Religion, sex and truth claims

Truth claims are everywhere.

Sometimes the connections are complicated: our systems of justice are predicated on the assumption of free will, because without the choice to act or not in a particular situation, there can be no question of responsibility for actions. This in turn makes the truth claim that rigid materialism is false (because otherwise our actions are merely the results of random unguided processes – indeed, we are just collections of random unguided processes).

The ones I’m interested in today are a little more straightforward, but still quite subtle. For example:

“Religion should evolve with society.”

Buried in this statement is the claim that religious beliefs do not contain ultimate truth, and that religions are really just support clubs. If the core teaching of a religion should evolve, then it contains no absolute truth, for such truth would transcend social fashions.

“The Bible was written by primitive people in an ancient culture thousands of years ago, so it can’t be relevant to us now.”

Again, if there is objective truth, if there is an objective morality, if human life is objectively valuable, then these things are impervious to the passage of time. And if such teaching is contained in the Bible then it remains just as relevant today as when it was originally penned.

But the statement that I really want to look at today is this one:

“Everyone is entitled to their own religious views, but they must keep them at home and out of the public space.”

While it looks all sweet and tolerant and accepting on the surface, this statement actually claims that religion is irrelevant and contains nothing of real truth or value. Because if we believe that something is important, then we need to talk about it and explore it, not conceal it. Francis Crick once said, “Christianity may be OK between consenting adults in private but should not be taught to young children.” I doubt that he would have advocated similarly for protecting children from learning about biology. In making that statement, he was actually claiming that religion is neither true nor valuable.

Which brings us to sex, of course.

On the surface, sex may seem like a rebuttal to my argument, since we certainly try to shield children from too much contact with it. But sex is still something that is very important to us, and we actually don’t keep it out of public: we talk about it all the time, we wear wedding rings, we are outraged by incidents involving sexual abuse. We acknowledge that it is very important, so we talk about it and keep it in public view. This isn’t just a new permissive 21st century phenomenon, either – we have always kept sex in public. The really important part of sex is the joining of two individuals, not the physical details. Marriage is an important part of sex. So are the children which result from it. Even the most prudish Victorians actually kept the reality of sex and discussion of sexually-related topics firmly in the public domain.

Earlier this year the Global Atheist Convention came to Melbourne. Amidst all the silliness and ravings, all the outlandish and ridiculous grandstanding, the convention did perform a valuable function: it brought the conversation about God into the public domain.

We need to keep it there. It’s important, it’s not going away, and it deserves our attention.

And let’s also stop pretending that “Keep your religion at home” is either innocuous or tolerant.



Related posts:

Living a good and/or Christian life

Believing and understanding

Chesterton on Miracles


16 thoughts on “Religion, sex and truth claims

  1. >This in turn makes the truth claim that rigid materialism is false (because otherwise our actions are merely the results of random unguided processes – indeed, we are just collections of random unguided processes).

    Not exactly. Only retributive penal systems depend on Libertarian free will being true. There is a long-standing debate about them. More liberal thinkers tend to base criminal consequences more on a quarantine and rehabilitative model.

    • I think you might struggle to find an actual example of a justice system which doesn’t include an element of punishment.

      But then, regardless of how the system is designed, we believe that we are able to make conscious decisions about how it should work and which system we should implement, which again denies rigid materialism.

      • Indeed.

        To quote CS Lewis (The Problem of Pain): “Some enlightened people would like to banish all conceptions of retribution or desert from their theory of punishment and place its value wholly in the deterrence of others or the reform of the criminal himself. They do not see that by so doing they render all punishment unjust. What can be more immoral than to inflict suffering on me for the sake of deterring others if I do not deserve it? And if I do deserve it, you are admitting the claims of ‘retribution’. And what can be more outrageous than to catch me and submit me to a disagreeable process of moral improvement without my consent, unless (once more) I deserve it? On yet a third level we get vindictive passion — the thirst for revenge…. The good thing of which vindictive passion is the perversion comes out with startling clarity in Hobbes’s definition of Revengefulness, ‘desire by doing hurt to another to make him condemn some fact of his own.’ Revenge loses sight of the end in the means, but its end is not wholly bad — it wants the evil of the bad man to be to him what it is to everyone else.”

  2. ““Everyone is entitled to their own religious views, but they must keep them at home and out of the public space.””

    Where is that quote from?

    And how is ‘public’ being used? If it is meant as ‘paid for by the government’, then I agree with it. If it just means out and about, then I disagree.

  3. I’m not writing to persuade you. You’re an apologist. You’re unpersuadable by definition.

    [Edit – removed unsubstantiated off-topic diversion]

    • Don, we’ve been through this before. You still don’t seem to understand what “apologist” means. Here’s the link to the last time I defined it for you, in case you missed that one.

      If you’re not interested in discussing these issues, then why are you responding to the comments?

      • Allow me to answer that for you:

        Because he’s too stubborn to quit.

  4. What a great post! We do need to keep Christ in the public domain. And the public square. And as far as this specious argument that tax dollars should have nothing to do with religion, how come I hear this all the time from folks who have no problem taking my money to pay for all sorts of heinous and evil activities, such as, paying Planned Parenthood millions of dollars to commit abortions all over this country and even forced abortions in other countries? Not saying the present commenter is one of those people, just saying that that’s usually the case in conversations I have.

    My religion belongs everywhere I belong. If it doesn’t, it’s an impotent religion that has no life, no effect, no purpose, and there would be no reason to even bother. And that is the real goal of keeping it out of sight: to keep it also out of mind.

    • Thanks for the comments, Disciple.

      Wrt the tax dollars question, I think it’s worth remembering that the “government” doesn’t pay for anything – the people do. The government is just a conduit for the will and the resources of the people. As such, if the religious beliefs of the people influence the will of the people, there will inevitably be some overlap between religiously-derived convictions and government policy. If there isn’t, the government is not representing the people and is failing to fulfill its purpose.

      • True, though you’d have a hard time convincing most of the people in the government that it’s just a conduit for our will. And since the religious will of the people has been silent for so long, we need to send a real loud wake-up call to our “representatives” real soon. And I am, in fact, seeing a waking up of folks all around me. Thank God! 🙂

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  7. It would appear that any rational system of justice must be punitive. For if we have free will, then the criminal freely chose to violate the rights of society and has personal responsibility for his crimes; since there is no way to enforce considerate behaviour, punishment must be used to capture self-interest. By contrast if we do not have free will, then we have no choice in our actions and this discussion is meaningless.

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