Posted October 27, 2015
Religion, Secular Thought, and Health and Happiness
There is no such a thing as pure objectivity, a view that is free
of all bias.
Yet that's the claim often made by non-religious, secular
thinkers in debates about values and public policy. They argue that their views,
unlike those who admit that their views are grounded in religious principles,
are objective and free from bias. Their underlying assumption is that a purely
rational argument, a view in effect from nowhere, is objective in a way that
religious arguments, based upon someone's faith and religious perspective, can
never be, as if there was such a thing as a purely objective starting point.
We all have a bias. The late Langdon Gilkey used to put this
in a gentle, more-palatable way. We don't have a bias, he says, but rather a
"pre-ontology", a subjective stance from which we look at reality. And that
stance includes both the place where we stand, outside, when we look into any
reality, as well as the software through which we perceive and reason as we look
at anything. He's right. There's no view from nowhere, no view that's unbiased,
and no view that's purely objective. Everyone has a bias. The religious person
and the secular person simply stand at different subjective places and process
things through different subjective, mental software.
Does this mean then
that all views are equally subjective and that everything is relative? Can we
not then distinguish between science and superstition? No. There are clearly
degrees of objectivity, even if no one can claim absolute objectivity. To admit
that even the strictest empirical scientific research will always contain a
degree of subjectivity is not to put science on the same level as superstition
or even of faith. Empirical science and rational thought must be given their
due. It is medical doctors, not faith-healers, who cure physical diseases.
Likewise, the scientific theory of evolution and the fundamentalist religious
belief that our world was made in seven days are not to be given an equal claim.
Much as religious thinkers are sometimes irritated by the absolutist claims of
some secularists, science and critical rational thinking must be given their
But religious thinking must also be given its due, especially in our
debates about values and politics. Religious opinion also needs to be respected,
not least with the more-explicit acknowledgement that secular reasoning too
operates out of a certain faith, as well as by the acknowledgement that, like
its scientific and philosophical counterparts, religious thinking also brings
invaluable and needed perspectives to any debate. A lot of the world's knowledge
is contained within science and philosophy, but most of the world's wisdom is
contained in its religious and faith perspectives. Just as we cannot live on
religion alone, we too cannot live on science and philosophy alone. Wisdom
needs knowledge and knowledge needs wisdom. Science and religion need to more
deeply befriend each other.
More important however than having a proper
apologetic about the place of faith and religion inside of public policy is an
understanding of this for our own health and happiness. We need to understand
how subjectivity colors everything, not so much so that we might eventually
convince secularists that religious perspectives are important in any
discussion, but so that we can more deliberately choose the right pre-ontology
so as to see the world through better eyes and make better judgments on the
The 12th century mystic, Hugo of St. Victor, gives us, I believe,
the right pre-ontology out of which to operate: Love is the eye! For Hugo, we
see most accurately when our eyesight works through the lens of love and
altruism, just as we see most inaccurately when our eyesight is colored by
suspicion and self-interest. And this isn't an abstract idea. Experience tells
us this. When we look at someone in love, beyond of course those periods when
love is overly-obsessed with romantic attraction, we see straight. We then see
the other as he or she really is, with full recognition of his or her virtues
and faults. That's as accurate as we will ever see. Conversely, when we see
someone through the eyes of suspicion or self-interest our vision is clouded and
there's not as fair a perception.
Jesus says as much with the first words
that comes out of his mouth in the Synoptic Gospels. In his very first remarks,
he invites us, in one word, to see the world as it really is. His first word?
Metanoia. This is a Greek word that is generally translated in English bibles,
as Repent, but it literally means "to enter a different, higher mind". And that
connotation is highlighted when we contrast it to another Greek word which we
already know, namely, Paranoia. Metanoia is the opposite of paranoia.
we look at the world through the eyes of paranoia, we are not seeing straight.
Conversely, when we look at the world through eyes of metanoia, we are seeing
straight, religiously and scientifically. Love, indeed, is the eye.