Wednesday, 21 March 2012

A Poem


Each day's prayers press to God's ears
A request for the faith to make the same leap tomorrow
To reach out of unbelief
To brush transcendence
And know once more that every beat of heart and fist to skull
Tells tales of life's embedded intention

“Transcendentrimentality!
A sentimentality no man's austerity should ever entertain!”
Your voices are strong;
A child would always wish a Father to the throne
But a shout shot through with back-turned balking
At the flower you only ever half-bloomed
And even less understood.
What phantom hymns still prick a refugee
When excarnation casts heaven with the shade of the earthly?

Perhaps it is a child
Who finds cracks in the very soil
(The Teacher always said so)
The immature, then, know aesthetic awe
The cowardly, our “there must be something more”s
And I can't live without that air for no lung
That bread for no nourishment or dance on tongue
That breaking light for no temporal day
That myth that swallows truth whole
And breathes a person shaped frame

So maybe into illusion I am swept away
But the further I write
The more the doubts seem emptied, hollowed
And no power remains

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Believe All The Bible Or None Of It? (6)

We're at the end of the series that begun here. I've been arguing that there is no theologically compelling reason for thinking that you have to believe all of the Bible or none of it. Still, it being theologically open for Christians to disbelieve non-crucial parts of the Bible doesn't make it so that every Christian will necessarily have rationally or spiritually sound motivations for taking that opening. Indeed I think there are positively terrible reasons for rejecting inerrancy that can be spiritually disastrous for a Christian (which we'll get into further down). So why did I even open this can of worms?

I'm willing to bet that there are a few Christian readers who have been a little concerned about the fact that I've put so much effort into arguing that the Bible might (and only might, I remind you) contain errors of some sort. It perhaps sounds like I'm out simply to justify an entrance into the road of theological liberalism, wherein God's message isn't taken seriously and as much of the Christian worldview is surrendered to contemporary secular wisdom as possible. Well I very much hope that's not what I'm doing. Here's the good that I can see in approaching this topic:

First of all, I think that what I'm saying is true. I think that the Christian should take it as as theologically plausible that there are non-crucial errors in the Bible. And if that's true then there's no point in running away from it. The facts remain no matter how spiritually indignant we may feel about them.

But also, if it's true that God could have allowed errors into the Bible then it's potentially destructive for us to deny that. What if Benny, through serious and honest study, comes to believe that the Bible has erred, such that he just cannot bring himself to believe inerrancy? If you tell Benny that he cannot properly believe Christianity without holding inerrancy, then you'll basically be telling him that he needs to abandon his faith, even if God did allow an error in! How dangerous for us to rule that out the possibility of error if that's a possible way God may have done things; we could potentially wreck a fellow Christian's faith.

Even if it doesn't destroy someone's faith, the idea that you have to believe all of the Bible or none of it puts unnecessary stress on the believer who is intellectually engaging in their faith. I have often been told that when it comes to apologetics (the defence of the faith), you need to concentrate on the essential matters like the resurrection of Jesus and the existence of God. And I agree. But if you have to believe all of the Bible or none of it, then EVERY point in the Bible is EQUALLY crucial for the faith. It doesn't make sense to pick apologetic priorities if Christianity would be as equally falsified from a mistake with Ahaziah's reign as it would be if the resurrection were bogus. On this view, the truth of Christianity is up for grabs on every single debate, such that if you were to concede even a small bit of ground, Christianity would be done for. I myself have felt the burden of believing that a single error, in any part of the Bible, would bring Christianity down. So if you think it makes sense that there can indeed be apologetic priorities (and it seems to me that the Bible supports such a view), then you should also concede the point that errors in the Bible wouldn't end Christianity.

And there is a flip side to this too. Promoting the view that you have to believe all of the Bible or none of it makes it easy for lazy sceptics to give Christians grief for their faith, or for them to feel like they've done a good enough job debunking it. If every point in the Bible is equally crucial then the sceptic can bring up something petty like Ahaziah's reign and claim to have put the smack-down on Christianity, without ever having done any serious thinking on the resurrection, or arguments for God's existence etc.. Christians who likewise believe the equal importance of every Biblical teaching are easy prey for this more disingenuous breed of sceptic, who can control the flow of debate by bringing up any smattering of trivial points; all the while, the matters at the heart of the Christian faith aren't being discussed. This is all the more tragic if a real peek into the central stuff would have brought about an increased openness in the debater.

In fact we potentially place barriers in the way of those seeking God if we say that the Bible's truth in all matters must be accepted if Christianity is true, or if it is to be sensibly believed. If, through honest and serious study, the seeker has found non-trivial error in the Bible, but is still open to its central claims, then we could discourage them by claiming that Christianity doesn't allow for even minor errors.

Not only are there good reasons for taking the view I've defending, it also isn't one that's found only amongst theologically liberal Christians (if that's important). Through this series I have myself pointed to three competent apologists of conservative Christianity - all inerrantists - who don't believe in the strict necessity of inerrancy: J.P. Holding, William Lane Craig, and Glenn Miller. Craig is one of the top names in Christian apologetics, and JP and Miller are some of the cream of the crop when it comes to wholly internet-based apologetics. This is not a fringe position that I'm advocating.

So by my lights it is wholly appropriate to raise this topic and show that inerrancy isn't the crux of Christianity. I really hope that it's been helpful to people, though I appreciate that it may have raised previously unconsidered questions (but then what's wrong with that?)

Of course as mentioned above, I don't deny that Christians could have poor motivations for rejecting inerrancy, such as a dislike of tough Biblical teachings, or a desire to accommodate the trends of secular culture, or through laziness and a failure to treat objections to the Bible with the required depth and appreciation of the complexities involved (such as considerations over the translation of the original languages, textual variants, and the social/literary/theological contexts at work etc.). To drop inerrancy for any of these reasons would be for the Christian to adopt an attitude of disregard for God, placing oneself carelessly in a position of judge over him. To continue in this attitude would wreak havoc on one's spiritual life.

Certainly these are spiritual pitfalls one could fall into. But, if God has allowed error into the Bible, why should we rule out the possibility of a Christian coming to that conclusion out of honest, serious, and prayerful study? Benny would be wrong to just drop inerrancy at Jimbo's word on the matter, but if, after an appropriate time of careful reflection the problem seems intractable, should he not be able to drop inerrancy and have the support of his Christian friends? It seems to me that he should. Moreover, treating him as having gone spiritually astray might serve to push Benny away from the faith (“why do they insist on misdiagnosing my intellectual honesty as a moral defect?”)

