Facts, Values and “Your Personal Beliefs”

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This entry is part 6 of 8 in the series To Treat One Another As Humans


In discussion on To Treat One Another As Humans at Evangel (the parallel post to this one), Jayhuck said (comment #118),

I believe legislating you’re [sic] personal religious beliefs is wrong. Hold onto your beliefs, pass them onto your children, just don’t force everyone to live under your religious rules.

In response I asked him (comment #121), “what prevents the same from being said back to you, with the word ‘religious’ removed?” His answer (comment #142) was,

I’m surprised I have to answer this for you. One, we are not a theocracy. Two, you are using your religious beliefs to denigrate and oppress a minority. I am not trying to do that. Is that clear?

What he intended with that may seem clear, but it needs work, for there are doubtful assumptions buried within it. I will pass by the question of theocracy quickly, as it’s a red herring (although see below). The U.S. Constitution protects this country from theocratic rule, and no Christians I know of have expressed the slightest interest in undermining the Constitution. Whenever we speak of x-ocracy, we’re referring to some process x by which laws are passed and enforced. We’re all operating under the same democratic processes, so theocracy is not a danger we face.

As for denigrating and oppressing a minority, that’s just a tit-for-tat situation. He’s denigrating Christianity. Whether it’s a minority or not makes no substantial difference. I doubt Jayhuck would voice support for oppressing anyone, whether in a majority or a minority.

That leaves us with the far more interesting matter of “personal religious beliefs.” For clarity I’ll repeat the question we were discussing. His statement read,

I believe legislating you’re personal religious beliefs is wrong. Hold onto your beliefs, pass them onto your children, just don’t force everyone to live under your religious rules.

I asked him to consider the alternate:

I believe legislating your personal beliefs is wrong. Hold onto your beliefs, pass them onto your children, just don’t force everyone to live under your rules.

Jayhuck undoubtedly knows people are forced to live under others’ rules in any civil society. Traffic laws, zoning regulations, public safety requirements, mandatory immunizations, TSA security checks—all of these are rules we are forced to accept. So that in itself can’t be his problem. He’s also fine with persons holding their beliefs and passing them to their children. His problem is not that, either. The issue becomes clear in comments #121 and #142 (see above): it’s “using your personal religious beliefs.”

Here’s the fascinating thing: he might have said “using your erroneous beliefs,” but he didn’t. Undoubtedly he disagrees with Christian belief, but he didn’t think it necessary to say so; it was sufficient to label it “religious.” Apparently that’s all it takes to disqualify one’s beliefs from being brought to the public policy table. Note also that he qualifies “religious” with “personal.” This is, in fact, a paradigm case of the fact-value dichotomy that rules much of public discourse. I have written about it at least three times previously.

Briefly stated, the fact-value dichotomy consists in considering certain beliefs and values to be strictly matters of personal opinion or choice, removed from the realm of fact. Religion in particular is one’s personal and private affair. One chooses one’s religion (or lack thereof) from a menu of options. The choice one makes is a matter of taste, whim, or the accidents of one’s upbringing. As such, it’s not capable of being either right or wrong—but it is always wrong to call upon it to inform public policy. This is why the charge of theocracy gets trotted out: not because anyone is afraid we’re going to replace Congress and the President with a council of bishops, but because there’s something wrong with anything religiously-connected from being made into law.

In contrast to private beliefs and values there are facts. Generally speaking, facts are what everyone can observe, touch, measure, count, and so on. The ultimate arbiter of fact is science. Values and beliefs don’t fit in this realm: we can count how many people hold a certain value, but there’s no scientific way to assess values themselves.

I can’t know for sure that Jayhuck is operating under these assumptions, but they are common enough that this is at least a good opportunity to raise a strong caution against them once again. Christianity is not one among a menu of options. Neither is it a matter of one’s private choice, a purely personal matter. It is either true or false—publicly true or false. If Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again, he did so in real history—public history. If he did these things, then his claim to be the Son of God is confirmed, and he is Son of God for all persons in all times, and his teachings carry authority for all persons in all times. If not, then Christianity is publicly false.

Thus the fact-value dichotomy is misguided and misleading as a matter of (yes) fact. But that’s not all. Placing religion and values into the private realm is dangerous and self-defeating. Jayhuck believes in justice for oppressed minorities. That’s a private and personal value which he holds. What gives it any authority in the public sphere? Not that I disagree with it; I don’t at all. We share that value in common. Even though we both adhere to it, still it is private to both of us, and divorced from the realm of fact.

Jayhuck thinks this value holds some real authority. History tells us we can’t count on that lasting—not unless it stands on a firm foundation of public truth.

