According to Daniel Dennett’s new book, here’s a surefire way to tell whether a belief system is a religion: is it invulnerable to disproof? In other words, is there any way to tell whether the beliefs are wrong?
For example, Jesus is the Son of God. We know this because the Bible tells us so. The Bible can’t be doubted because it is the Word of God. So is Jesus, according to St. John. Thus we have a skeptic-proof system operating here. If you doubt the truth of the Bible, you lack faith in Jesus, without which you will never be saved and come to know Jesus.
After death, of course. Conveniently. The proof of a religion always is found in a time or at a place that isn’t now or here. If it were, it could be disproved.
I’m a firm believer in science. The scientific method leads to right conclusions because it can be wrong. A hypothesis isn’t confirmed until there is demonstrable evidence for it. If no such proof can be found, the hypothesis gets thrown into the trash heap of unproven notions.
When was the last time you heard of a religion going out of business because its belief system was found to be untrue? I can’t recall of this ever happening. Maybe it has. If so, it wasn’t to a genuine religion.
The postulation of invisible, undetectable effects that (unlike atoms and germs) are systematically immune to confirmation or disconfirmation is so common in religions that such effects are sometimes taken as definitive. No religion lacks them, and anything that lacks them is not really a religion, however much it is like a religion in other regards.
This is one reason why I feel justified in calling Sant Mat, the belief system with which I’ve been involved for many years, a religion. Its central tenets are immune to disproof.
The leader of a Sant Mat sect, the satguru (true guru), is considered to be a perfect being. Yet he does seemingly imperfect things. Once I was told a story about the guru throwing a book manuscript across the room at an writer who had meekly asked, “Have you read it yet?”
Most people would consider this to be a sign of irritation or anger. But the person on the receiving end of the pile of papers took it to be an ego-reducing gift of grace from the guru.
So if the guru acts in an exemplary manner, that’s considered to be a sign of his perfection. And if he acts like an ordinary human being, ditto—for this is how perfect beings act when they want to test the devotion, faith, and humility of their disciples.
Similarly, if the disciple gets expected results in meditation, such is regarded as the grace of the guru. And if no results are forthcoming, ditto—for the guru is saving up the merits of meditation for bestowal at the proper time. Usually, after death. Conveniently.
So, consider: How would you be able to tell if your religion is right or wrong? Not after death, but here and now. If there is some way, explore it. But I’ll bet that there isn’t. Religions aren’t big on tests. Unquestioning acceptance is their thing.
Yet you can’t be right if there’s no possibility of being wrong. That’s why if a religion can’t be wrong, it surely is.