Why It Matters What You Believe

By Robin Schumacher

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Pentecostal Pastor Jamie Coots, one of the co-stars on the National Geographic's "Snake Salvation" TV show, died Saturday, February 15th after receiving a bite from one of his snakes during a church service earlier that night. The Middlesboro, KY, police reported that Coots refused medical treatment for his snake bite and was found dead in his home at about 10 p.m.

Why would Coots do such a thing? The answer, it appears, is that he embraced parts of the controversial and much-debated ending in the book of Mark: "These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover" (Mark 16:17–18).

This very unfortunate episode underscores an important truth for everyone: it matters greatly what you believe. Why? Simply put, because in most cases consequences exist for being wrong.

An Unfashionable Position

Like wearing white after Labor Day, it's very unfashionable these days to make the claim that a particular belief is not true. The philosophical pluralists who insist that every belief is on the same evidential playing field and the postmodernists who assert there is no objective truth will loudly protest any challenge to the "true for you but not for me" position. Then there are the apatheists, which say they "don't know and don't care because it doesn't matter."

However, let's first remember that the pluralist's and postmodernist's opinions are self-defeating. The pluralist must face the reality that, while they say all beliefs are equal and true, they deny the belief of the Christian who says all beliefs are not equal (i.e. the pluralist says the Christian's belief is "wrong"). In the same vein, the postmodernist must confront the fact that their claim of there being no objective truth is an objective truth.

Next, let's also not forget that the apatheist doesn't approach his/her life in total with their philosophy. Give an apatheist the wrong medicine or the wrong financial advice and you can be assured they'll let you know about it.

All of these "ists" assume their stance in order to not offend people, which on the surface seems like an admirable thing to do. But it is flawed thinking and fails to make this important distinction: all people are equally valuable, but not all ideas are. Avoiding those bad ideas/beliefs is smart because we steer clear of undesired outcomes.

Deep down we know and practice this. For example, if I'm shopping at a particular store thinking I'm getting the best possible price, but you show me a different store that saves me even more money, I won't be offended, but will be very grateful because you've corrected me and helped me avoid the consequence of losing money.

But when it comes to matters of worldview and religion, we act and think differently as if there's nothing to lose. Skeptics say this is because, unlike the financial example above, these are areas that cannot be as easily verified empirically and so they must be regarded as being uncertain.

But as Mr. Coots and his family discovered, that's not always true.

The Longer Ending in Mark

Pastor Coots relied on a much debated section of Scripture to protect him from his practices of handling snakes during church services. But should he? A scholarly examination of the passage as well as a historical review of other individuals who put their trust in those verses would have served him well.

Christians naturally get very touchy when someone makes the claim that a particular section of the Bible isn't legitimate. Fortunately, the science of Biblical criticism (a terribly sounding phrase, I know…) helps provide confidence in making such determinations. When it comes to the longer ending of Mark 16 (vv. 9-20), the majority of Bible scholars agree that it is spurious and very likely was added by a redactor after Mark was written.

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TagsControversial-Issues  |  Current-Issues  |  False-Teaching

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Published 2-25-14