Abortion. Same sex marriage. The Death Penalty. These are some of the issues in which people’s religious convictions are often cited as part of the foundation underlying their beliefs. Opinions are not necessarily solely based upon religious beliefs, but those beliefs are at least one contributing factor.
I have argued before that there is a growing sentiment in America that religious opinions are irrelevant and should not be raised in the public arena. I don’t claim that it is a universal phenomenon; just that it is an increasing trend. Sometimes critics have responded to me by claiming it is really just a matter of whose ox is being gored; i.e., the reason I perceive this to be true is because I am a Christian. If I were of a non-religious stripe I would probably feel that religious views are being given too much credence.
There is undoubtedly a seed of truth in this. To some extent we all tend to view the world through our own set of tinted glasses. I do not accept the school of thought that holds this makes any objectivity impossible, but it would be naïve to ignore the role that our own presuppositions play. But to claim that this adequately responds to my point is to commit the genetic fallacy, believing that explaining how a belief is formed somehow addresses the underlying truth of that belief. It is certainly possible to arrive at the right conclusion for all the wrong reasons. Even if I came to believe in this growing trend because I was overly influenced by my own worldview, it still begs the question of whether there is any evidence for this trend independent of my personal views.
A thorough defense of my position would take far more space than a blog allows. Besides, I am not claiming that religious views are universally rejected, so preparing a detailed defense would result in an impossible task of line drawing (i.e., how many instances are sufficient to amount to a “growing trend,” etc.). Ultimately, I admit that this is largely a matter of perception and could probably never be proven conclusively. However, I think that there is enough evidence to make it a reasonable perception to hold.
The example that came to mind this morning involved those issues mentioned above. When a religious group or individual argues against abortion, for example, at some point in the conversation someone inevitably says that religious people have “no right to impose their beliefs on the rest of society” (where this “right” could possibly come from in a purely Naturalistic universe is a question for another day). The mere fact that part of the foundation for an individual’s position comes from an alleged divine source leads to the presumption that this person is seeking to “impose” religious beliefs. In and of itself that is taken as one reason to reject their opinion.
Now change the example to another issue, income tax rates. Democrats generally favor higher tax rates for wealthier Americans than Republicans. When a Republican argues in favor of lower tax rates, do Democrats reply by saying they are seeking to “impose” their political beliefs upon everyone (or vice versa when Democrats argue for lower rates)? The opposing party may reply with their own economic theory or even meaningless rhetoric designed to provoke an emotional response (all too common in the political arena). But the concept of “imposition” never enters the discussion.
Why is it that claims grounded in religious themes are considered an “imposition” whereas those in political or other arenas are not? Granted, there may be extremely hostile vitriol launched from one side to the other in political debates, but it is rarely if ever claimed that the mere advancing of a contrary opinion is an immoral attempt to impose unwanted beliefs upon others. That response appears to be reserved for religious claims.
I suspect I have the answer to this question. It is admittedly only a theory based upon personal observation. Feel free to accept or reject it as you see fit. But I believe it fits the facts. American society is increasingly operating under the assumption that all religious beliefs are false. Who would not react angrily if someone was actively trying to inculcate you with a belief system we all know to be false? Economic issues are still considered fair game for debate. Intelligent people may disagree on the best course of action to jump start the economy. We still tend to “take sides” and defend our team as passionately as we would our local NFL squad in the Super Bowl. But deep down we still believe that the general population believes the answer to economic questions is not obvious. Religion is being phased out of the marketplace of ideas precisely because there is a growing perception that religious beliefs are based in feelings, not truth. People belong to their religious denomination because it makes them feel good, not because they really believe its claims to be true. Religion, therefore, is ultimately a matter of personal preference, not truth. Therefore, allowing this type of opinion into the discussion is an attempt to impose your personal preferences upon me.
This is the mission of apologetics. It is the calling of all Christians under 1 Peter 3:15 to show the world that there are solid reasons underlying our faith (“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”). Our problem is not just that society believes Christianity to be without reasons. It is deeper than that. They think that even Christians do not believe we have good reasons for our belief.
What is your church doing to prepare the body of Christ to give a reason, explaining that Christianity is not merely some existential belief system that we accept because of how it makes us feel but rather objective and historical truth? Christianity is justified because it is true. In fact, Christ Himself is “the truth” (John 14:6). If I am right about this growing trend, it demonstrates a way in which our churches are failing. We rightly preach the “what” of Christianity, but how often do we take the time to teach the “why?”