Robert Bellah:

Religion provides answers to such questions as “How shall I live?” and “What is the meaning of the universe?” that science has no capacity to answer. But because answers to such questions are incapable of empirical testing by scientific methodology, how can we evaluate the answers that various religions give? As I have said above, the truth of religious beliefs can be seen in the lives of people who live by those truths. And if we see remarkable individuals in other traditions than our own we can accept that they have some kind of truth even if it is not completely the same as ours.

I don’t feel like batting this one around like a cat mercilessly tormenting a small rodent. Let’s just get right down to elucidating what he’s saying here.

How do we know if religious beliefs are worthy? By looking at the actions of people who claim to be inspired by them.

Whoa, hey, hold up, you say. Most of us have seen religiously inspired actions that run the full gamut of human psychology, from selfless generosity to utter depravity. How can we tell which one of these wildly varying types truly represent the “truth” of a religion?

By only accepting as evidence the actions that we describe as remarkable (leaving aside that “remarkable” is a pretty value-neutral word from where I sit).

But, you may interrupt once again (awfully rude of you, you know), take Christianity. It’s been widely accepted in biblical scholarship since Albert Schweitzer that Jesus was just another apocalyptic cultist whose central concern was what he believed to be the imminent end of the world and the day of judgement to follow, a self-styled Jewish prophet who didn’t seem all that concerned with the worth of Gentiles. Why do we favor the insipid platitudes of the Sermon on the Mount as examples of Christianity’s “truth” rather than the numerous other examples where judgement, condemnation, and retribution are shown to be integral to its worldview?

Because they comport with the values that we have come to cherish by way of rational secularism.

So… religion provides us with “truths” that science can’t, and the way we know this is by judging those supposed truths in the light of rational consideration from as objective a perspective as we can attain, which, not coincidentally, happens to be a key component of a scientific outlook? Isn’t this just an incredibly convoluted way of projecting your own capacity for making critical distinctions onto an arbitrarily-chosen external authority to avoid having to accept full responsibility for your own life? Isn’t this an example of, pun intended, bad faith, ba-dum-bum-tssh?