I read The Times. For those who do not reside in the UK, that is one of the daily broadsheet newspapers. It probably puts me ‘centre right’ politically. Left of the Telegraph. Right of the Guardian. I say this as I thought you should know where I am coming from.
It’s important you also know I am a Christian. That is, my worldview is primarily constructed through an understanding of the Bible. I am a white male. I have one brother and a sister who has died. I was educated privately. I went to Edinburgh University…. Again, I preface what I am saying with this background information to add a level of transparency. So that you know my biases. As the objective reader you can then of course weigh it all up and make your own conclusion, based on the evidence.
I am being a little facetious. But I wanted to write a brief response to a very thought- provoking article written by Matthew Paris in The Times last Saturday. The context was a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference the author was attending on the subject of gay marriage. One of the speakers arguing against it was the former archbishop Rt Rev Nazir-Ali. The concern the author had, openly homosexual himself, was not that the archbishop was against gay marriage. He acknowledged that he was fully entitled to his beliefs about marriage as shaped by the Bible. However, he did object to the use of sociological arguments about the various effects on society/ family life etc when the speaker had a prima facie objection to it. This was simply disingenuous.
To be honest I agreed with him to a degree. It is helpful to have transparency in vested interests or background convictions to help us hear the arguments more clearly. All this was pit in an article which was very thoughtfully and (given the topic and the author’s own background) very gracefully written.
However, it did raise two fundamental objections in my mind which commonly come up in discussions with friends with a philosophical commitment to atheism.
Firstly, it is sometimes implied that a Christian whose ideas and worldview are shaped by the Bible as the Word of God are somehow more open to bias or manipulation of the facts than someone who is ‘not religious.’ This cry for intellectual transparency is demanded for the ‘religious’ but not the ‘irreligious.’ But of course the whole point of postmodernism has been to expose the naivety of modernity’s rationalism: everyone comes to a situation with their own baggage; no-one can reach the ‘whole view of the elephant’ independently. The atheist is just as likely to bend an argument to support his prior naturalistic convictions as his Christian colleague.
Secondly, a commitment to the Bible as God’s truth does not negate arguments in the public sphere. This is fundamentally important. The Christian’s first and foremost conviction is that God made the world in which we live. He is the creator. Of course this is based on what is said in the Bible but it is also borne out of experience, of what makes sense of the world we live in. Importantly, if that is true (however you came to that conclusion), then the Bible’s patterns for family/ social/ political* life should be what works best in practice. If God made everything He should know how it all works. So a dichotomy between ‘religious’ and ‘sociological’ arguments is not coherent in Christian thinking. If God has said the right pattern for sexual relationships and family life is a heterosexual couple in a faithful monogamous marital relationship, then Christians should expect to find that is what works best, and can reasonably argue as such on sociological/ political lines. The caveat to that, of course, is that the Christian with integrity must also be prepared to re-examine his understanding if what he finds is actually to the contrary.
In the New Testament, Paul calls Christians to be ‘transformed by the renewing of your minds.’ As a Christian all my thinking will be shaped by my knowledge of Jesus Christ. But as I look at the world I should see this borne out in reality, and will continue to argue as such unless I find otherwise.
*I will briefly say here that I am firmly not in favour of ‘Christian’ political parties, but the reasons for that are for another day.