Friday, December 01, 2006

Christianity's Credibility - Part 1

Oliver Thomas wrote an editorial in USA Today, not so long ago, about the credibility of Christianity. Specifically, he argues that Christianity, in opposing homosexuality and homosexual marriage, will lose all credibility and fade into the dustbin of history. There's a lot to parse in his editorial, so I thought I'd tackle the most important parts separately.
Religion's only real commodity, after all, is its moral authority. Lose that, and we lose our credibility. Lose credibility, and we might as well close up shop.
This statement I find quite interesting, because it works at an important truth without ever dealing with the truth itself.

The question this really strikes at is, from where does religion (in this case, Christianity) derive its moral authority? Based on the arguments Thomas makes, I would say that two answers could be argued: Either moral authority comes from the truth of the claims, or it comes from the people who grant it authority.

Thomas seems to be arguing the latter. It's not explicit; he makes his argument more of a "how could God condemn science?" kind of argument, likening homosexuality with Galileo's heliocentric apostacy. But in its essence, this is the argument he is making. Christianity would only have credibility if it learns to accept homosexuality. By regaining the credibility, it regains moral authority. The connection here is that Christianity won't attract followers if it doesn't have credibility (which, to those followers, only comes by accepting homosexuality). In the end, it almost seems as if Christianity must change its teachings to become palatable to the rest of the world.

I don't buy it. Moral authority derives from the truth behind that authority. If Jesus was just some schmo who conned a bunch of silly Jews in a backwoods Roman colony, what makes his views of how a man should live worth any more than the paper it's printed on? If Muhammad wasn't a prophet, but a paranoid schizaphrenic who suffered epileptic seizures, wouldn't that necessarily change the way people should interpret his example?

There's a lot to say here, yet. I'll continue this in a further post.


Jen said...

At the risk of being Captain Obvious, I feel the need to point out that a heck of a lot of people would argue that Jesus WAS just a smooth talker or that Muhammad WAS a couple trees short of a forest. :-)

I don't agree that moral authority derives from truth. What is truth? How can you prove a truth that goes beyond the limits of the physical world? And even if you have sciemtific evidence in your favor, what good will it do if no one believes you? You MUST have people behind you in order to claim either truth or authority. If you can't persuade a crowd to follow you, you're not a prophet or an oracle, just a loony or an eccentric.

Hal said...

The thing is, we're not talking about how moral authority is given. We're talking why it is given.

The "how" comes from people willing to believe something. The why, though, is far more important. Let's think about Moses coming down from the mountain and saying, "Hey, I've got these ten rules here and you guys have to follow them."

"Because God said so" was a good enough reason for the Israelis to go along with that, but what if Moses had just come up with it on his own? Religious imperative is only any good if the belief is actually true.

Example: I'm not a Muslim. I don't think Muhammad was a prophet, and I don't believe in Allah. So then, why do I care how many times a day some Imam says I should pray? He has no moral authority to me because his claims have no truth in them.