Traveling through Haiti on the main highway, I saw a particular flag dotting the landscape raised high above the surrounding buildings. A missionary in Haiti told me the flags indicated the location of Voodoo witch doctors. I chucked a bit and said, “Huh, I wonder how they stay in business since everyone knows that Voodoo isn’t real.” He looked me dead in the eye and said, “Voodoo is very real.” I was perplexed! As a Christian missionary, how could he believe that Voodoo was real? Thus began a long conversation whereby he explained to me that, though no one can actually put a curse on anyone, if the community believes a Voodoo witch doctor has cursed someone, then every bad thing that happens to them will be attributed to the curse. And who wants to associate with a “cursed” person? So, the curse that is not “real” can be made to seem real through the belief by the community, and the witch doctors benefit.
I think this story illustrates where we live today with all of the competing belief systems around us. There are religious belief systems, political belief systems, social belief systems, and even scientific belief systems. Sometimes ideas take hold in our culture for a time (perhaps years or decades), then they fade. In the religious world, there are people like me who are 100% convinced that everything in the Bible is true, while at the same time there are people like Richard Dawkins who are 100% convinced that the Bible is false. Who is right? I guess that’s why it’s called “faith.” Before I move on, there are also people who put their faith in science (what we can observe, measure, test, and so on). Well, I’ve got two pieces of bad news for you: 1) Science is just as susceptible to believing wrong ideas as any other system because people are involved, and 2) people do not operate their lives by logic and reason alone but also by emotion, social pressure, and a basket full of other influences. So, science is quite helpful, but is not without its problems (remember the pandemic?). For what it’s worth, I hold a degree in Bible and also in mechanical engineering.
Here are two questions to ask yourself about any particular belief system:
1) Does it align with your understanding of the world? If you’ve been alive for any time at all, you understand by now that people are motivated by fame, money and pleasure. You would do well to be skeptical of new things that are being pushed at you even if they are being pushed by scientists or celebrities. Why? Because if people can get you to believe their way, they stand to gain from it. As the old adage goes, “follow the money.” What is the evidence, and can I see it? Is the argument solid? Almost every false belief system falls apart under such scrutiny.
2) Is it useful? This thing that you are being told to believe, does it invite you to grow in maturity and skill? Is it leading to something greater or something worse? Does it bring clarity or confusion? What is the end goal of this belief?
The Bible has been around for thousands of years and tells me that all people are selfish and broken and in need of a restored relationship with a perfect, holy God. It tells me that God sent his son, Jesus, to the earth and that He lived perfectly and gave His life to pay for everything that I have done or will ever do wrong. God invites me into a relationship with Jesus that will both apply His payment of my wrongs to my account and, at the same time, teach me a way of life that is focused on learning to love God’s way and practicing that love with the people around me. The Bible also gives me hope that I will be with God and others who follow Jesus when this life is over. There is a massive amount of archaeological and historical evidence pointing to the biblical account being true. My relationship with God is transforming me from a selfish person to a sacrificial person more and more each day. This aligns with my understanding of the world and is very useful to me and the people I meet each day.
Again, these are clarifying questions designed to help you think. Be very wary of anyone who tells you what to believe without allowing you to ask questions.
Rev. Scott Tiede is senior pastor of Delaware Bible Church.