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Right Living or Right Thinking?

This post originally published July '09. It has been updated with new content and links to several related posts. 

I have come across several people who have told me that right practice  is more important than right beliefs. We're all familiar with the phrase "You can talk the 'talk', but can you walk the 'walk'?" These same people interpret this to mean that acting properly is more important than believing properly. I disagree.

Right Living presupposes Right Thinking. How one lives is dependent on how one perceives the world. Perception always precedes action. In order for someone to determine that an action is required (or not), a perception must be made. If a person makes the wrong perception, the wrong action may very well follow. Of course, if the right perception is made, the right action may very well follow also. This is not a definite equation because one still has to make a decision based on, not just one perception but, numerous perceptions; and it may not always be clear which of those perceptions should take precedence over the other(s). To make that determination (action), other perceptions must be invoked.

Our actions are the result of a long chain of perceptions. If one perception is incorrect, it may throw off the system beyond that point. Luckily, some perceptions can force us to correct (another action) other perceptions, and that will help put us back on the right path to the right actions.

Here is where "Understanding" (Education) versus "Memorization" (Information) becomes part of the idea. You can read my post "Information vs. Education" to get the details, but here's a quick summary: A focus on Information leads to being able to make right decisions in a set number of situations, while a focus on Education does not have the limitation of a "set number".

I'm not saying that Right Living is not important, because it is (read my post "Is Consistency Important?" and follow the links to other posts). Right Living is the logical outworking of Right Thinking. Right Thinking (when all perceptions are taken into account) cannot lead to wrong living (emotions or "the heart" can mess with this, though- see the Psychology Class Series).

At the same time, Right Living cannot guarantee Right Thinking. Many beliefs may appear to be compatible with certain right actions, so one is able to choose which belief he/she likes that leads to that certain action. Unfortunately, understanding of reality is reflected directly by beliefs. Since actions require at least one belief, actions indirectly reflect the understanding, and may be right or wrong, depending on which of the "compatible" beliefs the person holds. If we conform our beliefs to one that accurately reflects reality, we won't have to choose from the many beliefs that are "compatible" with our actions. Instead, the right actions will follow from the right beliefs.

To find out how to determine which beliefs accurately reflect reality see the follow posts:
Consistency Among Disciplines
Is Consistency Important?
The Power of a Cumulative Case
Psychology Class Series
(For nuancing the Christian understanding of reality) Nature vs. Scripture

Here's an episode from William Lane Craig's (of Reasonable Faith) Defenders Podcast "Introduction to Christian Doctrine"

This also ties back to my post "Judgment Day- Part 1".