First, I'd like to say that I agree with most of what Paul was saying. I would 100% agree with the following revised paragraphs:
But in deciding to which faith to adhere, I believe a seeker should never succumb to the temptation of drifting towards what is comfortable. It's OK to say, "my body is fine just the way it is, and I'm going to buy a suit to fit it!" But how wise is it to assert, "[some text removed] I will choose a faith that conforms to me"?
What's the point? If I am an erring, sinning human being, I should want to find the faith that teaches what's true, no matter how much that truth challenges me, no matter how ill-suited it may be initially, and I should try to conform myself to that truth. Unless I am already a saint with no room for improvement, I should think suspect any religion whose entire teaching fit me comfortably.
In other words, I think there is a legitimate objection to just choosing whatever faith feels good. But, as the title to the previous post implies, there's a difference between when something feels good and when something feels right. More on this later. First, the small part that I don't agree with, and an explanation of why.
The part I removed from the quote above is:
my soul is fine the way it is, my conscience is properly formed, and
So, why can't I agree with that bit?
1. My soul is fine the way it is: I'm not sure we have souls. I expect when we die, we're quite dead. So I wouldn't assert my soul is fine, but I wouldn't assert it's not fine, either, and this sentence implies that my soul is not fine without the help of the true religion, so I can't agree with it. But really, if you want to assert that you have a soul and that it is/is not fine... well, OK, go ahead, I suppose. It's secondary to the argument I'm going to make on this site.
2. My conscience is properly formed: This is the core bit. The question is, where does your conscience come from? How is it formed? If it's formed by God (possibly through evolution, in my view, but others can have different ones - either way, by God, however you'd like to conceive God) then it at least starts out perfect, and can potentially (unless later corrupted in some way) act as a good guide. If it's formed by your experiences, or by some other morally neutral process, however, then there is no reason to suggest that it is a good guide.
In other words, if your conscience starts out imperfect and must be reformed by religion, then it can't have come from God for the purpose of guiding you towards truth, it must have come from somewhere else and serve some other purpose. If your conscience starts out perfect but can be corrupted to the point where it will guide you in completely the wrong direction, I would seriously question whether it came from God, and whether its purpose is to guide you to truth. At that point, your conscience is basically meaningless and ought to be ignored in favor of other guides to truth (although I am not sure what those might be).
I think that even if you spend a long time telling yourself self-justifying lies and living a life that does not conform to your conscience (and so beat it down and cause it to fall nearly silent) it is still there, and still pointing you in the right direction. Someone might say "but Hitler and Pol Pot and Stalin thought they were great people doing fundamentally good things. Surely this is evidence that their consciences were not reliable, and thus conscience can be corrupted!". I think if Hitler et. al. had sat back and deeply reflected on what they were doing, they would have realized it was wrong. The fact that we can tell ourselves lies, and ignore our conscience when it tries to tell us the truth, doesn't mean we've lost the ability to tell truth from lies. You can stop questioning what you believe, and thus think it to be true when it's not. You can choose not to think, and just go with the examples you see around you. But if you start questioning again, your conscience will still be there, and still pointing you towards the truth, if only weakly. If you tell yourself a lie, I think if you are honest with yourself later, you will see the lie you told for what it is. So my position on conscience is I think that my conscience is properly formed, and that it can be temporarily silenced, or ignored, but not corrupted.
Question to anyone who is religious and disagrees with me: Your disagreement implies you don't trust your conscience to guide you. So, what do you trust instead (that must also have existed before you adopted your religion)? What other measure of truth can you use?
Moving on. Does my foundational belief that my conscience is properly formed mean I should go with "the religion that feels good"?
My answer is no. There's a distinction between what feels good and what feels right.
To illustrate the distinction, here are some things that feel good to me, but don't feel right:
- It would feel very good to be a part of a church. The sense of community you get there feels great. But every time I go into a church, I get this feeling of wrongness and have to leave.
- It feels great when I think I'm smarter than someone else, or I've accomplished something really amazing, or someone compliments me and I think "maybe they're right!" Pride, in other words, feels great. But it doesn't feel right. There's always this sense I have that I should be humble, and that I should give the people around me credit, because they're probably just as "good" as I am, even though I'd like to put myself above them sometimes.
- Hearing someone say that I'm right about something feels good. But... perhaps this is just something I've trained myself to do, but I get this sense that I should always ask "but is that really true?". It feels good to accept the agreement of others, but I get the sense that doing so might lead me astray, there's a part of my conscience (at least I think it's my conscience) that says it's wrong to think agreement/consensus confirms truth.
So, I can agree with part of what Paul is trying to say. If your objective is to find a religion that conforms to you (lets you feel good about yourself, gives you the sense that you're in a community that agrees with you, etc.) you can easily be lead astray. But, if instead of looking for a religion that feels good, you're looking for a religion that feels right, I think that can work.
Using the suit analogy, you're ultimately looking for a suit that makes you look good. But let's say you're fat and lazy, and you have horrible posture, and no muscular development, so that if you keep on the way you are going you will end up in a wheelchair eventually. This is what Paul was getting at when he talked about things not being well formed. Maybe a suit that fits you in your current form, and makes you feel good about your current self, isn't what you should be looking for. Maybe, instead, what you should be looking for is a suit that makes you look the best you could possibly look. Maybe you should be looking at people who have exercised and worked hard to be the best looking they can possibly be, and strive to be the best you can. And choosing a suit that fits the person you want to be, rather than the person you are, is what you should be doing, and then working to fit into that suit.
But there's an underlying assumption here. The assumption is that everyone can look at themselves in the mirror and tell the difference between ugly and beautiful. That there is some objective thing called beauty that exists outside of anyone's individual opinion or pride or feeling of goodness about themselves, and the ability to recognize that cannot be corrupted, and its conclusions aren't arbitrary or a matter of personal opinion.
Whether that is true in the case of beauty is doubtful. But, logically, in order to make the case that you shouldn't choose a suit that fits your current form, you must have a reliable understanding of beauty, it can't just be subjective. And in order to make the case that you shouldn't choose the religion that fits your current form, but instead the one that conforms to the objective thing called truth, you must have the ability to recognize truth when you encounter it, somehow. In my opinion, your conscience is the how, and saying you can't choose your religion based on what your conscience says defeats the argument that you shouldn't just choose what feels good. By including "what your conscience says" in "what makes religion feel good", Paul was mixing up two definitions of "good".
Since being guided by your conscience doesn't always make you feel good about yourself, you can use it to choose a religion that doesn't fit, but is right and will be the best for you in the end. But if you assume your conscience might not be well formed, I don't see how you can choose a religion at all, aside from whichever one gives you the warmest fuzziest feeling about yourself.
I'm going to let Paul know I've written this, and see if he has a response.