religious seeker to check out Christianity is maybe the most compelling and unique of any world religion: Christianity is set up to be tested and verified. Wait. Isn’t every religion in some way about faith? Isn’t faith about believing in something that cannot be proved? Isn’t Christian belief founded on faith in Jesus? According to most dictionary definitions, faith is defined as belief in something absent of evidence or proof. This is precisely what makes Christianity so compelling. Faith in Jesus has everything to do with what can be verified and tested. Faith in Jesus is trusting God based on what we can know about Him and what He has done.
What then can we verify? Consider Thomas. In Christian circles, the disciple, known as Thomas is often considered or called “doubting Thomas.” During the course of the crucifixion of Jesus, most of the disciples scattered for fear of their own lives. They wanted nothing to do with getting caught up in the “rebellion,” and therefore wanted to dissociate themselves with Jesus. Call it fear, call it self-preservation, call it what you want, they ran. After the dark moments of Jesus’ death, the Gospel accounts go on to describe the moments and days following. The story told is that Jesus resurrected. The story told, is that the story is not over. In fact, it is far from over. The resurrection, in what seems like a monumental event, one that should bring about celebration, parades, a brand new conquest even, is actually met with doubt and confusion; and there is no better illustration of this than Thomas (John 20:24-28).
I think we are too hard on Thomas. What did he actually doubt? He was skeptical of a man coming back from the dead three days after he was beaten nearly to death, nailed to the first century’s most popular and humiliating tool of torture and execution, left to die, and then wrapped in linen and placed in a tomb. I think his skepticism is justified. Yet Jesus, in that moment, allows Thomas’ skepticism to be challenged and the resurrection verified. The disciples did not have some kind of blind faith that Jesus resurrected. They had evidence before their very eyes—Jesus standing before them. This wasn’t an isolated event either, but a pattern in the lives of those witnessing the postmortem Jesus.
This same pattern emerges in the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church in the city of Corinth. Now, bear in mind, that documents such as these can be taken as credible historical documents on the same academic level as any other document in antiquity. Historically we know that Paul had an experience of the risen Jesus, or so he said. Without evidence we are left with nothing but the word of Paul, that he experience some kind of religious conversion. Did it really happen? Did he hallucinate? Was there something extra in the water? Fortunate for Paul’s readers and consequently us, Paul provides more than just his word. In First Corinthians chapter 15, Paul provides almost what seems counterintuitive to the world of religion (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).
There are a lot of other religious systems that could be proven to be false, inconsistent, or downright crazy. History has revealed its fair share of religious leaders claiming divinity, the end of the world, special revelation, etc.; only to be embarrassingly debunked. Yet it is Christianity, in its most sacred text, that stares us in the eye daring us to disprove it. Many skeptics who have taken on such a challenge have come face-to-face with the overwhelming evidence and, as a result, are forced to make a decision. Some of these are the greatest contributors to Christian thought and life. C.S. Lewis, John Warwick Montgomery, Lee Strobel, Alister McGrath, and several others.
Seeking out a religious lifestyle is often so much more than just looking for and working within a few key life principles or carrying around varied sayings of some ancient dead teacher. Seeking out a religious lifestyle is choosing the means by which we live. It shapes our values, morals, the battles we fight, the way we raise our children, where we give our money, and the impact we hope to make in our world. For many, it is the lifestyle that gives meaning to the dash that hangs between our birth and death. For others, it removes the mystery and sting of death, and still others, it shapes how we treat life. Such an important journey should not be taken lightly.