|Philosophy of Religion
Truth and Religion Reconsidered:
ABSTRACT: I discuss some of the problems of the application of the notion of truth to religion. After introductory remarks on the problem called truth and religion to show the peculiarity and the actuality of the problem discussed, I examine the different meanings of the notions of truth and religion, in order to formulate some comments on the different concepts of the truth of religion. I name the main types of religious truth, and consider the competencies of the diverse types of the study of religion to determine the truth of religion, and to analyze how to understand the truth of distinct types of religion. I conclude with some remarks on the appropriate approach to the question of the truth of religion. The considerations show that there is no simple answer to the question of the truth of religion in general or in particular. As it turns out the answer requires some relativizations, among others to the notion of truth and of religion. The notions of true religion and credibility of religion, though at first sight distinct, seem to condition each other. The notion of the truth of religion can be a valuable instrument of interpretation of religious phenomena not only in philosophy and theology of religion, but in the social sciences of religion too.
Justification of a religious point of view usually consists in attempts to prove that some particular religion is true. In my paper I will discuss some problems arising when the notion of truth is applied to religion. I first focus on analyzing complexity and conditions of the question about truth of religion in order to determine various meanings which could be ascribed to the expression "truth of religion". I am especially interested in possibilities and limitations which various kinds of studies of religion (science of religion, M. Müller) such as social sciences, philosophy of religion and theology of religion, have in determining the truth of religion.
In the past the study of religion was used both to criticize and to defend a particular religion (usually Christianity). I do not however aim at providing arguments that a certain religion (e.g. Christianity) or religion in general is true. I hope, however, that my analysis will contribute to the solution of the problem of truth of religion in general and of religions other than Christianity and will do this from a neutral point of view, not from that of the Christian religion.
At the very beginning we face the problem of the multitude of expressions: truth question in religion, truth of religion, truth about religion, religious truth, truth in religion. Which of them should then be used in discussing our issue? Treating language as an active instrument of cognition and notions as useful tools I claim that each of them, even if it has a slightly different meaning, can be employed. However, one needs carefully to determine the following issues: (1) what is meant by religion; (2) how the notions of "truth" and "truth of religion" are to be understood; (3) what can be competently said with regard to the question of the truth of religion by each particular kind of studies of religion.
The question of truth of religion was vehemently discussed at the dawn of the comparative studies of religion (history of religions). Nowadays, since the emotions have subsided, scientists are more reserved in their opinions and are interested in the structure and functions of religions as well as in those features which religions have in common rather then in what divides them. Some scholars perceive the exaggerated interest taken in the problem of truth of religion as an expression of western ethnocentrism the belief in the essential superiority of European culture and of the tendency to view all other cultures from one's own perspective. One does not believe any more in easy discrimination between a "false" myth and a "true" logos, especially because the European culture which binds truth with religion has no counterparts in non-European religions which are interested in morality and religious practices rather than in the religious doctrine.
There are a number of reasons for diminishing interest in the problem of truth of religion. One is a deteriorated sensibility towards religious aspects of life in general and recognition of positive facets in the cultural plurality of religions. Another reason is the fact that empirical studies of religion accept the ideal of positivistic descriptivism according to which any study of religion should limit its interest to presuppositionless description of religious phenomena. It is believed that the proper analyses of religion requires the researcher to keep neutral (atheistic?) distance from religion, i.e. she should not believe and practice any religion. Like the linguist who does not evaluate languages as inferior or superior, she should abstain from making statements concerning truth and falsity of any religion.
In our time the question of truth of religion has increased its significance in a new cultural context constituted by the plurality of religions we find today. Existing pluralistic cultures are torn by competing claims of religious orthodoxy. Previously for an European there were only two questions concerning truth of religion: truth of religion in general and truth of Christianity in particular. It was somehow known in advance that other religions are false. Today one faces the multitude of religions and each of them comes with the claim to being true. Thus, a person now needs not only to decide whether it is worthwhile to be religious at all but she has a choice between various competing religions. This peculiar situation opens the old issue of truth of religion anew. Those scholars who see the necessity of studying that issue accuse those who neglect it of reductionism: of ignoring what is of the ultimate importance in any religion, i.e. the sphere of transcendence. There is no doubt that individual religions formulate competitive claims to truth and make strong assertions concerning God and his relation to the world. The believers, especially those in the main religious traditions, attribute truth to their religious statements and this truth is for them so important that they choose rather to die than to deny it.
