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Why nobody can leave their personal beliefs (religious or otherwise) at the door, as requested.

May 13, 2012

“Be a Christian all you want, but leave it at the door. Don’t come into this public arena and speak from your personal religious beliefs. They don’t belong here; we don’t want that stuff shoved down our throats.” You can hear these kind of sentiments daily, if you listen; mainly in relation to politics and legislature. But, I want to argue that nobody can truly do that. Christian or not. Religious or secular. Nobody can leave their personal beliefs at the door when entering into public discourse.

Here is what Tim Keller said on the issue (transcribed from Keller’s message on exclusivity, listen here):

“What is religion? Well, sometimes people say, ‘religion is a set of beliefs and you go to services once a week…’ No no no what’s really religion in the fullest sense? Don’t hide behind the idea of institutionalization religion. What’s religion? Religion is a set of answers to the big questions. Why are we here? What is right and wrong for human beings to be doing? What’s wrong with the human race and what will fix it? And how do we decide right and wrong? And what should we be spending most of our time doing? Now nobody can operate in life without a set of answers to those questions. And those answers are, at least, implicitly religious, because you can’t prove those things in a lab. Whatever you answer is, it’s a faith assumption. It’s a religion belief. You may not see it as a religious belief, but it is!”

Keller goes on to say, “It is impossible to leave your religious beliefs at the door when you come out into the public world at all…I’m going to give you an example…let’s talk about divorce laws; alimony, things like that. Why? I’ll show you why. Surely Richard Rorty would say, ‘If you’re in a secular society and you’re working on divorce laws, you do not bring your religion to bare on divorce laws. Let’s all come together and let’s just decide on divorce laws that really will just work for people.’ But, that’ll depend on, what you think works will depend on, your view of the purpose of marriage. And anybody’s view on the purpose of marriage is rooted in deeply held beliefs about human nature and human flourishing. So, for example, if you’re like the people in individualistic, western societies, you believe that the needs of the individual is more important than the needs of the group. The needs of the individual is more important than the needs of the family. And you will see the purpose of marriage as the happiness and the emotional fulfillment of the adults who enter it. And therefore you will make divorce easy, ’cause that’s the purpose of marriage, and if it becomes something that’s not fulfilling anymore, people oughta be able to get out of it easily. But what if you are someone like the people in the traditional society. And in traditional societies, they believe the family is more important that the idividual. The family is much more important than personal happiness. And the purpose of marriage is to create safe and secure space for the nurturing of children for the extended family and for society as a whole. And if you believe that the family is more important than the individual, you’re going to make divorce really really hard. And, uh oh, now you see something, don’t you? You can’t come to any conclusions about what will work in divorce, except on the basis of deeply held beliefs about human flourishing and what makes people happy and what’s right with people and what’s wrong with people. And therefore if you say, ‘keep your religion out of the public realm,’ what you really are meaning is, ‘my enlightenment, western, individualistic faith assumptions about human nature are privileged over yours. I can bring mine into the public realm, but you can’t bring your more traditional religious views in” (Tim Keller, Exclusivity: How can there be just one true religion?).

Let’s take a more volatile example, abortion. How you legislate abortion issues is directly dependent on your view of human life. If you think that all human life is innately valuable, and that people should care for and protect all life, then you will make abortion very difficult, if not illegal. If you believe that what is growing inside a women’s body is just a collection of cells and is not actually a real human, and if you believe that the individual’s needs/happiness/desires are more important than that of others in the group, then you will make abortion easy (and I think that’s a pretty fair way of depicting the situation on the abortion front).

Just because my personal beliefs are influenced by the Bible doesn’t make them any less viable than someone whose beliefs are taken from The God Delusion or from their personal opinion on life’s meaning.

My point here is less political, and more just arguing that to tell a Christian to leave his/her beliefs at the door is ridiculous and stupid. There’s something wrong when an atheist or an agnostic or anyone else with opposing beliefs (to Christianity, in this case) is allowed to wield their personal beliefs in the public square, just because they’re not labeled “religious.” The atheist’s personal beliefs are just as personal and just as politically debatable as any Christian belief.

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