Do you ever get the sense that talking religion is something that’s not done in polite company? It is easy to talk about religion at a distance, perhaps as a sociologist would, but talking about religious convictions–especially one’s own–is kinda a faux paux. We don’t take religion seriously around here, so it is uncouth to bring it to the public square as if it was a serious matter. Keep it where all hobbies belong–in your own closet.
At least that’s the feeling I get. It often turns out differently when I actually do have conversations about religion–most people I’ve talked with are quite willing and don’t find it offensive–its just a subjective sense I get and, judging by how other people, especially Christians, talk, I sense I’m not alone in feeling this…sense.
Sorry for all the vague speak so far. All I’m suggesting is that many people feel somewhat uneasy when it comes to discussing religious claims on one’s life. Why?
Well, there’s that whole “claims on one’s life” bit. People don’t want to have their autonomy breached, and they recognize that the claims of many a religion do just that.
That’s true enough, and deserves to be confronted, but the reason I want to challenge today is that most believe there’s really nothing to say about religious convictions besides, “well, good for you.” That is, we’ve gotten the notion in this culture that once someone has finished talking about their convictions, they can’t be evaluated. All we have to do is nod, mumble something about it not being “my cup of tea,” and move on. That’s all that can be said about a subjective choice from the smorgasboard, and that’s how we see religion–as an endless buffet of equally good, subjective, choices.
I want to challenge that.
Consider this: religions make claims that can be verified or falsified.
Are all religious convictions like that? No. Do all adherents of religion think of their beliefs like that? Again, no. Talk to many who sit in the pews on Sunday, and they’ll describe Christianity as the smorgasboard above, or at least they’ll describe it as something that cannot be evaluated by logic and reason. More of a feeling than anything else.
Notice how many times people categorically assert, without hesitation, without thinking about it, that it is all about “faith,” and you can’t “prove” it? Ask them what they mean by “faith” and “proof,” and they really struggle to put something sensible together….well, there you go.
However, the core claims of many religions can be evaluated by logic and reason, and science also has something to say about them. This is why they should be taken seriously.
Take, for instance, the lynchpin of Christianity: the resurrection. The Bible claims that at a time in our actual history in this world, a real man named Jesus a) claimed to be God, b) predicted His death, c) predicted that He would defeat death by rising from the grave three days after his execution, and d) He actually, truly pulled it off.
That is, the Bible claims that the empty tomb is a figment of history, not imagination.
This puts it in the realm of verifiability. Not in the same sense as a claim from a biologist can be verified, granted, but verified nonetheless in that evidence and reason has something to say in evaluation. It is possible to offer reasons for its truth, and vice versa. This means that it, along with any other claims logically connected to it, are real players in the game that deserve to be taken seriously in the public square.
Other claims from other religions and worldviews are no different. Mormonism and most forms of Hinduism, for example, are committed to an eternally existing universe (in the sense that matter is eternal for Mormons), and thus you betcha–science has plenty to say about that.
Islam is committed to the notion that Jesus of Nazareth did not die on the cross, and history has plenty to say to that.
I could go on. The point: much can be offered in terms of evaluating religions for truth and falsehood, since they make claims about reality. Arguments from philosophy can be offered pro and con, complete with premises defended from various other fields of knowledge–like science and history–that deductively lead to rational conclusions. We don’t have to stop at “well, I’m glad you are happy (pat on the head).” In fact, we shouldn’t even go there. Treating religion like that is a radical category mistake. Since religions make claims on reality, they should be treated like anything else in the public square.
They are not second-class belief systems. They get a spot at the table.