The question of truth of religion involves a difficult problem of relations between reason and belief, science and religion and between natural knowledge and revelation which have been discussed from the beginning of Christianity. I take for granted the empirical fact that when believers use different names for the transcendent reality they thereby understand that reality in a different way.
The question of truth of religion has also axiological dimension: it has outstanding practical significance for believers themselves and for everyone who faces choice, acceptance and rejection of some particular religion or religion in general. As the relevant literature shows theses of scholars working in religious studies were presented in such a way as if they referred to truth in religion in general. However, their interest is in fact mostly (if not exclusively) restricted to the great religions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism which all have well developed doctrines. The approach to the problem was additionally determined by the western concept of truth and the Christian view of religion. Earlier Occidental scholars retained the doctrinal model of religion and so they commonly assumed that the religious doctrine was the essence of Christian life. Consequently, beliefs were considered to be the defining core of any religion. Religions, however, entail also liturgical, contemplative and moral practices.
The notions of truth, religion and truth of religion
If the question of truth of religion is to refer to any type of religion and not only for instance monotheistic ones, it must be considered on a broad basis. First, if such a broad basis is to be developed at least four categories must be correlated: religion, truth, truth of religion (religious truth) and study of religion. None of them is unambiguous or obvious and this fact makes it practically impossible to discuss all possible combinations of their meanings.
1) The notion of religion.
Even if in everyday life people in the western culture have no significant problems in using competently the term "religion" and at the bottom of their use there is common human experience of the world, we seem to have no satisfactory, scientific or philosophical, definition of religion which would cover all situations and ways of speaking about religion and religious phenomena.
When sociologically considered, religion is a complicated cultural state of affairs constituted by cult (rite, worship), a doctrine and an institutional organization. The doctrinal aspect of a given religion is equally difficult to determine for it consists of a complex and extensive system of beliefs developed throughout the ages by generations of believers. The whole issue is further complicated by the fact that debates on truth of religion and on the way in which religious truths must be interpreted are going on not only between different religions but also within some particular religion: between churches, denominations, religious groups, sects, etc.
2) The notion of truth.
The (philosophical) nature of truth is equally difficult to explain. When asking about the truth of religion the researcher has a choice between many competing philosophical theories and definition of truth, both classical and non-classical. According to the classical correspondence theory, truth consists in adequacy between things and intellect. According to the coherence theory a proposition is true if it coheres with a system of propositions. According to the pragmatic theory truth is what fulfills our practical interests and human praxis is the criterion of truth. Today there are more popular alternative theories of truth, generally labelled "deflationary", which challenge the classical theory and claim that truth is a theoretically insignificant concept. All those definitions of truth can find in various degrees applications in studying of religion and each of them gives rise to specific problems. The issue is to find such a definition of truth of religion which could be applicable to any religion.
3) The notion of truth of religion.
Let us notice at the beginning the following ways of speaking: religious truth, truth of religion, true religion, truth question in religion, truth about religion. Each of them presents difficulties. In the domain of religions "truth" can mean very different things. Religious truth can be treated a feature of religion in general or of a definite religion. In the case of religious truth one deals with a propositional truth, i.e. religious statements (dogmas as the teaching of the church) are authoritatively (by the church) declared true on the basis of strict religious argumentation. Thus, the problem here arises: how to conceive the truth of religion taken as a doctrinal system in the same manner as the truth of a scientific theory is conceived?
In the study of religion we find a distinction between intra-religious and extra-religious truth of religion. The extra-religious truth concerns historical events whose truth can be determined from outside also by a person who is not a believer of that particular religion, e.g. historicity of Jesus Christ and Muhammad. The intra-religious truth concerns the supernatural content of religious beliefs and its truth can be determined only from inside of a given religion by a believer through one's own revelation of God or through appeal to the authority of the divine founder of that religion. The truth about God in Christ is not a statement of a historical fact but the article of faith.