We can say, then, that the expression “you have to believe all of the Bible or none of it” is useful in as much as it's taken non-literally as a sort of proverb about the wisdom of taking Scripture seriously. But when approached more straightforwardly, there is not much to commend it. In fact it is itself attended by spiritual dangers. It can put unnecessary intellectual stress on Christians and burdens on seekers. Although Christians should treat the Bible seriously, it should be recognised that the person of Christ is the true centre of Christian commitment from which all other doctrines submit.

That's the end of this series. And by the way, here's an answer to the Ahaziah problem.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Believe All The Bible Or None Of It? (5)

We're continuing the series that started here. We've thus far seen that if there are non-crucial errors in the Bible, the essential contents of Christianity can still be true and knowable. But here we might start to wonder how we can reliably tell the difference between the contents of the Bible that make up the core claims of Christianity, and the contents that don't. Perhaps we have no choice but to just take the Bible in its entirety as what God's given us to believe, and not arrogantly presume to judge which parts are more important than which. If the Bible doesn't give us clues itself as to what's really key, then surely we can't arbitrarily rank its contents in order of priority? But in that case, surely, we can't afford to concede any error at all in the Bible?

It's actually very hard to scrounge together a cogent objection from these worries. For one, the Bible does explicitly indicate things that are more important than other things. Paul is able to speak of what is of first importance to the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 15:3-11), included in which is the resurrection of Jesus, without which, Paul later argues, Christianity collapses. Would Paul say the same about the age Ahaziah came to reign? Seems unlikely. Jesus is also quite prepared to declare which moral commandment of God's is most important (Matt. 22:34-40). And really, any time the gospel is summarised, the author is making a claim about what the essential contents of the gospel message are. Indeed, Christians have been sorting out what's centrally important since Christianity begun. Through the centuries they've written creeds expressing what the heart of the Christian faith is, or to put it another way, what minimally counts as Christianity, and there's broad agreement as to what constitutes this 'mere Christianity' (to borrow a phrase from C.S. Lewis).

The fact that we are able to do this is really not surprising, after all, working out the central themes, characters, and events in a book is just what we naturally do as a result of reading it and making sense of it. Consider the Harry Potter books. Imagine you had to re-tell the story of all seven books in a short amount of time. You'd have to keep it brief, but you'd also have to keep it from becoming so vague and abstract that its could be nearly any story. For instance, you couldn't just summarise it as “good versus evil” because that's true of many stories, not just Harry Potter. So it would have to keep its distinctive features. Now you'd keep characters like Voldemort and Harry (obviously), but there's a few you could afford to loose. How about Peeves the poltergeist? He doesn't really have all that central a role. As for events, how about ditching the moment when Harry and co. meet Neville's parents in the hospital? As emotionally stirring as that scene is, you could tell Harry's tale without it. Indeed, if you've only seen the films but not read the books (shame on you!) then you might be wondering what on earth I'm talking about. Who's Peeves? And what hospital scene?

You're wondering that because somebody's already reduced the story to a more essential re-telling: those responsible for translating the book into film. Peeves was dropped and so was the hospital scene (and those are just two examples). What's very interesting to note as well is that JK Rowling herself was involved in the production of the films and was able to agree that some bits were not essential to a proper re-telling of her story! That is, you still get Harry Potter even if you remove Peeves, and the hospital scene, and more else besides. Do you still get Christianity if you drop Ahaziah? Any sensible reading of the Christian narrative would have to affirm that you can.

So you can reasonably approach the Bible and discern what is essentially being taught and what isn't. Doing so may not be an exact science, but it isn't arbitrary guess-work either. But at any rate, who's to say that a person who's adopted the “moderate” view of the Bible (as we called it last time) needs to, from the out-set, go through the Bible and mark with a red pen anything non-essential?

If Benny holds the moderate view, he stills thinks that everything affirmed in the Bible is potentially something that God has proposed for our belief. As such, he should not carelessly cross out anything non-essential, as if knowing right away that those things are false, or not something God cares about us knowing. We should recognise that the division isn't between essential and trivial. There can be non-essential things that are nonetheless valuable. For instance, the hospital scene in The Order of the Phoenix is not essential to the Potter narrative but the author did see it as valuable, providing a touching insight into the background of one the main characters. It would be wiser and more reverent to God for Benny to start always with the benefit of the doubt, granting the assumption that the contents of the Bible are true. Of course it might be that for certain non-essential Biblical affirmations, this assumption is over-turned, but that's fine, in which case Benny would come to know that X isn't part of the message God wants to give us through the Bible, but that says nothing about the rest of its contents. 
 
It seems, then, that what the moderate view must concede is that there is no way to tell a priori (a fancy word meaning “from the out-set/from the get-go/prior to investigation”) which non-essential Biblical teachings are not a part of God's message to us. That is, we can't learn that just from reading the Bible; the Bible doesn't tell us things like “don't believe that part in Jeremiah, or that little bit in Numbers!” Is this a problem? Well I'd claim that if it is, it isn't a problem unique to the moderate view.

Let's bring to mind again the “strong” view; the view of the Bible as the word-of-God, entailing a full-blown across-the-board inerrancy. According to this view, everything the Bible affirms as true is true. Great. But there is a question you must settle before you get to that stage and that is, “what properly belongs inside the Bible?” In other words, which books should properly be taken as Holy Scripture? The Bible itself doesn't answer this. Glenn Miller (himself an inerrantist) puts it this way in the innocuous looking letter on his site that first got me thinking about these issues differently;

Some items, such as the extent of the canon, can never be settled by an appeal to scripture (at least as we have it). Although the undergirding teaching that supports and predicts a 'canon-occurrence' is VERY strong in my opinion, such teaching does not specify the contents of that 'beforehand'. Since the last book of the bible does NOT contain a definitive list of what books are in the canon, we are forced to deal with the issue historically--NOT biblically. [The same argument applies to many of the 'recursive' biblical statements. That is, the bible 'itself' cannot tell us which textual variants are the originals--no text can do that.]” (brackets in original.)1

So you see there is no passage in the Bible which says “the books to be included in the collection of Holy Scripture are “Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans...” Any investigation of which books belong thus necessarily take you outside of the Bible. Thus neither the strong view nor the moderate view are wholly “Biblically self-contained.” If the critic wants to claim there is a problem for the moderate view, he/she needs to explain why that same problem doesn't apply to the strong view.

Well we've done a lot of work in the last few posts and writing it has certainly helped clarify my own thoughts. I hope that the discussion hasn't been too hard to follow and remember that I'll happily dialogue about these matters further in the comments section.

