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Religious truth

I've recently made a trip to Armenia and visited Etchmiadzin Cathedral. One of the relics in the cathedrals museum is a piece of Noahs Ark. The thing interested me strangely. It was enshrined in gold and has been revered for centuries. What struck me about it is that - if I'm not hugely mistaken - nobody seriously believes that this thing is an actual piece of the actual Ark. Not even the monks and priests who live there. Not even if they happen to believe in the literal truth of the story itself. Everybody must know it is a fake, but it doesn't seem to matter. It has been a fake for centuries, that's almost as good as being the real deal.

In Trier in germany the Catholics keep the coat that Jesus was wearing before his crucifixion. Again I cannot see how anyone can seriously believe this garment to be the real deal. Yet when it was last put on display in 1996 many thousands came to see it and pray in its presence, my own brother included. He didn't believe it to be the real thing. But it didn't matter.

This got me thinking on the nature of religious truth. Why is it that in the case of religious stories the question of the actual truth plays such a minor role? The religious themselves usually employ nebulous phrases like "there is more than one kind of truth" etc. To phrase this more clearly, I think in religious matters the only truth that actually counts for most people is the "spiritual truth" of the story, which I take to mean that the story somehow appeals to them emotionally, either in a pleasant form (Jesus died at the cross, he knows what suffering is like, god understands your pain) or in an unpleasant one (Jesus died for your sins, you owe him for that. If you set one foot wrong, you disappoint him. Look what he's done for you!)

In discussing with theists I've often come accross this strange obstacle, that they first agreed with everything I said, and then went on to insist they still believe. Arguments and facts are irrelevant. Do any of you have further thoughts on the matter, or other examples of people worshipping what they know to be a fake?



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