Truth Above All Else

Over the last few days I have followed with immense interest the exchanges between Greta Christina at AlterNet, Libby Anne at Love Joy Feminism, and Kaveh Mousavi of FreeThought Blogs. The conversation originally concerned whether or not evolution is reconcilable with belief in God. Greta provoked the conversation with her piece, “Why You Can’t Reconcile God and Evolution,” where  she argued that, “There is no religion that reflects reality.” Libby Anne responded with two points that (I think) are particularly important. First, she argued,

If we say that it is not possible to reconcile God and evolution (or Christianity and feminism, and so on), we risk not only driving some deeper into science denialism and patriarchy but also alienating those who could be our allies on many issues.

Second, she argued,

If you do feel the need to tell a progressive or mainstream Christian that it’s not possible to reconcile God and evolution, or the Bible and gay rights, please be aware that you are telling them the exact same thing evangelical and fundamentalist Christians are telling them.

On a core level, motivated by a framework of human rights and social justice activism that I daily share with Libby Anne, I agree. (She and I are both outspoken advocates in the responsible homeschooling movement.) I also agree with Libby Anne’s statement that “there is absolutely nothing standing in the way of reconciling the Christian faith with progressive values” — and, as someone who has spent years studying the history of religions, I feel it should be added that every religion I have studied has a rich and diverse history that has included profound contributions both for and against what we now term “progressive values.”

Furthermore, I take issue with Greta Christina’s statement that, “There is no religion that reflects reality.” That’s a strangely modernist (and thus slightly regressive) statement because, in my opinion, no one person’s understanding of the world does reflect reality, at least in any comprehensive and flawless manner. So, while I actually do agree with the statement on one level, I think that — unless we are extending that statement’s application to non-religious people’s understandings of reality as well — it’s rather truncated and disingenuous. “Reality” does not simply consist of science or questions like, “Is evolution true?” It consists of answers to questions like, “Will I engage the world in a fair way? In a just way? Will I stand up to oppression and fight for the marginalized?”

This point became particularly salient to me when I read Kaveh Mousavi’s response to Libby Anne. His response, entitled “The Intellectual Mandate to Criticize Progressive Theism,” makes a number of excellent points. As someone who has personally identified — at various points throughout my life — as an evangelical Christian, a progressive Christian, a Daoist, an atheist, and an apatheist, I believe it is not only important, but a sign of respect, to be honest and forthright in calling people out when you believe their beliefs contribute harm to themselves or others. So I appreciate that line of thought in Kaveh Mousavi’s post.

But.

But then there was this concluding paragraph:

My priority, my intellectual mandate, is a world in which people value truth above all else. A world in which the concerns over the consequence of the rhetoric does not tramp over the intellectual honesty, a world which expects people to be intellectually brave and continue every logical step and do not shy away from taking it for political reasons, a world in which we do not condone opinions for their mere existence but hold them to scrutiny.

That made me wince.

See, I’ve heard those words time and time again. Those words have been etched violently onto my heart and branded onto my soul. Not by Kaveh Mousavi. Not by atheists.

By Christians.

“Truth above all else” is the very mentality that drove me from the cold, dead arms of Christian fundamentalism. “Truth above all else” is how fundamentalist parents justify kicking gay kids out of their homes and onto the streets — how Christian homeschool parents justify isolating their children to the point of social anxiety and panic attacks — and ironically, considering the original conversation about creationism, how creationists justify educational neglect.

I don’t want to live in a “truth above all else” world, whether that world is run by atheists or Christians. I’ve seen what that world looks like. I’ve seen how “a world in which the concerns over the consequence of the rhetoric does not tramp over the intellectual honesty” is used by Christians to justify bigotry. I’ve seen how “a world in which the concerns over the consequence of the rhetoric does not tramp over the intellectual honesty” is used by Richard Dawkins to deride and further marginalize abuse survivors.

Truth is important. We must seek it and we must not be afraid of where it leads us. But when truth is valued “above all else,” that translates time and time again into the valuing of axiomatic propositions over the lives of human beings. That translates into valuing theory over praxis. I don’t want to live in such a world. That’s why I decided to turn my back on American Christian fundamentalism in the first place. I was tired of the ultimate value being alignment with some interpretation of some text for the sake of Truth and not, you know, actually helping to end suffering. Same with Libby Anne:

My ethics are primarily harm-based, not truth-based. I care much more about a person’s beliefs aligning with acceptance, equality, and compassion than I do about them lining up with—and being limited to—objective scientific fact.

Maybe someday when we die, we’ll go to Heaven or Reality and we’ll finally have an answer to the question, “Is there a God?” And maybe I’ll burn in Hell because of how I answer that question. Or maybe I’ll just no longer exist. But whether I go to Hell or Heaven or earth or reincarnate, I’d rather go to my final destination not counting converts (whether to gods or against “gods”), but knowing that I did my best to make the world a slightly more compassionate and loving place.

Featured image: Mike Johnston

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3 thoughts on “Truth Above All Else”

  1. If there is a God (I say this as a Christian who doubts a lot) He/She will be more interested in one’s pursuit of love than one’s pursuit of rightness. One could argue that knowing the truth could help one love, but I would argue that loving helps lead one to truth….

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