|Defending the Truth
by Paul Walker
My eleven-year-old daughter recently started secondary school. For
her first religious education homework she was asked to give a definition of
religion. The following is part of what she wrote:
I think religion is about beliefs. It is about having opinions and
believing what you believe and not having to believe the same as
The reality in today's world is increasingly quite the opposite.
For many people, religion is about knowing the truth. It is
interesting how many religious people describe other religions as false or
even as works of Satan.
The whole issue is easy to understand. For many of its adherents,
religion is the human response to their belief that God has spoken to
them. God has made the world, is greater than we can imagine, and is
all-powerful, all-knowing. We will one day be brought to judgement.
Meanwhile, God has let us know how to live and what to believe.
If somebody believes this they may feel that obeying God is more
important than mere human law. It may be more important than anything
Recent history does not give such religion a good press. Those who
attacked New York on September 11th 2001 believed theirs was a
mission from God. The American response has often been couched in
religious terms. Similarly, the Presbyterian minister who murdered an
abortion doctor and his bodyguard said he was obeying God. And many
believe that the land of Israel should exist because it was given to the
Jewish people by God. Suicide bombers seek to rid Palestine of Jews
because God has led them to do so. God inspires both nationalist and
loyalist in Northern Ireland, Serbia, Croatia and Turkey.
The list is endless. All these believe their cause to be sanctioned by
a God who only they understand.
Of course many traditional believers live good lives. They quietly
serve their neighbours and communities. But we should not let this stop us
questioning the danger of thinking that we know the truth and what follows
from such a belief.
We see many in the Bible who recognised such a danger. A good example
is the woman in John's Gospel caught committing adultery. Jesus is quoted
as pointing out that our common humanity overrides God�s laws. In all the
gospels Jesus maintains that Sabbath regulations can prevent good from
happening. In the Hebrew Scriptures the prophets condemn those who obey
purity laws while allowing orphans and widows to go hungry.
In the twenty first century it is time for religious people to
acknowledge that we don�t have all truth. Like everybody else we are
searching for it. There is no set of laws, no holy institution, no series
of books in which God has spoken once and for all.
Religious law, the churches and the scriptures all point to the human
search for truth - not to its discovery. For if truth is something we all
seek, it unites us. If truth is something to defend, it destroys us.