Doctrines are different from character

Christians believe that their religion has the fullness of truth, and it necessarily follows from that that another religion is less true to the extent it disagrees with Christianity.

A lot of people get offended at this, for a variety of reasons. I’d like to address one possible reason here.

A response one sometimes hears to the Christian perspective is this: Christians don’t act any better than other people. They’re not more loving or more devoted to God or more faithful than the followers of other religions. In fact, when young Christians make friends with the followers of other faiths for the first time, they can become confused. The good that they see in the non-Christian makes them wonder what makes Christianity so special.

So how can we say that Christianity has the fullness of truth, if one sees no difference in virtues and character between Christians and non-Christians?

This question is based on a confusion of two different things: truth and virtue. The fact is that one can know the truth without being virtuous, and one can be virtuous without knowing the truth.

Just because someone knows that Jesus is the Son of God, that does not necessarily mean that they live righteously. On the other hand, someone can be unaware that Jesus is the Son of God and still desire to do the right thing. What we know in our intellect and what we desire to do are two different things.

A physiologist can know intellectually what foods are healthy, but he might still eat junk food. Someone with limited knowledge of nutrition can still be drawn to healthy foods.

Knowing facts about reality doesn’t make us act better. “Jesus is the Son of God” is a fact, in the same sense that “heat rises” and “Montpelier is the capital of Vermont” are facts. They’re all true, but acknowledging their truth doesn’t make us better people.

By the same token, it is not logical to say, “That guy is a jerk, therefore if he thinks Montpelier is the capital of Vermont, he must be wrong.”


3 Responses

  1. Good point, Jonah, especially the last sentence. However, I also see another side to this. It depends on what we mean by ‘knowing’. One can acknowledge the truth of a certain doctrine like: Jesus is the Son of God, Mohammad is the Prophet of God, Baha’ullah is the Manifestation of God etc. and then, naturally, choose to call oneself by the appropriate name (Christian, Muslim, Bahai etc.). However, if one really knows in a deep sense the reality that Jesus is the Son of God, it is not a sterile, intellectual acknowledgment but something living, an enormous motivation to follow Him, to ‘become like Him’ so as to come close to Him. What greater power can there be if one really takes in such a staggering Truth? Then it follows that something *must* change for the better (even if we all remain sinners) and our behaviour, our humanness, our ability to forgive, to sacrifice, to remain patient under trials, to be kind, all that should become stronger, shouldn’t it? In other words, it seems natural that True Knowledge should fuel our desires and the two, then, are not separate. We often hear that one should not judge a religion by its followers (I have said that sometimes ;-)) but that’s not entirely fair, isn’t it? The Truth sets free. True faith should transform, make souls grow more beautiful. Isn’t that one of the signs of a living faith?

  2. This is a very logical, concise point. Ideas should be tested according to their own merits, and not solely compared to what some people do with those ideas. On the other hand, we should not ignore the actions of people and consider the possibility that the things they believe *may* have *something* to do with their actions. But that search should be done very carefully, and with as little bias as possible so as to not just concentrate on the bad deeds of certain people adhering to different creeds and say “they’re doing this because of their beliefs”.

  3. Jonah, the telephone directory of this year is not “better” than that of last year, but SOME numbers have been updated. It so happens that the Baha’i Faith confirms previous dispensations and updates some aspects, but it is merely a new chapter in God’s educative enterprise for humanity..

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