The question of truth of religion acquires different meanings which depend on religion under consideration. That is its meaning depends on whether we consider religion in general or a specific type of religion such as religions of tribal culture, non-literate religions (worship of ancestors, Animism, Manism, Fetishism, Totemism, etc.), ancient religion of Babylon and Egypt, Chinese religions (Confucianism), natural religions and religions based on revelation (Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam), polytheistic, henotheistic or monotheistic religions, eclectic and syncretic religions, religions founded on oral tradition and those with canonical Holy Scriptures (Bible, Koran, Upanishads, Avesta, Bhagawadgita) and finally such secularized "religions" as Atheism, Communism, Nazism and many contemporary new forms of religions (New Age religions).
It is relatively easy to apply the notion of truth to monotheistic religions. How can one however apply that notion to ancient religious myths? to ancient Greek and Roman religions? to the Babylonian worship of stars and moon? to the Persian cult of Mithra? to ancient Iranian Mazdaism and Zoroastrianism? And how can one apply the notion of truth to contemporary atheistic "religions" which lack any transcendent object of devotion and to those which only function as religions (Scientology, psychoanalysis, psychotherapy)? The problem of truth of religion becomes even more complicated in the case of esoteric religions (Buddhism, Wedanta, Christian Gnosis) which assume the existence of two kinds of truth: surface truth and deep truth. The latter kind includes truth which cannot be expressed in any discursive language and is accessible only for the initiated. Articulation of supernatural religious truth also presents difficulties because of its transcendent object of reference that may need the language of analogy.
Main types of truth of religion
The question of truth of religion, especially of Christianity, involves numerous presuppositions: ideological, philosophical, theological, religious, etc. It can also acquire different meanings: cultural, epistemological, sociological, psychological, historical, substantial or functional, objective or subjective, etc. "Truth of religion" was understood as historical and doctrinal truthfulness, as credibility (reliability), authenticity, absoluteness (exclusiveness), consistency (coherence) and meaningfulness (existential significance). In what follow I explain these meanings but I do not determine their mutual relations.
1) Historical truth (truthfulness) of religion. Each of the past and contemporary religions is true in the trivial sense that it came historically into being and has a history. More specifically, historical truthfulness is understood as genesis, identity and institutional and doctrinal continuity of a given (especially oral) religious tradition determined by the historicity of its founder and its Holy Scriptures. At the beginning of religious community we usually find a charismatic leader, like Moses, Buddha, Confucius, Zarathustra, Jesus Christ, Mani, Muhammad, gathering disciples who then strive to keep faithfully to the teaching of the master. This kind of historical truth of religion concerns only a limited group of traditions with well determined origins and well documented history.
2) Doctrinal truth of religion. What is often meant by truth of religion is the doctrinal dimension of religion: the subjects covered by oral or written tradition in the form of more or less systemized religious statements about the supernatural and natural world. Every religion is a confession of faith for in each of them its believers foster some hopes about the hereafter world. Truth of religion is here identified with religious truth understood as knowledge orientated towards the ultimate deepest reality called by various names: God, Dharma, Tao, the Sacred, etc. A religion is true in the sense that it states that the transcendent, supernatural, sacred reality exists.
The main difficulty lies here in the issue of how the classical notion of truth can be applied to the object of beliefs which is not an ordinary object in a subject-object relation and which is at least in the case of Christianity revealed, i.e. it lies beyond the possibility of intersubjective verification. Moreover, the object of beliefs consists of religious truths considered as infallible and eternal and hence fundamentally different from hypothetical scientific statements, truths that promise something that can be fulfilled only in the supernatural life to come.
There is also a problem of orthodoxy (heterodoxy) and its criteria. Orthodoxy with respect to religious life means the correct beliefs coming from a sacred, more or less institutional authority. All main religious traditions know the idea of orthodoxy although it is expressed in various terms. Each tradition is interested in its own orthodoxy and has established its own criteria for acceptance of orthodoxy and rejection of heterodoxy. It is usually the Scripture that serves to delineate what is acceptable and unacceptable in a religious tradition: insistence on infallibility of the Bible and of the canonical text of Koran but also of Buddhist or Christian councils, acceptance of the bishop of Rome as the primary authority, etc.
