Thursday, April 17, 2008

Differences Don't Matter - Do They?

Here are the results of a recent Christianity Today Poll:

Do you think the barriers between Catholics and evangelicals should be lowered?

No. The Catholic Church doesn't facilitate true discipleship. 15%
No. Evangelicals aren't part of the true church unless they join the Catholic Church. 2%
No. The traditions on both sides should be preserved as they are. 2%
No (other) 11%
Yes. We're all Christians, after all. 17%
Yes. We need to work together to shape the culture for Christ. 21%
Yes, we should be on good terms so that Catholics/evangelicals can come to the true knowledge of God. 26%
Yes (other) 6%

Total Votes: 1267

Kent comments:

I begin with a couple of qualifications. First, this is one of those self-selected polls. Only people with internet access who decide to take the poll are included. So it is not representative - obviously. Second, my point here is not to discuss evangelicals vs. Catholics. I consider myself neither.

What is interesting is how many readers of CT who decided to take the poll reflect our dominant cultural prejudice about religion. That prejudice is this: religious differences don’t matter.

It is not reflected only in the answers. You can see it in the way the question is worded: “Do you think the barriers between Catholics and evangelicals should be lowered?” That makes it sound like this is something parallel to a drawbridge over a river. If someone would just pulls the correct lever, evangelicals and Catholics could flow back and forth at will.

If I am a Roman Catholic and I desire to become an evangelical of some stripe, what’s to stop me? If I’m an evangelical of some stripe and decided to become a Roman Catholic, that can be done, too. The recent president of the Evangelical Theological Society - of all people - recently did just that! See details here.

Notice that the largest percentage of all respondents chose the answer “Yes, we should be on good terms so that Catholics/evangelicals can come to the true knowledge of God.” Consider what both those who selected this answer and the people who composed it for the poll seemed to have in mind.

“So that Catholics/evangelicals can come to the true knowledge of God”? Why do they have to be on “good terms” to do that? Has no one in either group done that yet? What on earth could this mean? If nothing else, this shows how much confusion reigns within Christendom.

At some point religious people need to realize that logic demands a limited number of options when there is disagreement. If two people agree on their religious views, either both can be right or both can be wrong. If two people disagree regarding religious views, either both can be wrong, or at best only one can be right.

But many will read the preceding paragraph and think, “It’s not a matter of right or wrong.” But if religious views cannot be true or false, they end up being pointless matters of psychology.

For many today, this is exactly what religion has become, except they don’t want to admit the pointlessness of it all. In fact, in a world where my feelings, my inner thoughts and struggles, my personal psychology are the ultimate reality, anything that makes me feel better about myself becomes of utmost importance.

But in such a world, truth - as an accurate description of reality - simply evaporates. For those in pursuit of truth, where Roman Catholics and evangelicals (just to take this example, it applies across the religious board) disagree, they cannot both be right.

If differences really don’t matter, then truth becomes a disposable category. But if truth is not disposable, then the only way differences between religious groups can be “lowered” is to work hard to discover who is right, and who is wrong.

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