It took Jason a while to join the party, but as usual he proves a smart and engaging guest. His latest piece at EvolutionBlog, “What’s interesting about religion?“, comments on an essay by Alain de Botton (of “atheist temple” fame) which I also dealt with a while back. Jason does a good job, and I’ll simply direct you to his piece after giving you a taste:
I wanted to comment on this essay by Alain de Botton. Here’s how it opens:
Probably the most boring question you can ask about religion is whether or not the whole thing is “true.” Unfortunately, recent public discussions on religion have focused obsessively on precisely this issue, with a hardcore group of fanatical believers pitting themselves against an equally small band of fanatical atheists.
De Botton hails from that segment of the nonbelieving population that endlessly trumpets its own moderation. Not for them the histrionics of those militant atheist fundamentalists, with their blanket condemnations of religion and utter lack of subtlety and nuance. No, they are the calm, sensible ones, who see the value in religion even while rejecting its factual assertions.
And then you read paragraphs like the ones above, and you realize what a sham that is.
When someone says the truth or falsity of religions are their least interesting aspects, you can be sure you are reading the work of someone who thinks they are false. If there were a strong argument to be made on behalf of the truth claims of Christianity or Islam, say, that would not be boring at all. That would actually be a momentous contribution to humanity’s understanding of the world. No, pooh poohing a discussion of religion’s factual status is what you do when you consider it obvious that religion is false.
This is a major departure from the view taken by countless believers. To them, religion is interesting only because its factual assertions are true. They are not organizing their lives and defining their identities around religion because they find the rituals quaint and enjoy socializing at the receptions after services. They are doing it because they believe what their religion’s tell them about the world. To them, nothing of value would remain if definitive evidence appeared that their religion were false.
Once that is understood, it becomes clear that de Botton’s statement is far more arrogant and condescending than anything coming from the new atheists. Do you think it seems respectful to religious believers to have the central concerns of their lives dismissed as boring by someone who regards their beliefs as obviously false?
Bingo. Even “liberal” believers are concerned with certain non-negotiable truths about their faith. For Christians it’s usually Jesus’s divinity and resurrection. I’ll add one quote from page 2 of John Polkinghorne’s Science and Religion in Quest of Truth (2011, Yale University Press, New Haven):
The second mistake is about religion. The question of truth is as central to its concern as it is in science. Religious belief can guide one in life or strengthen one at the approach of death, but unless it is actually true it can do neither of these things and so would amount to no more than an illusionary exercise in comforting fantasy.