Belief vs Knowledge

Is believing something different from knowing it? I had a theology question a day or two ago, so I went to a discussion forum I had joined about a year or two ago to see what people thought. It had been several months, if not a year since I had gone there because last summer I decided that I was addicted to social media, so I quit everything except Facebook and flyinguineapig.

Anyway, I couldn’t find any threads about my particular question, and I didn’t feel like posting a new one so I left. Before I did though, I read a few posts on a thread about believing versus knowing something. I almost posted something, but I didn’t feel like getting into an argument, which actually happens a lot on that forum, but I thought I’d share my thoughts here.

Normally I would like to keep this open to belief in general, but I think in this case I might have to talk about it in the context of my personal beliefs. I think “belief” implies a lack of knowledge in one way or another. The online dictionary says that belief is “the acceptance of something as true or real.” Knowledge on the other hand is “What is known in a particular field or in total; facts and information.” I think faith may actually require both. There are things I know because I have accepted them as fact. There are also things that I believe, but don’t have enough information to accept them as fact or make judgments one way or another.

I think if one is to follow a particular religion or philosophy that there are beliefs within that system that they need to accept as fact. For example, Christianity is a very individual-oriented religion. One’s personal relationship with Christ is often what makes or breaks their faith. Therefore at the very least, people need to accept their salvation from sin and death as fact. Not knowing that for certain makes for a weak faith. I think Knowledge actually implies a very strong belief. There were facts in science that people accepted as true and real until they were proven false by innovation. For example, at one point in time people thought the earth was the center of universe. This was accepted as a scientific fact until it was refuted and a new model of the solar system was created.

In short, here are my definitions of  knowledge vs belief:

Knowledge: The acceptance of information as true based on evidence and conviction

Belief: The acceptance of ideas as true based on limited information and one’s personal desire/inclination to believe them

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Thoughts On Universalism

A few things have just been bugging me lately, so I thought posting about them would be helpful. My 3 main questions are:

1) What is the best way to evangelize?

2) Is universal salvation plausible?

3) If everyone is saved, should we still evangelize?

I’ve always found evangelizing annoying. It seems a bit pretentious to try and talk to complete strangers just to convert them to your religion. Students are told over and over in writing classes that we should show, not tell. It took some getting used to as I developed as a writer (I’m still no brilliant writer), but it really does make for much better writing. I try to take the same approach when it comes to my faith. Sometimes actions speak louder than words, so I try to act like I follow Jesus instead of just saying I do. I find that weirdly enough, people are willing to listen to me talk about my faith once we’ve hung out for a while. I never come into a conversation with the intention of talking about my faith. I want it to just sort of umbrella over everything I am and do. Have I converted anyone? No; so it’s certainly not very effective in terms of evangelism, but it’s much less obnoxious.

I read a blog post by a woman who was an atheist, talking about what Christians should not do when trying to evangelize. She said the thing that would help the most would be if no one proactively evangelized. She said a lot of people are atheists or follow another religion because they have at some point, looked into Christianity and rejected it as a viable religion. Therefore, trying to convince them that it actually is right looks a bit crazy or is at least annoying. She said that it would be best if we were less exclusive as well, which I agree with. A big part of this would be changing the way people talk and write. Sometimes it’s almost like we speak in code and I find it downright silly at times. I sometimes find myself using “Christainy” expressions and then asking myself, “What does that even mean?” It almost seems artificial. We need to just find better ways of talking about stuff.

I read a bit about Islam the other day because I was curious, and something I found interesting was their interpretation of some verses in the Bible. There are many verses in the Old Testament that most Christians see as foreshadowing the coming of Christ, but Muslims read them as foreshadowing Mohamed. I thought about it, and I didn’t see anything particularly wrong with that interpretation, and the way the website explained it, it made sense. In fact, couldn’t it foreshadow both? It is an interpretation after all. I read a blog post by a guy who used to be a missionary who said that Muslim leaders actually like to study Jesus’ words and life because they see him as a great prophet and role model for leadership. The author of the article suggested that instead of trying to strictly convert people to Christianity, we should teach them to follow Jesus’ example; i.e. to stand up for what is right, to do right by our neighbors, to advocate for peace and love and to love our God.

This brings me to my next question; is universal salvation plausible? I read one article that talked about mistranslations of the Greek Bible into Latin. the author wrote that universal salvation was actually accepted through the first 500 years of the Church. I personally believe that the farther back you go in time, the closer to the truth you will probably get. Of course this isn’t always the case, especially when it comes to the medical field, etc, but I think it is probably true when it comes to religion. They believed in universal salvation because according to the article, the Greek originally said that torment in Hell would last for an “eon” or an age– not eternity. That meant that everyone would eventually be reconciled to God, even if it took a really, really long time.

This seemed awfully compelling, but there are still a few things that don’t sit quite right with me. It doesn’t completely make sense with statements that Jesus made such as “no one gets to the Father except through me.” I suppose he could have meant that his sacrifice was necessary so that all people could be reconciled to God. That is in fact what Christians believe, but maybe it extends beyond just one group of people. Furthermore, if salvation is universal, why bother praying in Jesus’ name or celebrating the Eucharist? There are things within Christianity as a religion that seem potentially inseparable from salvation. The only thing I can come up with at the moment is that we do those kinds of things to say “thank you” and so we don’t have to wait to get to Heaven when we die. I know I do it in part for emotional reasons. I’d bet a lot of people do. In large part, Christianity is about relationships with each other and with God.

I’m not saying I’m a universalist just yet because I’m still researching and I don’t want to jump that way if that’s not where I should be jumping. I’m just theoretically mind spewing at this point. My next question is; if salvation is universal, do Christians still need to evangelize? I would say “yes,” but maybe we need to get a little more creative with it. I’d also say that maybe we should focus less on converting people to our religion and focus more on teaching them about Jesus and what he did and represents.

To be honest, I still don’t even entirely know what salvation really means. It probably means a whole lot more than what I think it does. I don’t think anyone can be 100% right about it anyway, but it’s worth trying to figure out.

Discussion would be lovely. Just don’t fight, please. 🙂