Recent local and national events have raised the ardor of the discussion regarding religion in public life. Whether it is the political debates surrounding the Presidential candidates or the religious beliefs of our school board chairman, the appropriateness of religion in public policy is a hotly disputed subject.
What amazes me is that we miss the obvious when it comes to metaphysics, religion, and theology in public discussions. It is what I call a tale of two assumptions.
Assumptions are funny things, because people rarely discern what ones they are making nor overtly discuss them. Because certain things are perceived as self-evidently true, they are seldom questioned and just assumed to be true.
Most people in America assume in one of two ways.
One type of assumer contends that there is no God, and the only thing that really exists is the natural material world. God is as imaginary as the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, leprechauns, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
These assumers would also say that somehow natural laws made nature, and only the laws of physics run the universe.
The other type of assumer contends that besides the natural material world there is also a personal God who is the Creator and Sustainer of everything. He made the laws of physics and operates the universe through them but also around them as he sees fit.
These assumers find it difficult to see how something comes from nothing by nothing. Likewise, it seems nonsensical to attribute the origin of everything to natural laws. For the laws of physics to create a universe, the laws would have to exist prior to the universe, yet those laws are tied to the universe, creating an impossible chicken-or-the-egg scenario.
The point is that these two very different conceptions of what is really real, where everything comes from, and how everything works are not derived from science. They are metaphysical and religious.
BOTH types of assumers have religious and metaphysical explanations, doctrine, stories, and experiences.
In a June 2009 article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, atheist philosopher of science, Michael Ruse, freely admitted, “In the Darwinian case there are 2 levels of activity and interest … there is the level of science and the level of metaphysics (recognizing that this includes things that might be considered scientific at one end and religious or otherwise ideological at the other end).”
The metaphysical and religious explanations of both types of assumers are their undeniably deep core beliefs from which neither can divorce themselves.
Here is where most people miss the obvious. We assume that there are those who inject religion into public policy and debate and there are those who don’t. It is assumed that there are people of faith and there are people who are not of faith.
This is patently false. Everyone is a person of some kind of faith who can’t help but inject their religion into the public arena, because everyone holds to certain undeniable though differing basic metaphysical beliefs.
A common objection is that we live in a secular society, so religion is not part of public life. Educators explain that we have state universities or public schools, so they have to leave religion out of the discussion.
This is a bald-faced lie. Every teacher in every class in every school every day teaches from a particular set of metaphysical and religious assumptions whether out of conviction or because of a mandate from administrators.
It is inevitable and unavoidable that religion will be taught. It may not be Christian religion, but it is religion nonetheless.
Our “free thinking” neighbors wish us to believe that their atheism means they are non-religious. This is a thin smoke screen for assumptions that, while not traditionally religious, are no less metaphysical than those of Christians.
The Darwin Fish on the cars of some humanists and secularists, while a tongue-in-cheek jab at Christians, really hints at the religious core of their beliefs.
They don’t want to admit what is unavoidable — that they too promote a religious and metaphysical view, just one quite different from the Christian majority.
So when citizens express their concern over the religious principles held by politicians or that our school board chairman belongs to the Free Thought Society, this is perfectly legitimate and responsible.
When our chairman assures us that his atheism will play no role in public policy, though, he is lying, because atheism is what our public schools teach our children every day.
Don’t let that shock you. No, you will not usually find Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, or Richard Dawkins overtly discussed in class.
However, do our schools teach how God informs economics, government, science, history, literature, or the arts?
Instead, we teach every subject as if there is no God who contributes to knowledge.
So what religious ideology is that?
I’ll give you a hint — it starts with an “A.”
Rather than deny that there is religion in the public arena, let’s be honest about what religion is being promoted and whether it is adequate to the task.
[David Richardson of Peachtree City coordinates the Assumptions Project. He has a Master of Theology degree from Oxford University and is a recognized expert on the religious attitudes and beliefs of university professors. He, his wife, and his children have lived in Fayette County for over 22 years.]