I’m normally, I think, an appropriately emotionally detached and patiently tolerant reader of stuff I come across on social media but, occasionally, there is the exception to prove the rule. Today I came across something which, to use a good Scottish word, “scunnered” me. If you haven’t come across that word, consult the image uploaded with this post. May I please blow off some necessary steam?
It seems to me that there’s a difference between a ‘fact’ and a ‘truth’. Facts belong to the outside world. Truths belong to the human mind. Something can be considered a ‘fact’ only if it is an empirical and observable or otherwise verifiable state of affairs. Something can be considered a ‘truth’ only if it is a human judgement which entirely corresponds to an empirical, observable or otherwise verifiable state of affairs.
If I am in a windowless room inside a building, and claim that it is snowing heavily outside, that judgement can only verifiably be a ‘truth’ if I go outside, and come back in again, with the observable ‘fact’ that there are now snowflakes adorning me where there weren’t any just a few minutes before.
There are scientific ‘facts’, which can be empirically tested, and repeatedly re-tested, and as a consequence rejected, modified or confirmed. In the latter case, they can, for the moment, be provisionally regarded as ‘truth’, although ‘theory’ is the acceptable term used by open-minded scientists, who welcome further research and experimentation whatever the findings and, at their best, even more so when such findings require them to eat humble pie and go back to square one.
There are no religious ‘facts’ which can be similarly empirically tested, observed or otherwise verified. In the absence of such ‘facts’, no judgements can therefore be made that can claim to be ‘truths’. The acceptable term, at least for open-minded religious people, will probably not be ‘theories’, but ‘opinions’ or ‘beliefs’ would do nicely. How refreshing it is, when there are those who are open to looking again at their beliefs, to reject, modify or confirm them as current evidence might persuade.
There are, however, religious people of particular persuasions, who claim to have the ‘truth’, and who dispute or deny that any others have the ‘truth’. For all the noise and hullabaloo they are inclined to make, they are actually saying nothing more than that they have beliefs and opinions which differ from those of others. Well yes indeed – we’d noticed that, sometimes with weariness, and sometimes with amusement. If only such people would permit this logically founded ‘fact’, and therefore ‘truth’, to penetrate their imprisoned heads, the world might become a less opinionated, divided, intolerant, mistrusting, hate-ridden and occasionally murderous place.
For the record, this is not an’ anti-religion’ post. I’m a reader of Christopher Hitchens, and much of what he said was well founded. Plenty of ammunition from down through the centuries had been handed to him. I differ from him in this. He said that, “religion poisons everything”. I would say that certain versions of religion poison many things. But then, certain versions of politics poison many things. What our world needs is a steadily increasing supply of ‘good and decent’ people, whatever (or even despite) their religion, or their politics, or anything else for that matter.