Along with my regular blog here at seanmcdowell.org, I am now featuring occasional guest posts from some students in the Biola M.A. in Christian Apologetics. This post is from my friend Ryan Pauly, a high school teacher, who also has an excellent and growing ministry of his own called Coffee House Questions . I simply asked him to write anything on his heart and mind. Check out his ministry and enjoy this post! Sean McDowell
Is Happiness A Good Test for Truth?
You might think it’s an intrusion when strangers knock on the door. But when three Mormon missionaries showed up at my friend’s apartment, I excitedly ran down the stairs to talk to them. It’s not everyday that people ride bikes to your house to discuss truth, and evangelism doesn’t get much easier than that.
The elders asked us if we had read the Book of Mormon, and I mentioned that I own a copy. This raised their curiosity and excitement as they began to tell us about how Mormonism had changed their lives. One of the elders had just left Salt Lake City the previous week to start his mission. He stated that before arriving in Salt Lake City he had not been happy, but the training deepened his faith and made him happy again. This was a timely discussion, since I just wrote about whether or not our happiness is God’s priority.
When I talk with Mormons, I want to understand their worldview rather than immediately refuting it. I do this and deepen the conversation with questions like, Why are you Mormon? Have you always been Mormon? Why do you think Mormonism is true?
It’s true because it makes me happy!
One of the elders quickly jumped in and began to tell me that he had actually gone apostate and left the LDS church as a teenager. His life had become horrible and he wasn’t happy. He then began to search for the truth and that led him back to Mormonism, which made him happy again.
To make sure I understood correctly, I repeated back to him what I heard. I asked, “Are you saying that you were searching for truth and that Mormonism is true because it makes you happy?” He responded with an enthusiastic, “YES!” The conversation shifted to another topic, but I would have loved to ask him a few more questions. What would he say if I mentioned that not being Mormon made me happy? Would that mean Mormonism is false?
If you offend someone you are wrong.
This idea that happiness is a reliable truth-detector isn’t only found in Mormonism; it is also popular in our culture. Quick emotional decisions seem to suggest that truth is relative to the individual’s happiness rather than facts. If a belief makes a person happy, then who am I to say that their belief is wrong? Bringing up a contrary point might offend them. This might seem crazy to some of you, but this type of thinking has even crept into the church.
Summit Ministries and Barna teamed up on a recent study. Their study was designed to gauge how practicing Christians have been affected by other worldviews. They found that 29% of Christians under the age of 45 thought that if your beliefs offended someone or hurt their feelings, then you are wrong. This is a huge spike compared to only 8% of Christians over 45 years old believing this. These facts should open our eyes at how culture has affected our students. Many hold to a view of truth that is based on feelings and happiness. If this is true, then we are in big trouble.
However, we know that God has revealed himself to us in Scripture. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). This doesn’t mean that Jesus is my truth or your truth. He isn’t only the truth if it makes me happy. Jesus is the truth! God is the foundation for objective truth, and it is in him that we can stand firm.
If the Mormon missionary standing at the door that night was right, then all we have is relative truth based on feelings. If this is true, then he must also affirm that Mormonism is false since that is what I believe, and I’m happy. It is logically impossible for Mormonism to both be true and false at the same time. Therefore, we know that one of us is wrong and truth can’t be based on feelings. If we can’t base truth on feelings, then how do we discover the truth? We will look at that in my future post.