Here's a quick summary of where we've been:

We saw that Georgie and Jimbo were both in agreement that “you have to believe all of the Bible or none of it”, despite their vast ideological differences. We saw, then, that what you believe about the truth of its inerrancy is separate from what you believe about it's importance. We then began to examine whether inerrancy does actually have the importance Georgie and Jimbo grant it. We saw that inerrancy isn't necessary for salvation first of all. Then we saw that isn't necessary because of either the direct or indirect logical relations between different Biblical teachings. We then assessed whether it was necessary for reliable knowledge of Christian essentials, and found that hypothesis wanting too. Last of all we examined here the possibility of distinguishing the essential from the inessential and saw no problem in doing so. As a result we can safely conclude that Benny does not have to believe all of the Bible or none of it.

But Benny's being able to reject inerrancy doesn't mean that any reason for doing so would be a good or virtuous one. With the bulk of the philosophical work behind us, we can look next time in the final article at why we've even addressed this topic and what not to take from it. 

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Sunday, 11 March 2012

Do Christians Have A Right To Wear A Cross At Work?


As you can read here, the government have said that Christians have no right to wear a cross necklace in the workplace. What are we to think of this? Does this stance marginalise Christians? Or does it instead ensure that Christians aren't needlessly privileged? And linking this in to our recent look at whether religion should be separated from public life, how are we to view the matter in regards to the values of a “healthy secularism”?

I must confess that my own initial response to the news was anger and a sense of injustice. I thought the government were quite clearly in the wrong. However having chewed on it a little more I recognise that the matter is actually quite a bit more complicated than that. Of course I wasn't alone in reacting with outrage; many Christians feel at threat of being increasingly marginalised, and it's easy to read this piece of news as further confirmation of that taking place.1 But as we saw when we explored the nature of a healthy secularism, it is wrong to automatically agree with any stance that could restrict religious expression and it is equally wrong to automatically disagree. We need to stop and have a good think about what the position under question could do to maintain or disrupt the balance between freedom and impartiality. 

Let's first of all recognise what isn't the government's position. Their position is not that Christians should be legally banned from wearing a cross at work. We need to be careful to be clear on that because it is easy to misread the claim. Sometimes when we say that somebody doesn't have the right to do something we mean that what they are doing ought to be utterly forbidden. “You do not have the right to take an innocent life!” we might say, and by that we mean that taking an innocent life is always out of the question. But imagine I'm at the dinner table with my kids (in some alternate universe) and they are refusing to eat my delicious shepherd's pie but are still demanding their strawberry ice-cream for pudding. As a responsible parent who wants them to eat a nutritious meal and teach them that they can't always get what they want, I refuse their demands. They then really kick up a fuss about it, screaming and wailing. But I say to them, “sorry, you do not have a right to eat strawberry ice-cream.” In this instance, I am not saying that eating strawberry ice-cream is something really beyond the pale that no-one decent human being should ever do. Rather I'm saying that eating strawberry ice-cream is a privilege and that nothing essential to one's dignity as a human being depends on having it. It is something that you can be denied access to without suffering any great violation of your worth, value, or freedom.2

It is in this second sense that the government are making the claim that Christians have no right to wear a cross in the work-place. The claim is that wearing a cross necklace is a privilege, not something fundamentally owed to you. I think that this is roughly correct and on track. It is hard to compare this matter with, say, the importance of a person's right for food and shelter and we ought to be wary of the tendency to selfishly cheapen the notion of what counts under one's rights. However, things are still not that clear cut.

We all seem to accept that it is one's right to be able to believe whatever one wants and live one's life in accordance with those beliefs. If those beliefs happen to be religious, then one has the right to at least some degree of religious expression. The problem is in determining exactly how much of one's religious expression is owed one by their rights, and how much could be legitimately restricted if good reason called for it.

Consider that if I was so inclined I could “express my faith” in a multitude of ways that I currently don't. I could print and wear shirts that say “Jesus luvs me”, I could paint crosses on lamp-posts, I could swap the bog roll in my house for one with Bible verses printed on it, and so on. Now these would all be expressions of my faith but they're surely not expressions that I'm entitled to. If I turned up to work in my “Jesus luvs me” t-shirt and got sent home for not being in office dress, I wouldn't really have any basis to make a complaint. Forbidding me to wear that doesn't seem to violate my rights. But there are ways that I express my faith which if denied me would be an offence against these rights. For instance, if I could be forbidden from attending church, that would really hit me near the centre of my religious convictions. That would certainly be risking my rights to religious expression.

Where exactly the line between one's deep religious expressions and one's peripheral expressions is will certainly be hard to find. But it is upon this line that the matter hangs. It is for this reason that counter-arguments should not be about Christians having the right to wear religious symbols because group Y over there have been given the right (or because they seem to have been given the right). The obvious elephant in the room is the Muslim hijab. If Muslim women have the right to wear hijab, then shouldn't Christians have the right to wear a cross necklace? It isn't that simple. If the wearing of the hijab is part of a Muslim's deep religious expression, but the wearing of a cross necklace is only a periphery religious expression for a Christian, then it could very well be that the Muslim has the right to wear a religious symbol like that but the Christian does not. So long as the principles of deep versus periphery are being applied to both, then that outcome would be fair.

That it is hard to find the line between deep and periphery is evident in that it isn't simply a matter of seeing what one group's holy text says. Perhaps the Koran doesn't command the wearing of the hijab, but one could also make the case that the Bible doesn't command going to church. Now I think that if one reads and understands their Bibles properly then one will see that Jesus and the New Testament authors did very much emphasise the importance of these religious communities, but if you're looking for a simple “thou must go to church” then you won't find it. Moreover, a healthy secularism is aware that it isn't just religion that's in view. What about non-religious or anti-religious commitments? What about the atheist who wants to wear a Darwin fish necklace? We have no holy text to go to for her. What this shows is that the distinction is largely down to personal conscience.

For this reason I'm quite uneasy that the government seems to think it has the authority to declare what is and isn't a “requirement of the faith”. Now I do agree with them that wearing the cross necklace is nothing Christianly vital, and I reckon that most Christians, if they think about it, probably wouldn't class wearing a cross necklace as part of their deep faith expressions. But there may very well be Christians who don't think this. There may very well be Christians for whom the wearing of this symbol is incredibly precious. I'd think their value in the object would be misplaced but the point is, what gives me the authority to decide that for them? What gives the government the authority to decide that for them? These matters require a method for deciding them on a case-by-case basis. Wearing a cross necklace probably isn't a right for most Christians but it may be for some. How exactly we could accommodate for such a case-by-case basis I'm not sure, but I'm certain that we can't simply apply one absolute principle to all Christians. This, then, is one area where I'm concerned about the government's method.

Still, I've granted that most Christians probably do not have a right to wear a cross necklace to work. And I've explained already, this is not the same as saying that Christians shouldn't wear the cross necklace to work. It just means that in principle there could be legitimate circumstances in which the Christian can reasonably be asked by their employer not to. An obvious example would be when, due to the nature of the work, an employer asks the necklace to be removed for health and safety reasons.

