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.