I know I come across as critical of religion at times, and in my own defense I have to say that usually it has to do with the kinds of things that religion incites people to do -- such as Pat Robertson's recent pronouncement that Christians are being oppressed by gays, and that Jesus would have been in favor of stoning gays to death, and evangelist Tristan Emmanuel's recommendation that Bill Maher should be publicly whipped because he's an atheist.
But as far as the religious beliefs themselves, mostly what I feel is incomprehension. When I've asked people why they believe in god -- something I tend not to do, being that I'm not so excited about being publicly whipped myself -- I usually get answers that fall into one of the following categories:
- Personal revelation -- the individual has had some kind of experience that convinces him/her that a deity exists.
- Authority -- being raised in the church, and/or respecting its leaders and their views, have led the person to accept those beliefs as true.
- It's appealing -- they'd like there to be a god, so there is one.
So how likely would I be to land on the right answer with respect not only to whether or not a god exists, but what his/her/its nature is, given the thousands of different answers humans have come up with over the centuries? It'd be pretty embarrassing, for example, to spend my life worshiping Yahweh, and then die and find out too late that I should have been making sacrifices to Anubis or something.
[image courtesy of Jeff Dahl and the Wikimedia Commons]
But Audrey Lee tells us in the Charisma News article that it's a real problem, and we don't want to get it wrong:
It would be naive and irresponsible to suggest that all spiritual dreams result in a true God connection. Dreamers who mistake their own subconscious thoughts or even demonic influence as divine instruction can make grim and historic mistakes. Recently a woman in a rural village sacrificed her child in the river out of obedience to what she thought was a dream from God.So, yeah. That'd be bad. Lee goes on to tell us that there are four criteria that we should use to determine if our dreams are god-induced: (1) the dream's content doesn't contradict the bible; (2) it's "convicting" [sic]; (3) it lingers in the memory; and (4) it predicts things that come to pass.
So based on these four criteria, I'd guess the werewolf-and-garden-hose dream doesn't measure up except for the fact that I still remember it. But it does raise a question, which is, couldn't you have a non-bible-contradicting dream that you remember and find convincing, and it still is just a dream? Doesn't the whole thing still turn on your kind of looking at it and saying, "Yeah, seems right to me?", without anything resembling hard evidence?
I simply don't find that sort of thing a reliable protocol for determining the truth. Maybe it's because I don't trust myself enough; but I think that our brains come pre-installed with so many ways of getting it wrong that we need to have an external standard in order to be certain. For me, that standard is science -- i.e., evidence, logic, and rationality. None of the "internal ways of knowing" have ever really made sense to me.
Now, I'll admit up front that I'm no philosopher, and deeper minds than mine may well have a better answer to all of this. If so, I'm open to listening. But until then, I still can't see any dependable way to get at the truth other than hard evidence -- much as my wishful thinking would like to say otherwise.