There are such religious traditions which employ very strict criteria of purity and conformity. On the other hand there are religious traditions which have no officially established creed (Judaism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Islam) and also such traditions which stress not orthodoxy but morality and ritual. All religious traditions allow for variety of beliefs within a bigger unit and tolerate some deviant beliefs. The traditional Chinese saw nothing strange in the existence of more than one religion in his life. Furthermore, the degree to which unorthodoxy is considered serious deviance varies both across traditions and also across the history of a particular tradition for in the same tradition the beliefs stressed as having vital significance differ in the course of time.
3) Credibility (reliability) of religion. In one of its meanings credibility refers to religious statements concerning the hereafter life. It is not sufficient to prove the historicity of a given religion (for instance that Christ existed and founded the Church). What remains is the problem of whether and how that religion is able to keep its eschatological promises: individual resurrection and life after death. "Eschatological verifiability" (J. Hick) in life after death provides at least partial solution to the problem of truth of Christianity. This truth consists in its redeeming power that really ensures friendship with God and eternal happiness through liberation from sin. The credibility of religious truths is determined by arguments immanent to a given religion and by use of theological methods. The strength of faith which is expressed in every life of the believers and sometimes in martyrdom of the saints can also be offered as an argument for credibility of a certain religion.
4) Authenticity of religion. Here the question is how to distinguish genuine (authentic) religious phenomena from para- or pseudoreligious ones. This distinction presupposes already the notion (definition) of (true) religion which could serve as a litmus test for identifying phenomena which are in fact religious. An unauthentic religion can have functionally some features of an authentic religion but for some other essential reasons it cannot be seen as genuine religion. Unfortunately, there is no agreement between scholars as to the criteria of true religion, especially as religion constitutes an integral part of culture. The problem of the definition of religion consists in the question of what distinguishes religious phenomena from other cultural phenomena. The distinction between culture and religion is characteristic for the western culture but there are other cultures, such as Islamic, which do not make this distinction very sharp.
There is also another understanding of authenticity of religion which connects it with the religious doctrine as belonging authentically to a given religion in contrast to unorthodox/heterodox/heretic beliefs.
5) Absoluteness (exclusiveness) of religion. There is such an understanding of truth of religion which connects it with uniqueness and exclusiveness. A religion which sees itself as absolute takes other religions to be false, i.e. as pseudo-religions. This type of exclusiveness characterizes Christianity and to even a greater degree Judaism and Islam. The Catholic Church, seeing in the person of Jesus Christ the divine revelation of God, believes that it has the full truth and proclaims as dogma that extra ecclesiam nulla salus. From this position the Catholic Church fought in the past against all other forms of religious tradition. In contrast the historical-religious school (E. Troeltsch) that arose within liberal protestant theology at the end of the XIX century postulated incorporating Christianity into the general history of religions because God's revelation is found in every religion and the relative absoluteness of Christianity can be proven only by way of historical comparison.
6) Consistency (coherence) and rationality of religion. Since religious beliefs constitute an essential element of almost every religion the question of truth of religious beliefs (dogmas) amounts to the question of their rationality. The consistency of beliefs (propositions) is a distinctive expression (sign) of rationality. However, a (religious) system might be perfectly consistent and yet have no appreciable degree of coherence (L. BonJour). But how can one consider beliefs of a given religion as a coherent and consistent system? It is easy to fulfill the requirement of consistency and coherence in closed deductive systems but not in open systems which religious doctrines are.
Consistency of religion in general or of a particular religion can be understood as intra-religious or extra-religious. The immanent consistency of religion consists in the harmony of religious beliefs in their mutual relations. The external consistency of a religion consists in turn in conformity of religious beliefs with human reason and with ordinary scientific or philosophical knowledge. It is not easy to conceive how it could be possible to apply the notion of consistency to all religions. Christianity, the religion rationalized to a high degree, is vitally interested in its intra-religious and extra-religious consistency. In its attempts to provide a general vision of the world (Weltanschauung) it clashes sometimes with a scientific view of the world where there is no place for the supernatural. A good example is the controversy between the theory of evolution and the religious doctrine of creation.
