Every person has many beliefs. Beliefs are central to our worldview and we can't function without them. Still, people don't understand what beliefs are and why we should hold them. They think beliefs are merely personal things, something that gives us comfort or assurance. The concept of belief has been twisted and contorted to a point where most assume they are preferences akin to ice cream flavors—which ever one you like, you should choose.
This reminds me of a conversation I had with a Jehovah's Witness that came to my door several years ago. Upon answering, I complimented him on his dedication to his faith. Here he was, not watching football on a Saturday morning, but trying to discuss his faith with others.
I then asked him, "Tell me, in going door to door, you must've heard a lot of reasons why people believe what they believe, right?This one conversation shows how much we've confused the motivations for why believe something with good reasons for believing. There is only one good reason to believe anything and that is if it is true. We may not be 100% certain of the truth, but we can still be reasonable in holding to one belief over another. Just don't confuse feeling s or desires for reasons. One supports a belief. The others don't.
"Oh, absolutely!" re responded.
I offered some examples: "Have you heard things like 'Well, This is the way I was raised' or 'I'm really comfortable in my beliefs' or 'I'm an American, so I have to be a Christian?'"
He smiled and said, "I've heard all those, and more, too!"
I replied, "Can we both agree that those are terrible reasons for believing in something? I mean, there's only one good reason to believe anything."
"What do you mean?" he asked inquisitively.
I explained: "The only good reason to believe anything is if it's true. Beliefs must be true, even if they are what some would call 'harmless' beliefs. Take the idea of Santa Claus for instance. It's a nice belief and it makes kids happy. And they have some reasons to hold to it, right? Their parents have told them about him. It benefits them since on Christmas morning there are presents and there's empirical evidence; the cookies are gone and the milk is drunk. It's a nice belief that doesn't hurt anyone."
He chuckled as I continued: "But what would you think of a 37 year old man who still believes in Santa Claus? Would you want to spend a five hour plane flight sitting next to him? Of course not! Not because his belief is dangerous, but because it isn't true. We should only believe what is true."
The man agreed with my foundation for belief and stated that the Jehovah's Witnesses have the truth of God. I went on to explain that I have also studied the Watchtower's history and its beliefs. For example, they held that Jesus was coming back many times, including 1881, 1914, 1918, 1925, 1942, and 1975."1
At this point he interrupted me. "You must realize that those dates are coming from men and men can be fallible."
"I agree with you," I said. "However, these same men also claimed that Jesus is not Jehovah God, but a lesser being created by God. What if in 100 years, they reverse themselves on this issue like they have with the prediction of His return? Now, we are talking about something that is crucial to the salvation of you and me. What happens then?"
He dismissed the idea quickly. "I don't think that would ever happen!"
"But what if it does?" I countered. "What if I could show you from the Bible right now how the Watchtower is wrong on this issue? Would you abandon your belief in the Jehovah's Witnesses?"
The man denied that it's possible, but I pressed again. "If I could conclusively show you that Jesus must be the eternal God, would you stop being a Witness?"
He thought a second and answered honestly. "You know, I've been a Witness for some seventeen years now. I've never found more meaning and satisfaction in my life except by being a Witness, so no, I don't think I would."
I looked right at him and said, "Wait a minute! Didn't we both agree that is a terrible reason for believing something?"
The words hung in the air as the man took a step back. His eyes worked back and forth as he tried to process the discussion. He seemed to think that I had played some kind of word trick on him, but he had no way of getting out of it. Finally, the man wished to go and I asked him to come back next week so we could continue our discussion. He never did.