Rationality and Historical Validity of Faiths

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
John 1:1

The word for Word, of course, is ‘Logos,’ which means ‘Word,’ ‘Account,’ ‘Fraction,’ or ‘Reason.’

Its somewhat self-referential, but a comparison of religions from the Christian perspective is really a comparison of Reasons, and determining which one is most rational. Of course, religion predates the tool of science, so I’m not saying that religion is scientific, but in the Christian tradition religion is rational.

Therefore, a first cut through the world’s religions removes irrational religions, such as mysticism or animism, as simply not compatible with what a religion should be. These may be avenues or reflections of something that is true in a religion, but they cannot be rational religions in themselves.

This reduces the number of possible religions rather sharply, and we are basically left with two rational traditions

  • Abrahamic
  • Dharmic

I think from an evolution of thought perspective these two systems seem to be the most ‘fit.’ For instance, take this striking visualization

With which only a few present a historical account or reason why it is valid instead of others. Many faiths appear to faith, of course, but those that provide a system of evidence of arguing that their historical claims are actually true.
As far as I’ve read, the faiths that present an argument from historical validity may be classified as

  • Catholic Christianity
  • Orthodox Christianity
  • Rabbinical Judaism
  • Islam (most varieties)
  • Sri Lankan Buddhism
  • Chinese Buddhism

Faiths I am specifically and intentionally excluding include:

  • Protestant Christianity: A coherent adherence to Sola Scriptura removes these faiths from the need for historical validty, and a rejection of Sola Scriptura is incoherent
  • Zen Buddhism: Tibetan Buddhism is a form of spirit worship
  • Japanese Shinto/Buddhism: ditto, but with nature worship too
  • Mormonism/Scientology: Science-fiction faiths which are empirically testable, and thus not faiths, but rather (astoundingly improbable) scientific theories

So back to the list

Sri Lankan Buddhism is very well attested, but I am not sure that it is not simply a form of atheism.

In areas where Chinese Buddhism contradicts Sri Lankan Buddhism, (a) Sri Lankan Buddhism’s version is attested hundreds of years earlier, and just as suspiciously, (b) Chinese Buddhism is remarkably similar to Nestorian Christianity (even has a Trinity!), which was introduced to China at about the time at Chinese Buddhism formed

So of the four that remain, all incorporate by reference a trail of documents and books stretching back to Abraham in the desert, all have rather details accounted of the Roman Empire, and all hinge on specific teachings given by Jesus which we can only access second- or third- hand.

Of these four, the Islamic tradition is the worst attested. The Koran contains numerous innovations that contradict the both Catholic/Orthodox Christianity and Judaism, some of which are simply unattested (Did Abraham offer up Isaac or Ishmael) and some of which are very improbable (the Koran’s claim that Jews worship Ezra as the Son of God):

“And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah, and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah. That is their saying with their mouths. They imitate the saying of those who disbelieved of old. Allah (Himself) fighteth against them. How perverse are they!
—Qur’an, Sura At-Tawba”

This is a striking passage. I cannot think of a similar one in another tradition, in which a major tenant of a rival religion is stated incorrectly. It would be akin to Luther arguing that Catholics believe that Mary is the Pope — it’s not just a caricature of the belief, it doesn’t even make sense as a slander.

Between Catholic/Orthodox Christianity and Rabbinical Judaism, the question is more difficult, as both are in a real sense bolted on to the now vanished faith of Temple Judaism. They may both be considered to incorporate the Old Testament, to have a follow-on system of laws or interpretations (the New Testament for the Catholics and Orthodox, the Oral Torah for Rabbinical Jews), and to emphasize the role of context in understanding these.

Between Catholic/Orthodox Christianity and Rabbinical Judaism, I would argue that the Catholic/Orthodox tradition is older (seemingly formed by AD 70 by Romanized Jews in Palestine) than the Rabbincal tradition (seemingly dating from AD 200 by Romanized Jews throughout the Empire). But ultimately this time difference is not very great in the scale of things, so here my argument becomes more tenuous.

The question between the Catholic and Orthodox traditions is more narrow yet, as it relies on a long-running debate over Church governance and the proper role of Church-State relations. The debate is almost identical to the debate between Trotsky and Stalin — is it best to have a world-wide revolutionary movement that opportunistically seeks to subvert States to its own ends (the Catholic/Trotskyite strategy) or it is best to build ‘in one country,’ with the Church/Party as the ‘heart’ of the State (the Orthodox/Stalinist strategy). Basically, the entire debate comes down to interpreting Paul’s words on government. I really don’t like the idea of National Churches, but perhaps that is my own cultural and intellectual bias.

Either way, that’s how I arrive at Catholicism — a focus on rationality, historic validity, and interpretation of a couple stray verses!