Any argumentation for intra-religious or extra-religious consistency of religion has to take into account the fact that not all religious contents are expressed in a propositional language; that a religious creed includes also truths which are mysteries (e.g. the Christian mystery of the Holy Trinity or of the Incarnation) and which are accepted as God's gift; that because of specificity of the religious language not all religious propositions have an unambiguous meaning; that any religion refers to a supernatural reality which lies beyond rational reasoning and hence ex definitione clashes with human reason. Due to all these facts it is not evident how to find consistency and coherence in the domain of a given religion.
7) Existential and practical meaningfulness (significance) of religion. Nowadays the truth of religion is eagerly understood existentially in a way which goes beyond the historical and doctrinal dimensions of religion. Truth of religion is seen in the intimate personal confrontation with the sacred and in all-embracing commitment of the person to the sphere of the sacrum. Although religion has a descriptive dimension this is not so important for a believer as the fact that religion orientates the person's life towards the "ultimate reality" from which he expects salvation. People do not become religious because religion supplies them with true statements about the world but because it promises eternal happiness. An important criterion for the value of religious traditions and belief systems is their truthfulness in producing morally and spiritually recognizable saints (J. Hick 1989).
Competencies of sciences of religion
The extent to which different studies of religion can deal with the problem of truth of religion depends on many factors, among them on the concept of justification (of religious beliefs) and on the immanent cognitive possibilities of each of the studies. Since the religious reality is so different from empirical religious truth requires specific ways of justification. Justification (verification, proof, confirmation) of religious beliefs can take place and as a matter of fact often does due to pragmatic reasons. However, if it is not a priori assumed that the act of faith is completely irrational and hence that the option for a religious attitude has no logical reasons (fideism) then there must be some scientific or philosophical reasons in favour of religion in general or one of particular religions. In the case of revealed religion justification of dogmas can be given only indirectly, i.e. by reasoning. For instance Christianity developed arguments (proofs") for the existence of God, immortality of soul, and truth of Christian religion.
1) Competencies of empirical studies of religion (Religionswissenschaft) such as history, ethnology, sociology and psychology of religion have to be considered in the light of the concepts of science and scientific truth that are weakened with respect to the received view which is attacked from the side of postpositivistic philosophy of science and that of the social sciences. Of three dimensions of religion: the divine reality (radically inaccessible to a scientific observer), the domain of religious experience (accessible only indirectly through indices) and the realm of religious data (holy scriptures, the objects of cult, sacred buildings, religious symbols, sacred ceremonies etc.), only the latter can be investigated scientifically. There is no reason why empirical studies of religion could not explore, by employing the historical method of studying religious and not-religious historical sources, the historical truth of religion.
The contemporary history of religion studies eagerly the history of major and minor religious traditions. Here truth of religion is accessible only to a small degree because of the moment of mystery. If by studying the historical sources (documents) the researcher concludes that the person who was the alleged founder of a certain religion did not in fact historically existed then he is entitled to say that religion is false. Another question is whether the historical study of religion (circumstances in which religion originated and ways in which it developed) has to be done as it was often done in the past with purely critical intention. A historian of religion does not have at his disposal proper methods of discriminating between authentic and non-authentic religious phenomena; this is the task of philosophy or theology of religion.
2) Theology and philosophy of religion ascribe to themselves some special competence in the realm of doctrinal (immanent) truth of religion. "Theology" is a very ambiguous term. When speaking about theology of religion one thinks usually of the Christian theology. Yet, this is not the only form of theology of religion for each of the major religious traditions possesses its own more or less developed systematic reflection concerning the tradition itself and the doctrines of other religions. Christian theologians make an effort to interpret and to evaluate in the light of revelation their own religious doctrine as well as the truth of other religions. They are trying to find out whether those other traditions are authentic religions or only pseudoreligions either because they are not revealed or do not have features attributed to true religion. While making the distinction between Christian theology and Christian religion and between theological and religious truth let us observe that truth of Christianity is not reduced to the theological truth, i.e. to the theoretical truth of a certain theological system. Theories of theologians are as fallible and corrigible as are theories of any other scientists.