Sadly I foresee that many employers will ban the wearing of the necklace for less than adequate reasons simply because of widespread misunderstandings about and harmful attitudes towards religion and public life. I suspect that some employers will ban it through a desire to appear religiously neutral, however in doing so they will only be adopting the misreading of neutrality which is associated with a contaminated secularism. If they were to really apply this misreading consistently they'd have to ban the radio at work, which always presents particular worldviews through songs and radio presenters, as well as forbid near enough any non-work related conversation. Others will ban it simply because they fear that their customers won't like seeing it, thus pandering to the crowd who think that freedom of conscience entails that nobody can express their views around them if they don't like it. The irony of this stance is that their view that nobody should have any beliefs they don't like anywhere near them is one they'd like to force on the rest of us. It is this sort of abuse by employers that the government should try and pro-actively prevent, if only through educational means.

To conclude, I'd contend that this news is a bit of a mixed bag. While the government are basically correct that Christians don't have a right to wear a cross necklace in the work place, we should be very cautious in applying this to every Christian. We need to be more sensitive to the fact that we are dealing with matters of personal conscience primarily. Additionally the government's position probably will lead to unnecessary marginalisation of Christians by employers, but the solution is not to overturn their decision, but to foster healthier attitudes within our country toward religion and public life.

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1 Premier Christian Media recently issued a “Report On The Marginalisation of Christianity in British Public life 2007-2011” in which 66% of Christians surveyed felt that Christians received more negative discrimination than people of other faiths. A further 20% felt that people of all faiths received negative discrimination.

2 The notion that human beings have these things called 'rights' is itself philosophically problematic (What exactly is it about humans which supposedly generate these rights?) but I've chosen here to just run with that language for the sake of sticking to the main point.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Believe All The Bible Or None Of It? (4)

We're continuing with the series that started here. Last time we further explored how inerrancy might relate to the concern that “you have to believe all of the Bible or none of it.” We concluded that there isn't any compelling reason to think that if the Bible erred in even a minor way, then Christianity would be necessarily false. We saw that there are theologically acceptable ways of understanding the Bible that do not necessitate that the Bible is inerrant.

But this has brought us to a further concern – one that really gets to the bottom of why Jimbo and Georgie saw it as very important to Christianity that the Bible be without error. Isn't it the case that once you allow the possibility of error in the Bible, or come to believe that there is such an error, then one doesn't really know which bits to trust? How do you know which bits are right and which bits are wrong?

Theological scepticism?

We might wonder why exactly this worry arises. After all your university science textbook carries the possibility that some of its contents are factually mistaken but you do not, as a result, feel unable to trust any of its truth claims. Why should the Bible be any different? Well I think the reason the Bible is a special case is because the Bible's claims are typically believed for different reasons than the claims of other books.

With the truth claims of most books it isn't enough that the book simply makes the claim for it to be believed. For instance with the science textbook, its claims are believed to the extent that they represent the outworking of good scientific methodology. Likewise, an ordinary history book is believed to the extent that its claims meet certain criteria for historical reliability. These ordinary books don't carry any special status that makes their claims automatically worthy of belief. But the claims of the Bible, so Christians typically believe, can be trusted by virtue of its special status – it has a certain authority or reliability because of its divine origin. Although a Christian might think that you can (if you want) approach the Bible's historical texts from an ordinary historical standpoint, he or she thinks that you don't need to in order to know that its claims are true. One does not need an outside standard to determine which of the Bible's claims are true or not, one simply knows that the claims of the Bible are true because it's the Bible that's making them. We're not here going to assess the rationality of this picture, we're merely explaining it. Obviously, Christians mostly do think it's rational to carry out their believings in this way, and since we're concerned in this series only with the relations between different components of Christian belief, we can grant this if only for the sake of argument.

Anyway we can now see why people would think that finding an error in the Bible would be problematic, much more so than if it were an ordinary history book under consideration. The issue is this: if there is an error in the Bible then it seems like the contents of the Bible cannot be believed just by virtue of their being in the Bible. It seems like one needs to bring in an outside standard to discern what is to be believed and what isn't. Note, then, that the concern is not whether an error in the Bible might render Christianity false. It is instead a concern about whether we can know Christianity to be true, even if it is. To put it more philosophically, it is an epistemological issue (an issue concerning knowledge).

In this epistemological challenge, the key concern isn't inerrancy itself, but what it's supposedly a key ingredient for. Inerrancy is the belief that the Bible's affirmations are all true. It isn't the belief one can know them to be true from the get-go, just because they're in the Bible. I in fact know of a few Christians who believe in inerrancy but don't think the Bible should be treated differently than any other document. They profess to believe Christianity just because, by their lights, the Bible passes any reasonable examination under relevant outside standards. They claim that our basis for belief in Christianity is the evidence, accessible with the proper tools of historical/philosophical/scientific inquiry. And certainly I think it's possible that God (if existent) has intended for us to believe Christianity in this way. But I don't think it's altogether likely and there seem to be drawbacks in thinking that he has...

Even if some Christians have come to believe Christianity by using ordinary outside standards, surely most have not. Even those Christians who go on to study the faith more intellectually (digging into philosophical arguments for God's existence, and historical evidence for Jesus' resurrection etc.) do not typically arrive at their faith by these means. And many, perhaps most Christians throughout history have never gone on to those more overtly intellectual pursuits, if only because doing so requires a certain degree of intellectual ability, education, and resources, not all of which many Christians have had access to. Is the Christian to think that a substantial number of fellow believers were and are positively irrational or unwarranted in their beliefs? Did they not really know that Christianity was true even if they believed it? Ought they abandon Christianity, or hold it less seriously, at least until they get their intellectual game together? Of course, the skeptic might think so but this is surely an unacceptable conclusion for a Christian to take. Moreover, what might it suggest about God's character – that he favours the intellectually and socially elite? This seems contrary to the Bible's own teaching that it is often the underprivileged and simple who most easily grasp the truth of the gospel. I also wonder whether all of the claims of Christianity can be secured by ordinary tools of inquiry, or be secured with enough security to grant full conviction in them (though I think some of them certainly can). This is not to deny the great role of the mind in the Christian life, or the need for well-studied teachers and scholars (indeed I think churches need to up their game in these areas), it is just to concede that one surely doesn't need to be one of those to gain entry into God's kingdom community.

So if surrendering inerrancy is to be a possibility for the Christian, should things come to that, then there needs to be a solution to the epistemological challenge. And I think there is.

