Story time. This one has a point:
In Ethics class we had to go up in groups and give presentations. Long story short, I ended up talking about religion. Being religious, I disagreed with my group and the majority of the class. We started talking about what makes a religion valuable and worth following (the conclusion was that it had to match liberal talking points).
See if you notice the fundamental error here. I couldn’t resist; I had to point it out. I stepped forward and said, “Now here’s a question: All of that stuff about what makes a religion worth following is great, but isn’t the real, key question to ask ‘Is this religion true?’. If the answer is yes, then the rest of that stuff is irrelevant in regards to whether or not we should be following the religion.”
A student responded by saying, “But what does it mean for it to be true?” The class nodded sagely as if she’d made some brilliant point.
I’ll stop here, because we’ve reached the point of this post. This girl asked a variation of the Pontius Pilate question (“What is truth?”), and it’s just as much of a copout here as it was when Pilate asked it in 32 or so A.D. The simple answer is this: What criteria do you use to determine that other things are true or false? Now apply this criteria to religion. Voila, you’ve developed a system to judge whether or not a religion is true or false.
Now, if a philosopher who honestly believed that we genuinely couldn’t know the truth value of things said this, that’s one thing. These students did not hold to that belief. They judged the truth value of things all the time. The reason they played dumb with this is because it’s religion, and they don’t want to give up the idea that unlike those dumb sheeple religious folk THEY don’t just believe any faith system shoved underneath their noses. To stay superior, they needed to reflexively go into denial, and I honestly don’t even think it was a conscious thing. It was their brain’s anti-religion defense mechanism.
There’s something deeper going on here too – on a certain level, they’re afraid. Say they come to the conclusion that, hey, Catholicism really is the true religion! The implications are enormous. All of a sudden, they need to believe in sex roles. Women are going to be forced to come to terms with the idea that they have to be submissive to men and can’t – literally can’t – become clergy. Men and women need to believe that masturbation is a sin, divorce is not allowed under any circumstance, pre-marital sex is off the table, missing Sunday and Holy day Mass is a mortal sin, abortion is murder, and gay marriage is an impossibility. Oh, let’s not forget that oral sex and anal sex are also sinful.
This is a shock to your worldview that involves a radical rearranging of one’s ideals and actions, and while eventually it should involve a spiritual fulfillment and inner peace, this was never promised. In fact, suffering was promised. You are living the correct life (in my view) if you’re a Catholic, but not the easy one. So, it’s natural that these students will make ridiculous comments and hold religion to impossible standards. It means they can either conform the religion to fit their own liberal ideals, or they can go on being enlightened atheists while fooling themselves that they’re being reasonable. They literally don’t see how insane their comment about judging the truth value of religion actually is. It’s almost nonsensical.
It reminds me of C.S. Lewis’s famous and brilliant essay “Man or Rabbit” – not looking at the draft board because you don’t want to be called doesn’t excuse you from the draft. All it does is make you a coward. And in the end, that’s what this roots down to – fear. Because if they start seriously considering the idea that a certain religion might really be true, they might get convinced, and we wouldn’t want THAT to happen, would we?