3) Any (realistic) philosophy of religion is interested in the nature of religious phenomena in order to be able to examine particular religions and determine whether they meet the criterion of true (authentic) religion. The question is whether there is something like the essence of religion which distinguishes true religion from those phenomena which seem to fulfill religious functions but are not authentically religious. Recently the analytical philosophy of religion is concerned with the conflicting claims to truth made by different religions. It focuses on the relation of religious language to religious life. Limiting its interest to the language of Christian religion or major religious traditions it takes the question of meaning of religious assertions to be a special case of the general question of linguistic meaning.
Having employed the "empiricist principle" of verification, at its early stages the analytical philosophy of religion claimed that all major religious assertions are mere expressions of emotion without any cognitive significance. Discussions have shown that it is not easy to apply the classical notion of truth to the revealed reality which lies beyond verification through science. The protagonists of critical rationalism (A. Flew, W. W. Bartley, H. Albert), taking advantage of the Popperian principle of falsification, note the essential non-falsifiability of religious assertions and hence the impossibility of evaluating them with respect to their veracity and falsity.
Investigations within the analytical philosophy of religion have given no clear answer to the question of the sense in which religious beliefs can be falsified and hence to the question of whether they can be seen as real assertions, i.e. qualified as true or false. It was however observed (I. T. Ramsey, D. D. Evans, J. Wisdom et alii) that the radically negative stance of logical positivism which claimed that religious utterances are deprived not only truth but also meaning does not give justice to actual meaningful use of religious language. Believers refer in their assertions to an extra-linguistic reality and hold criteria which allow them to identify what a certain religious community believes. In the course of time it was noticed that the truth-function in religious language which is adapted to the transcendent reality demonstrates itself differently than it does in languages of science. Since the seventies the analytical philosophy of religion is characterized by metaphysical realism and sees religious claims under consideration as straightforwardly true or false. In order to communicate the supernatural truth any religious language uses in fact expressions of everyday language but it modifies their meaning. Moreover, religious utterances fulfil not only the descriptive task but first of all other tasks: evocative, performative, interpretive, evaluative, expressive, etc.
The truth of distinct types of religion
1) Religion in general. Even if indeed many statements, especially those of philosophers of religion, refer to religion in general it is difficult to construct such a concept of truth of religion that would be applicable to every type of religion. For instance, when claiming that the nature of religion is ahistorical due to the transcendent sphere of sacrum, phenomenologists speak indeed about religion in general and therefore also about each particular religion. The meaning which the problem of truth of religion in general possesses is not obvious. Any answer presupposes already a solution to the problem of universals. There is a suggestion (seemed to be put forward by J. Wach) to speak about truth of a particular religion only to the extent to which a resolution of the problem of religion in general is presupposed. An opposite suggestion is to reduce truth of religion in general to the truth of particular religious doctrines. For example M. Müller was convinced that a comparative study of religion will disclose that no religion is entirely devoid of truth.
2) Revealed religion. The problem of truth of revealed religion refers to the question of whether at the beginning of that particular religion it is really God who reveals himself and who is the transcendent object of veneration. The decision to accept revelation and to recognize the existence of a transcendent object of devotion is itself a religious act. A scholar of religion can only take note of the fact that some religion holds itself in this respect to be true.
The answers to the question of truth of revealed religion, i.e. its doctrinal credibility (the content of religion) must be differentiated according to the type of religion. There are religions, such as Christianity, where the doctrinal side (the Creed) is well developed; there are others where that side is meager because the stress is more laid on orthopraxy, i.e. a practical and ritual side. However, even in religious traditions where orthopraxy is more important than orthodoxy, religious practices express a certain worldview and the belief in God or gods and in the relationship between the human and the divine.
The problem of truth of religion understood as the credibility of the latter can be discussed by philosophy and theology of religion only to a limited extent for we deal here with the domain of faith. If we assume that a certain religion itself or its theology is the natural point from which the doctrinal content of other religions should be evaluated usually as false then the consequence which we have to take into account is that the appeal to one's own revelation to prove the truth of one's own religion is a circular argument (although it may not be a vicious circle but a hermeneutic one). When the problem of truth of revealed religion is understood as the problem of the existence of a transcendent object of cult it belongs in a limited way on the one hand to philosophy of religion which solves it rationally with respect to religion in general, and on the other hand to theology of religion which solves it theologically with respect to a particular religion, usually with respect to one's own religion and in the light of one's own religion with respect to all other religions.