We saw in the last post that there are theologically acceptable ways of understanding the Bible which allow it a special God-given status, but which do not necessitate that the Bible is totally without error across the board. We saw that it is possible that God has providentially arranged history to guarantee only that the central message of Christianity is truthfully expressed in the Bible, leaving inessential details aside (for whatever reason). We can see that what this view does necessitate is a restricted or localised sort of inerrancy, one which applies to matters crucial to Christianity. After all if Christianity is true, some view which guarantees the Bible's ability to convey that essential truth must be as well. So because the necessity of this localised inerrancy holds, this view affirms the Bible as having a special status which guarantees the trustworthiness of the Bible in regards to at least core Christian concerns. Let's call this view the “moderate” view.

Let us see how the moderate view opens up space in which the epistemological challenge can be met, should things come down to that. Imagine that Benny currently holds to a full-blown across-the-board inerrancy. And let's say that after months of study the problem of Ahaziah's reign looks more clearly to be an intractable error than it did at first. He foresees no possible solution nor the possibility of one emerging in the future, and he admits to Jimbo that the Bible isn't free of mistakes. Clearly the sort of super inerrancy he held is no longer an option for Benny. He just can't bring himself to believe it, given all the study he's done around the Ahaziah problem. But the moderate view is still a live option for him. The Ahaziah thing wasn't a central part of the Christian story and so the moderate view is still on the table. The moderate view affirms the Bible's reliability in central Christian matters, but not peripheral ones, and so while Benny now knows (in this scenario) that the Bible isn't in fact free of peripheral mistakes, all he has to do is tone down his position and consider that the Bible carries a special authority only in regards to matters of central importance. After all this is, as I've argued, a real possibility if Christianity is true, and indeed a (minimum) requirement if it is. And since Benny believes Christianity, he's perfectly entitled to the moderate view.

So then, the presence of relatively trivial errors in the Bible would neither refute Christianity, nor leave us in scepticism over its truth. Even if across-the-board inerrancy is false, we can hold a view of the Bible that guarantees its central claims.
That said, there's an objection to the above that we need to consider. Can we even reliably tell what parts of the Bible are core Christian concerns? Surely we can't presume to know what God considered important to communicate, and what wasn't? Surely we must treat every Biblical affirmation as if God considered it important for us to know? Next time we'll crack on with those questions.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Believe All The Bible Or None Of It? (3)

We're continuing the series that started here. Last time to we began to analyse Jimbo's and Georgie's intuition that “you have to believe all of the Bible or none of it” in relation to whether the doctrine of inerrancy was crucially important to Christianity. I think we helped Benny out by showing that inerrancy isn't necessary for salvation and isn't necessary because of some direct logical relation between all the Bible's teachings. But we acknowledged that there's still more to be said about inerrancy.

It could be argued that while one minor error in the Bible wouldn't directly refute the important bits in the rest of it (like God's existence and Jesus' resurrection etc.), it would do so indirectly. It might be that when some core Christian beliefs are unpacked, they actually lead to inerrancy, such that giving up inerrancy, even over a seemingly trivial error, places one at odds with these central convictions. What could support "the indirect thesis"? Based on conversations with others, and having thought along similar lines myself in the past, something like the following argument might be in mind:

1. God is all-knowing and perfectly good.
2. An all-knowing being would never affirm false things through ignorance.
3. A perfectly good being would never affirm false things through an intent to deceive.
4. Errors are only affirmed through ignorance or an intent to deceive. 
5. The Bible in its entirety is the word of God.
Conclusion: Therefore, the Bible doesn't affirm false things (inerrancy is true).

The argument thus attempts to show how certain core Christian beliefs join up to entail the conclusion that the Bible is free from error. If the argument is valid, then Christians can only give up inerrancy by denying one of the premises, and the point is supposed to be that none of the premises seem particularly easy for the Christian to surrender. But I think that, actually, one of them is vulnerable.1

Points (1) and (2) seem obviously correct from a Christian standpoint. We wouldn't want to claim instead that God doesn't know everything or that he has moral imperfections. Point (3) might yield some circumstantial exceptions under a little philosophical refinement, but it seems basically on track. No relevant exceptions to point (4) spring to mind and so only point (5) remains to consider...

Word of God: the only option?

It might seem that a Christian, if he/she wants to remain a Christian, has no choice but to affirm that the Bible is the word of God. It might seem that to deny the Bible such a description just is to deny Christianity. But I am going to argue that there are alternative views of the Bible other than the "word-of-God" view which are plausible for a Christian to accept. And if that's so, then a Christian can deny premise (5) and therefore not have to accept inerrancy if there is good reason for him/her to reject it.

We should appreciate that the Bible does not refer to itself unambiguously as the word of God, at least not as a whole. Certain parts perhaps, such as a message given to a prophet, or the Old Testament Law, but as a collective there is not a clear statement that describes the Bible in these terms. The closest we get is 2 Timothy 3:16 "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." Other translations render it as "all Scripture is inspired by God" but even "breathed" allows for some poetic flexibility in how that is to be understood. J.P.Holding notes the following;

"... designating the Bible to be the "Word of God" is itself a post-Biblical phenomenon. An apostle or prophet who heard that phrase would not have thought of a book, but rather, of the transcendent thoughts and words of YHWH. It could certainly have not meant the whole Bible prior to its completion and compilation, and when the phrase “word of God” is used in the Bible, it always means some specific prophetic utterance, or some message (like the Gospel)."2

I'd like to see JP do a full treatment of that topic, but his comment strikes me as plausible. Compare the relatively modest descriptions given to the Bible with instances in which "word of God" is attributed unflinchingly, in particular, in regards to Jesus. John's gospel spells it out clearly in the prologue: Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. For the Christian, the revelation of God came ultimately as a person and not a book. The latter view is perhaps more at home in Islam which places an extraordinary emphasis on the excellence of the Koran.

Now perhaps that's not enough to dissuade someone that the Bible should not be understood as the word of God. Fine. But so long as it opens up the possibility of other plausible understandings, then (5) isn't the only option for the Christian.

It's important to note that holding an alternative understanding doesn't mean that you think inerrancy is false (although you might). One does not have to think that the Bible is the word of God to believe in inerrancy (JP still affirms inerrancy for instance). After all there are perfectly ordinary books that are without error. Your maths textbook might be one. But you wouldn't have to think that the Bible's inerrant nature is just a coincidence either. Holding an alternative understanding doesn't equate to a denial of God's involvement in the production of the Bible...

One alternative way we might imagine this involvement (and this isn't necessarily the only alternative way) could be described as follows: knowing what certain persons would write in certain circumstances under the inspiration of his Spirit, God so arranged history and provided the inspiration of his Spirit, such that the contents of the authors' writing were as God desired for his purposes. The Bible, then, can still be God-given even if not every part is God-spoken. An alternative wouldn't entail that inerrancy is false or make it highly improbable. But what's important for our concerns here is that it also does not entail that inerrancy is true either. It might be that God orchestrated history and inspired the Biblical authors to produce writings that were reliable in regards to the primary message of Christianity, but not every detail of history or science (or whatever), touched upon. If this is a possibility, then it's possible that Christianity is true and that there are errors in the Bible. An alternative views leaves the issue of inerrancy open. It might be true, but it also might not be. It might be that the Bible is inerrant only in regards to the central truths of Christianity.

