Who's Truth?


Vic Stenger

 I sense a healthy trend as I listen to radio call-in shows and read letters to the editor. People are beginning to challenge statements made by those frequent callers and writers who continue to promote the view of the religious right as part of an orchestrated, national strategy to Christianize America.

When Janice Judd writes one of her regular letters to the local papers about this being a Christian nation, others write to remind her that the word "God" appears nowhere in the Constitution and that most of our founding fathers were anti-Christian if not downright atheist. When radio callers complain about their "freedom of religion" being violated by the absence of official prayer in public schools, other callers quickly respond that students can pray all they want - silently and without government participation.

The Christian commentators usually find themselves incapable of presenting rational arguments to support their views. When confronted with the other side of an issue, their typical response is, "there can only be one truth." To them it is not a matter of discussion. They have no notion of debate, no room for an honest disagreement or clash of ideas. For them the truth is between the leather covers of their Bible, as interpreted by whatever preacher they happen to take as their authority.

And that's the irrationality of it all. Even if there is only one "truth," whose truth is it? Why should it be the truth as interpreted by fundamentalist Christians? Don't Orthodox Jews claim they have the truth? And Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists? If Jesus is the truth, why is the Baptist Jesus more true than the Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Jesus? The best indication that none of these is right is that all of them can't be right.

I find it especially ironic that fundamentalists continually decry secular humanism because if its emphasis on the individual's right to determine his or her own path through life. They mistakenly associate this with relative morality, "anything goes." They do not see that they have, themselves, made precisely the same decision when choosing to follow a particular doctrine or preacher. Their morality is as relative as everyone else's - relative to their particular brand of fundamentalism. Moslems, Hindus, Catholics, Orthodox Jews all have their own brands.

Do the Christian truth-mongers ever think what their individual views would have been had they been born in Iran instead of Alabama? Would they be out there on the street with the rest of the mob, screaming "Down with the great American Satan!" Wouldn't they view Christians as infidels? The problem is - they don't think. They have grown up being preached to rather than being challenged to question, doubt, and demand a reason for every claim made by their authority figures.

And this, to me, is the greatest evil of religion. Religion is not the benign, positive influence in the world that we have been led to think. Religion causes people's minds to lock shut, trapping inside a set of superstitious beliefs that quickly melt when exposed to the light of rational analysis.

As it licks its wounds from the last election, the Christian right is planning is next onslaught on freedom of thought and action in America, Huge battle chests are being quietly accumulated by incessant fund-raising. The current conflict is over gays in the military, and the guns are being moved into place in front of the White House. This will only be a skirmish for the jihad ahead, with the ultimate goal the return of an extreme conservative to the Presidency in 1996. Despite the clear threat, however, I think that the battlefield is leveling out. After years of silence, the general public is finally beginning to question the claim of the religious right to the corner on moral values. I believe that the American people will never let any group dictate to them, especially when that group claims the authority of absolute truth. That's how America came to be in the first place, as a refuge from religious persecution.