3) Natural religion. Natural religion (religio naturalis, religio rationalis), in contrast to positive (revealed) religion, is understood as the intuitive knowledge of God rooted in the human soul and obtained through the natural power of reason (lumen rationale) and accomplished for example by reading the "book of nature". The task of giving an answer to the question of truth of natural religion belongs to philosophy of religion. In the light of a normative concept of natural religion all positive religions are unnecessary and degenerate forms of natural religion (J. Bodin). The truth of natural religion amounts to philosophical (legitimate in the light of reason) acceptance of the existence of an absolute being (das höchste Wesen) which is transcendent to the world and is the object of man's worship.
4) Christianity. The claim that the Christian religion is true stands in need of explication. Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism, is one of those religious traditions in which the doctrinal side in the form of a dogmatic theology is very well developed. The truth of the Christian faith rests on the truth of God (Thomas Aquinas). The emphasis on belief (orthodoxy) is characteristic for the concerns of Christian theologians. In Christianity there is a clear and institutionally sanctioned (anathemas) distinction between orthodoxy and heterodoxy (heresy). A Christian is expected to observe both orthodoxy and orthopraxy. That is he is expected to believe in the Christian doctrine and to practice the Christian mores. The coherence of Christian doctrine is derived from the teaching of the Apostles which, as one here believes, is transmitted in a continuous way and preserved in the official teaching of the Church. However, even within Christianity there is no one unified perspective but more or less orthodox and heterodox movements, as it is demonstrated by Eastern orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism and the multiplicity of Christian Churches and within of sectarian groups.
The truth of Christianity can be seen as a special case of truth of historical religion. Christianity is treated as an authentic religion, for it is held to be a true religion. Even if the Christian faith has something to do with religious experience of the faithful, the Bible is not a neutral historical text. A Christian is not so much interested in general religious truths but in the particular truth of the Christian message. The claim that Christianity is a true religion means first of all that it is a revealed religion, i.e. that it has its origin in the historical fact of the existence of Jesus Christ and that fact has at the same time a deep religious (supernatural) meaning. The central question of the truth of Christianity is then the problem of historicity of Jesus Christ: the fact of coming into the world and of death and resurrection of the man who held himself to be God.
The truth of Christianity means also its credibility, i.e. the "empirical" truth of the articles of faith contained in the Holy Scripture (Gospel) and expressed in the Creed. The truth of Christianity was defended by showing that there is no contradiction between the content of natural religion and the Christian revelation (the doctrine of the Bible). Within Christianity itself different denominations specify differently the criteria of their exclusive or inclusive truth. The Roman-Catholic Church maintains that it possesses the fullness of salutary truth (extra Ecclesiam nulla salus) because of its apostolic succession and the infallibility of the hierarchical teaching of the Church. From this position it views all other religions in some important sense as false.
1) The above considerations show that there is no single, simple and general answer to the question of truth of religion in general or in particular. As it turns out any answer requires some stipulation concerning among other things the notions of truth and religion.
2) The notion of "truth of religion" can be a valuable instrument for interpreting religious phenomena not only in philosophy and theology of religion but also in social sciences of religion.
3) The notions of "true religion" (authentic religion) and of "truth of (in) religion" (credibility of religion), although they are at first sight distinct, seem to condition each other.
4) Starting his research the scholar of religion should attempt to ask the question of truth of religion in the most general and neutral way and not to limit it to one type of religion, e.g. to Christianity.
5) Social sciences are not the right domain for asking and answering the question of credibility of religion, although they have place for the question of historical truth of religion. The question of a transcendental object of religion can be competently dealt with only by philosophy and theology of religion.
6) The scholar of religion, when asking the question of truth of a particular religion, should struggle to correlate his results of research with that what the believer thinks about the truth of his religion. He must not reject in advance the question of truth of some religion only because the religion refers to a divine founder or revelation or because religious doctrine does not conform with a scientific method of research.
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