Now I sense the objection that if God could make a fully inerrant text, then why wouldn't he definitely do so? Well who knows? I'm just making the claim that it's possible that God could have some reason for not making an inerrant Bible, which is surely true. So unless the objector can provide an argument as to why it's impossible that God could have such a reason, then the possibility still stands. And so as long as it's a logical possibility that God has some reason to allow error into the Bible, then it is possible that God exists, that Christianity is true in all its essentials but that inerrancy is false. And that means that the presence of any non-crucial errors in the Bible (if there are any) is not an automatic defeater for Christianity.

To summarise: because there exist alternative views of the Bible which are theologically plausible, the Christian does not have to believe point (5) of the argument, and thus doesn't have to believe inerrancy as a result of (5). And since alternative views don't necessarily entail inerrancy, replacing (5) with such a view does not still result in Christians having to believe in inerrancy. On an alternative view, whether inerrancy is true or is not is open for debate. As such it is false that, in this way, you either have to believe all of the Bible or none of it.

But it's at this point that I think we start to get to the heart of Jimbo's and Georgie's intuition. Isn't it the case that once you allow the possibility of error in the Bible, or come to believe that there actually are such errors, then one doesn't really know which bits to trust? Are we thrown as a result into theological scepticism?

We'll see if that's so next time.

-----

1 Another argument for the alleged necessity of inerrancy is briefly commented upon by William Lane Craig is his response to the question, “What Price Biblical Errancy?” As well as sharing some generally helpful thoughts in regards to the topic at hand, he points out that this argument too has a premise which isn't as obviously true as we might think it is. 


Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Believe All The Bible Or None Of It? (2)

As explained in the introduction to this series, we are trying to help Benny understand and assess the idea that “you have to believe all of the Bible or none of it”. Currently both his atheist and Christian mates believe this idea and poor ol' Benny isn't quite sure what to make of it. Let's get stuck in and see if we can clear things up a little.

This idea that any error in the Bible would be disastrous (from a Christian perspective) is usually understood as relating to the doctrine of 'inerrancy'. What's that? Well put very briefly, it's the teaching that whatever the Bible affirms to be true is indeed so. Right away though, we need to dispel a popular misunderstanding. It is sometimes thought that Christians who treat the Bible this seriously are Christians who take the Bible 'literally' (indeed this understanding was emphasised in a recent Horizon programme on the relation between science and faith). But that really is a very bad way to understand inerrancy. I'm not sure if any Christian in history has ever taken everything in the Bible literally. To do that you'd have to think that when Psalm 18 says that God is a rock, then God really IS a rock, like he's granite or something. But of course, we understand that such a statement is meant metaphorically to describe God's trustworthiness and reliability. Inerrantists, if they are behaving properly (!), take the Bible to be making historical claims when the writing is in the mode of history, poetical claims when in the mode of poetry, apocalyptic claims when in the mode of apocalypse, and so on. Although inerrancy isn't a claim about which modes occur when (that's not the "job" of inerrancy), it is a claim that when the Bible is properly understood in regards to these different modes, its affirmations will prove true. For the interested reader, many of the implications of inerrancy are understood to be explicated by its proponents well-enough in the Chicago statement of Biblical inerrancy, a link to which I've posted at the end of this article.

So, if all the fuss and commotion Georgie and Jimbo are making really is to do with inerrancy, then we should understand the claim they are making to be the claim that if inerrancy falls, so does Christianity, or so does one's ability to intelligently believe it, or at least, it becomes very tricky to hang on to Christianity without it. So let's explore this question of whether inerrancy is a vital part of a healthy Christianity.

Note though, we won't be exploring whether inerrancy is actually true or not. That's a separate concern. I'm only interested here in seeing whether it crucially matters whether it's true or not. We can see that it is a distinct issue by comparing Jimbo and Georgie. Jimbo is an atheist who thinks that inerrancy is false; he thinks the Bible contains many mistakes. Georgie is a Christian who thinks inerrancy is true; she doesn't believe the Bible affirms anything erroneous. But despite their disagreement on whether inerrancy is true or not, both of them agree that inerrancy is important. Likewise, if things were different, they could continue to disagree on the truth of inerrancy, but both come to agree that, actually, it isn't a crucial component of Christianity after all. Questioning the truth of inerrancy is distinct from questioning its importance and it's only the latter we'll be doing.

Where does the necessity lay?

What exactly is it about inerrancy that might make it so vital? What is the problem in a Christian denying it? We can bat away one answer rather quickly. The problem can't lay in its necessity for salvation in Christian teaching.

Understand this: if the teaching of Christianity were that in order to receive from God the forgiveness of sin and entry into his community and kingdom, you had to believe that all elephants were pink, then the matter of whether elephants were in fact pink would be a pretty big deal (and indeed, given what we know about elephants, Christians would be in a tight spot). Likewise, if belief in inerrancy were a crucial requirement for salvation, then inerrancy would be a bit of a deal-breaker. But nowhere does the Bible itself present such a condition upon salvation. Nor should we expect it to since many early Christians believed the message about Jesus without being exposed to the written contents of the Bible, and before the Bible had even been completed.

As it happens, the view that inerrancy is essential for salvation is a very very extreme one found only amongst folks like Fred Phelps. So this isn't the sort of necessity people are getting at with the idea that you have to believe all the Bible or none of it. It was good to tackle the possibility of it, but we need to move to more plausible explanations.

Maybe the problem is that the falsehood of a particular teaching of the Bible would directly and logically entail the falsehood of the rest of them, in the same way that a gentleman's not being a bachelor would entail that he had not been single all his life, or that a shape's not having only three side entails that it's not a triangle: one necessitates the other.

The problem is that it is plainly false that all the affirmations of the Bible are deeply inter-connected in this way. After all, would the falsehood of the proposition, "Ahaziah became king when he was two" entail the falsehood of the proposition, "Jesus of Nazareth existed"? Is it not logically possible that Ahaziah became king, contrary to the Bible, when he was, say, sixty-three, and that Jesus lived? It surely is. There is no obvious connection between the two events. To link the two in such a way would be as absurd as saying, "if it is false that Caesar crossed the Rubicon, then it is also false that World War II happened, and vice versa." Clearly the truth or falsehood of one of those claims is an independent matter to the truth or falsehood of the other. But then it's possible that one Biblical affirmation, “Ahaziah became king when he was two” is false, but another, “Jesus of Nazareth existed”, is true. Evidently, the falsehood of one Biblical teaching doesn't entail the falsehood of the rest of them in this way.

