Premasticated Understanding of Non-believers

“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God, because many false prophets are gone out into the world”
— 1 John 4:1 (KJV)

So begins the first page of Josh McDowell’s and Don Stewart’s book “Understanding Non-Christian Religions:  Handbook of Today’s Religions” [ published by Campus Crusade for Christ, 1986].  In my college days I use to help run a Bible study for Campus Crusade for Christ. In those days my understanding of other religions came solely from books like this.  And I did not doubt these books because the Bible told me that anyone teaching a faith different from my own was preaching with a “false spirit” so reading their books was a dangerous thing to do and should only be left only to those with a special gift from God to see through the dangerous lies.

As I read them now, after years of living in other countries and with people of other faiths, I laugh at their over-simplification, stereotyping and stone-throwing. But this is not only a foible of Christian writers.  I have read books by Theravada Buddhists typifying Northern Buddhists, of Democrats typifying Republicans and of Atheists typifying theists and watched similar over-simplifications, demonifications, stereotyping and stone-throwing.

Sure, it is important to understand how positions differ.  But if it is your mission to understand a group outside your own group then I suggest try reading their stuff — and preferably their best stuff.  Don’t depend on the the premasticated versions —  chew the stuff on your own when possible, or at least realize the limitations of your opinions.

Note:  I wrote a post years ago with the same intent: Curriculum of Understanding


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

10 responses to “Premasticated Understanding of Non-believers

  1. Katarina

    I Love you and you are right! Bless you Sabio!

  2. JSA

    This showed up in my Google Reader immediately after Vic’s post on “outsider tests vs. Outsider Test ™“, and I suspected that you two were coordinating publishing calendars!

  3. One of the things that I like about the Buddha’s teaching is that he repeatedly would say words to the effect, “Do believe my teaching just because I teach it. Try out the eight fold path, and see for yourself.”

    So, in some sense, he was saying even of his OWN teaching, “Don’t believe my premasticated version.”

  4. @ JSA
    I read Vic’s short post. Not sure what he is saying. I don’t enjoy Loftus. I probably would not agree with Vic — he uses language I can’t make sense of. You directed me at Vic before — I didn’t follow him then either. Seems he rings true for you, though.

    Dan Gurney
    I think David has written on that often quoted verse — it is rarely really applied in actual Buddhism on the ground. But I like the principle of empirical evidence a great deal.

  5. JSA

    Vic is just saying that it’s a very good idea to put yourself in other religions’ shoes and try to understand how you would see yourself if you were them. And beyond that, he’s saying that this outsider perspective doesn’t necessarily *prove* that the insider’s perspective is wrong. I figured you would agree completely, since you often make similar points.

  6. @ JSA
    Vic seemed to try to pack a lot more into two paragraphs like:
    – The Outsider Test(OT) demands a modern, science-oriented, materialist position.
    – A modern science-oriented, materialist position is wrong
    – There are many ways to be outside orthodox Christianity
    – science is not the only thing authoritative or objective
    – You can’t apply the OT to religious faith without looking at general beliefs.

    And a few more ideas.
    I agree with your summary, but Vic’s writing, like many folks, tries to say to0 much (often minimally supported but just declared) in a very little space. It is as if they feel if they say declare a lot, they have proved a lot.

    But I agree with you: “You can largely understand someone’s position without agreeing with them.” But for instance, I can sort of understand the flavor of Christianity that you embrace but I can not understand it until I really understand “WHY” you believe it — which, for instance, I still have no idea. Knowing “Why” someone believes something often amounts to much more than understanding the propositions or facts of the system they declare. This is obvious since most people believe exactly what they are raised to believe — talking about the particulars of the belief system are certainly a waste of time, often for those folks.

    OK, I will stop here — just saying that Vic said much more than I was saying, and I am sure I disagree with many of the nuances he tried to sneak in — or maybe not, cause he was just sliding stuff in.

  7. MichaelB

    Overcoming confirmation bias when choosing what to read or who to listen to can be a very tall task indeed.

  8. Recently, I decided to emerge from the closet and declare my true beliefs or should I say disbeliefs? I do, however feel as if I’m a bit lost because I don’t really know what to say I am…you know how people have the need to pigeon hole everything including themselves. Are there any books, you can recommend that make sense out of skeptism and disbelief to a newly declared heathen?

  9. @ Mildred Ratched
    So, where you Christian before? What sort of Christian? Why did you stop believing or participating?
    Personally, I never read books on atheism or skepticism until just a few while blogging and even those I never completed — didn’t see a need. BUT, if you are interested in seeing through things that you are now skeptical about, there are specific recommendation.
    But you are right, being skeptical does not off a new you or new pigeon hole. See my page on Atheism AKA.

  10. Mildred, you may also like my post on: Atheism as an epiphenomenon

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