Of course if certain Biblical teachings are in error, then Christianity is indeed in trouble. For instance, if it isn't true that God exists, then Christianity is done and dusted. No sort of worthwhile Christianity can be salvaged if God does not exist. But it's clear that just any old error couldn't have this effect. If the Bible is wrong about the age that Ahaziah came to power, but right about the existence of God, the fallen nature of humanity, the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, his atoning work on the cross, and his vindication and restoration of creation via his resurrection, then is Christianity false? I would think certainly not! The core narrative of Christianity remains.

So some significant errors would pose a problem for Christianity, but not just any error. As such, a person can believe in Christianity and disbelieve inerrancy, without so stumbling into a logical contradiction.

But there's still more to be said. It could be argued that while one minor error in the Bible wouldn't directly refute the important bits in the rest of it, it would do so indirectly. It might be that when some core Christian beliefs are unpacked, they actually commit Christians to inerrancy, such that denying it, even over a seemingly trivial error, places one at odds with these central convictions. We'll look at this next time. 

-----

Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy 

Monday, 5 March 2012

Believe All The Bible Or None Of It? (1)

Having spent much of his minimal wages over Christmas on presents and fine ale, Benny was frugally sipping his tap water. Opposite him, Jimbo nestled himself deeper into one of the student bar's 'comfy chairs' and took a slurp of hot chocolate that, for the sake of Benny, he was pretending to only minimally enjoy. “They never put enough marsh-mellows in.” Benny, having summoned the facebook app on his phone through habit, clicked off it (or rather, touched off it) and nodded.

Both of them sat quietly for a moment, registering the fact that Mr. Brightside had just come on again. Jimbo tapped the beat on the side of his mug. "So I got this pretty sweet book over Christmas."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. It was about the Bible and stuff."

Benny could tell that Jimbo was preparing to bring up something faith related. There was always a strained casualness in the way he'd meet your eyes just before plunging into “this-is-a-hot-topic-that-could-temporarily-strain-our-friendship” territory. Seeing that Benny had stopped being unreasonably sarcastic to Jimbo's unduly pretentious house-mate (the one who was on his way to his second repeat of first year), there wasn't much to broach him about at the moment except religion.

"What did it say?" Benny asked, a little nervous, and a little guilty for feeling nervous.

"Well it was really a sort of overview of it all." Jimbo paused to bite into some of the hot chocolate’s remaining whipped cream. "It said some good things about it but also mentioned some errors in it."

Errors! Okay, just chill out, Benny. You listened to those William Lane Craig podcasts over Christmas. Not all of them that you'd intended to, mind you, but some nonetheless. You can handle this. Just lead him to the Kalam Cosmological argument. You can pin him from there. Wait, no; he knows more about physics than you; that second premise won't hold. Abort, abort!

"That's interesting," Benny said, playing it cool, "What errors did it mention?"

"There were a lot given and I don't remember them all, but... well here's one; in the book of II Kings it says that Ahaziah was twenty years old when he began to reign. But in II Chronicles it says he was only two years old."

Benny finished his water and hoped that it at least looked like he was contemplating a response.

"So yeah," Jimbo continued, "Seems pretty hard to get around that." He sensed Benny's weakness and couldn't help letting out a small smile, but he tried to suppress it and regain the air of cool calculated fact-delivery. "Like, I respect your opinion mate, but it's that sort of thing that makes Christianity seem pretty obviously false to me."

Benny went to take another sip from his already emptied glass but he knew the jig was up. “Gotta be honest mate, I'm not really sure how to answer that.”

"You guys having another heated debate?" Georgie dropped down on Benny's shoulders from behind. Her cross necklace dangled before Benny's eyes. "Y'know, normal people save this stuff for blogs where there isn't the risk of personal confrontation."

"Blogs are for self-important philosophy grads who think they know everything,” Jimbo retorted. “Anyway, we weren't really debating. Benny didn't disagree with me."

"Well I didn't agree with you either. I don't know.” He now relished the chance to change subject. “What's up with you anyway, Georgie?"

"Not much." She stood herself straight. "I was on my way to the Christian Union and I spotted you. Wondered if you were coming. Anyway, what was the issue?" Her eyes were alight.

Benny pushed the glass aside, deflated, "Jimbo claimed that there was an error in the Bible. Something to do with some king in the Old Testament. I didn't exactly disagree or agree. I don't know. Not really sure it's the most important issue to be honest."

"What do you mean?" Jimbo laughed, "I'm claiming the Bible got it wrong!"

"Yeah but..."

Georgie was noticeably surprised, "Sounds important to me, Benny. You have to believe all of it or none of it." 

------

We haven't heard much from Benny for a while but it looks like he's got himself tangled in yet another philosophically messy matter. And believe it or not, I'm not referring to the issue of whether II Kings contradicts II Chronicles on Ahaziah's reign. Rather the interesting issue is a belief expressed by both Jimbo and Georgie that it matters quite a bit whether there are errors of any sort within the Bible. The intuition they're both getting at, shared by many, is that "you have to believe all of it or none of it."

In the next few posts we'll be looking at what lies behind this intuition and whether it is ultimately correct. I'm going to argue that it isn't. 

Part 2 
Part 3 
Part 4 
Part 5 
Part 6 

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Should Religion Be Kept Out Of Politics? (3)

Charles Taylor's lecture, "The Future of the Secular" has been our gateway into exploring the matter of whether religion should be kept out of politics. In the first post I outlined the goals of a healthy secularism, as understood by Taylor, and showed how a focus on restraining religion is a contamination that obscures these goals and clearly restricts freedom of expression. In the second I continued the damning assessment of this focus on targeting religion and showed how it misconstrues what impartiality/neutrality is really about. To conclude, it's time to paint a constructive picture of what a healthy secularism looks like.

Taylor argues that politicians of whatever rank should be free to articulate the deep convictions that drive their politics. Christians should be free to express their Christianity, Hindus their Hinduism, Naturalists their Naturalism, and so on. In determining how to live together and how to negotiate between the two interlocking values of freedom and impartiality, we should be permitted to have such a maximally open discussion. Of course, you may lose support from this corner or that if you bring to the fore your deep convictions, and so you may not always want to, but you should be free to, if you wish.   

What's very important to note is where Taylor says the reference to these deep convictions ought to stop: the legislation itself. The actual legislation of the state needs to be drawn as inclusively as possible. For instance, let us say that after much discussion, opinion converges on the view that taxes need to be decreased. But perhaps there is a difference of opinion as to what justifies this view. For some it's Kantian principles that to that conclusion, for others it seems like that view is Biblically warranted. The law would not say, "taxes will be reduced because Kantian principles entail..." nor would it say, "taxes will be reduced because the Bible teaches..." Likewise, even if our justifications converged, say, on utilitarian principles, the law would still not say something like, "taxes will be reduced because it has been calculated that the greatest amount of happiness..." In all cases it would just be, "taxes will be reduced."

In other words, no particular justifying reason is enshrined in the state, whether religious, non-religious, or anti-religious. Lest I be seen to be contradicting what I said in the last post, such laws will obviously not be neutral in the sense that they are totally position-less. After all, a law about tax reduction faces a particular direction, that is, away from tax increase. What such framings of law are impartial toward are the justifying motivations we might each have for commending a law. The practise operates on the understanding that the law was decided upon democratically, by representatives of very different deep convictions and traditions. 

This is what the separation of church and state ought to amount to. It is about preventing one particular viewpoint from being interwoven in the state itself. It is absolutely not about preventing any participation of those viewpoints whatsoever. There seems to be a massive false dichotomy at work in many people's minds: either religion is excluded from politics, or this wall of separation is breached. But that is nonsense! Christians can participate as Christians in politics without the state thereby being Christian. Muslims can participate as Muslims in politics without the state thereby being Muslim. Atheists can participate as Atheists in politics without the state thereby being Atheist. And so on. There simply is no such principle to appeal to so as to justify an exclusion of religion (or any other stance) from politics.

Now although we don't have to, we could, for the sake of argument, grant that when separation of church and state was originally conceived (by whatever government we have in view), it did mean to exclude such participation. This makes no difference. If that's what it meant (and that's a position which would require argument) then, simply put, we should oppose it. We ought to regard it as unjust. We should instead support the kind of separation that Taylor is arguing for.

But one worry we might have is that this participatory model looks rather prone to chaos. Won't it just be a bunch of incompatible views and voices struggling for dominance? Won't the Christians just be out to get their moral positions backed by the law, leaving everyone else to lump it? Won't the Humanists be out just to spread their values, everyone else be damned? Sure, that could happen. But if it did, it would already be outside the vision of a healthy secularism.

Taylor concedes that a healthy secularism only works when the people involved (politicians, voters or whoever) genuinely do engage in politics with the goals of a healthy secularism in mind. They need to truly cherish everyone's right to freedom of conscience, and they need to truly cherish impartiality between different people and their positions. Such people will not campaign and vote simply to get their hobby-horse views propelled by the power of government. Sure, they will have political views that won't be shared by everyone, views they nonetheless have a right to promote, but these views will be developed after careful reflection on whether they will allow a healthy secularism to flourish or not.

A Christian, then, should not automatically go from, say, "the Bible says that homosexual relationships are wrong" to "homosexual relationships ought to be banned or discouraged by the government". Rather they should pause and consider whether it would be good, given the diversity of views held in the public and the freedom that ought to be given to the expression of these views, to make this a political matter. Perhaps one would conclude that these sorts of matters aren't the kind that the state should be involved in. On the other hand, if after such reflection, still being mindful of the goals of healthy secularism, a Christian considers that there are good reasons to make the issue a political one, then fine. The point is, this reflection needs to take place. And the need for this reflection makes sense within the Christian tradition itself, which stresses that laws and moral duties do not themselves make people virtuous, or Christian, and that Christ's mission did not centre around acquiring power within earthly systems of government.

Moreover, Christians ought to be mindful of where other people are coming from. For instance, although a Christian should be free to express their belief that the Bible is God's word, and articulate their position in those terms, they should appreciate that not everybody considers the Bible to be such an authority. Thus it may not be helpful to argue a political point from the Bible. It isn't that the Christian should never bring up such commitments, it is rather that one needs to be mindful of one's conversation partners. Likewise, naturalists shouldn't just take it for granted in discussion that the world is without a higher purpose driving it. That'll hardly be accepted by theists, for instance. It'll be a virtue in such discussions to understand the other's position and even to demonstrate to that person how their own position ought to motivate them to the position you are arguing for. The naturalist who wants to increase, say, income support for the jobless, could argue with the Christian that Christ's own compassion for the needy ought to drive them to want the same. Of course, some differences will be irresolvable, and here it will especially important to value the goals of healthy secularism. In these occasions one will have to be aware that they won't get what they ultimately want, but that they'll have to argue for a compromise - the best solution to a messy problem.

I think it's fair to say that contaminated secularism becomes more attractive in light of poor examples of religious participation in politics. People haven't felt that Christians (or religious persons generally) have carefully and considerately reflected on their political engagements. But sadly contaminated secularism makes the same mistakes. Rather than providing a better example for participation, it seeks to shut it out entirely. It seeks, consciously or not, the dominance of non-religious views, rather than participation on an equal footing. These two erroneous views have the dangerous power to reinforce one another. Feeling at the mercy of an inconsiderate religious political force, some seek to "secularise" politics by shutting out the very possibility of such abuse. But then religious communities feel that these secularisers are not being considerate to them and so they defensively assert the centrality of their religion to politics - "it's a Christian country, don't you know?!", which only reinforces the alienation of the secularisers, and so on and so on. Sadly, Christians have themselves partly to blame for the rise of this misconstrued secularism.

The answer is not in a "Christian country" nor a regime which shuts out religion from politics. It is in a healthy secularism which allows for equal participation in public life. Taylor concedes that a truly healthy secularism is a fragile and difficult enterprise. Perhaps the most difficult political undertaking any civilisation has attempted. But he asks us, what other choice do we have for living in a truly tolerant and fair society given all of our diversity? As I hope this series has demonstrated, a contaminated secularism, with a focus on restraining religion, only results in unfair religious marginalisation.

Of course, someone can still campaign for this marginalisation if they like. But they'll have to come clean. For instance, when A.C. Grayling claims that "[now] is the time to place religion where it belongs – wholly in the private sphere along with other superstitions and foibles, leaving the public domain as neutral territory where all can meet without prejudice as humans and equals"1 he should 'fess up to the fact that he is not promoting freedom and tolerance for all. He should admit that he wants religion to be singled out and restrained. He should focus on arguing that this unfair treatment is nonetheless justified. Perhaps there's a serious argument to be had there.

But what absolutely needs to stop is the masquerading of this anti-religious fetish under the banner of tolerance and liberty. It is terrifying to see how easily this oppressive force has clothed itself under the guise of democratic principles. Of course, I don't expect such transparency to actually emerge. The jig would be up if this injustice were exposed. But I can hope and pray. If the tendency toward a contaminated secularism is indeed growing in Britain then, frankly, I am very fearful for our country's future. This perversion of what secularism should really be about ought to be vigorously opposed, not just by the religious, but by anyone who truly values freedom and equality.