Where does this leave the gay “marriage” question that got this whole discussion started? It puts the focus where it belongs: on God. God is the issue. If a loving creator God exists and has spoken on the matter, it would be utter foolishness to think we could come up with a better answer than his.

Series Navigation (To Treat One Another As Humans):<<< Christians and Gay-Rights Advocates: Hatred or Humanity?Treating One Another As Humans (Redux) >>>
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40 Responses to “ Facts, Values and “Your Personal Beliefs” ”

  1. “I can’t know for sure that Jayhuck is operating under these assumptions, but they are common enough that this is at least a good opportunity to raise a strong caution against them once again. Christianity is not one among a menu of options. Neither is it a matter of one’s private choice, a purely personal matter. It is either true or false—publicly true or false. If Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again, he did so in real history—public history. If he did these things, then his claim to be the Son of God is confirmed, and he is Son of God for all persons in all times, and his teachings carry authority for all persons in all times. If not, then Christianity is publicly false.”

    One can make the claim about any religion. Most religions and even various Christian denominations purport to hold the “Truth”. I think you missed the real danger here. The danger is in a group believing so much that they are right, that they have the “truth”, that there’s no possibility they are wrong, they are willing to persecute others. Religion and faith are indeed personal choices that people make, regardless of whether they are right or wrong.

  2. “He’s denigrating Christianity. Whether it’s a minority or not makes no substantial difference. I doubt Jayhuck would voice support for oppressing anyone, whether in a majority or a minority.”

    I am doing no such thing. I have a great respect for Christians and Christianity. I have no desire to see their rights infringed upon. Many of my dearest friends are Orthodox Christians, who disagree with me on the subject of homosexuality but still support civil unions for gay people.

    I wrote this on your other blog, but think its worth re-posting here in order to clarify my position:

    “Wow, um, thank you Tom! I truly believe that there is a reasonable and peaceful way to resolve our differences. One that allows both straight and gay people the right to the pursuit of happiness without continuing this culture “war”. I’d much prefer to see both sides rights enshrined in law. I absolutely believe in the right of someone to hold a religious belief that being gay is a sin – for the record.”

  3. “Denigrate” is a broad word that includes such things as a strong disagreement with basic beliefs. You do not desire to see Christians’ rights infringed, you say, but the truth of that statement depends on your own definition of rights. You would deny, for example, that Christians have the right to bring our beliefs regarding SSM to bear upon public policy.

  4. “You would deny, for example, that Christians have the right to bring our beliefs regarding SSM to bear upon public policy.”

    I have never suggested that there be a law to deny religious people the right to try and legislate their beliefs on others. What I’ve been attempting to do is to suggest how this is wrong, unreasonable and unfair and to also point out that they don’t do it with a number of other groups, so why single out gay people?

    “Regarding your 12:51 comment, the danger applies to non-religious convictions as well. Including yours.”

    The danger would apply if people on the other side were working diligently to deny the rights of Christians, but I do not see that being the case.

  5. You’re right, Tom. It’s not about intolerance, oppression, or hate. It’s about ultimate authority, and who has it–Jehovah, or men? Were human bodies designed to function in a certain matter; is there a natural order which God has explicitly made known to us, should there be any confusion–or are we the ‘end’ result of the blind, purposeless interactions of matter?

  6. “It’s about ultimate authority, and who has it–Jehovah, or men?”

    Yikes – that kind of statement is just downright scary. Whose interpretation of Jehovah will get to be the one in ultimate authority?

  7. “Yikes – that kind of statement is just downright scary. Whose interpretation of Jehovah will get to be the one in ultimate authority?”

    Are you trying to imply that the Bible isn’t crystal clear on the matter of human sexuality? What is there to interpret?

  8. “Are you trying to imply that the Bible isn’t crystal clear on the matter of human sexuality? What is there to interpret?”

    What I’m trying to say is that there are thousands of Christian denominations each which interpret the Bible differently. That, and there are plenty of other faiths that are not Christian that sometimes claim to have ultimate Truth. So clearly, interpretation is rampant among Christians.

  9. I personally love the Orthodox Church’s stance on the issue of Truth. They say: We know where Truth is, but we don’t necessarily know where it is not! I may have misquoted the statement, but I believe I have captured the sentiment.

  10. “What I’m trying to say is that there are thousands of Christian denominations each which interpret the Bible differently. That, and there are plenty of other faiths that are not Christian that sometimes claim to have ultimate Truth. So clearly, interpretation is rampant among Christians.”

    This is a red herring. Ironically, even though ‘Christian’ groups disagree in many areas, all orthodox Christian groups and their derivative cult sects (JW’s, Mormons, etc) agree on the issue of human sexuality (as far as I know). Why? Because Scripture is clear on the matter. It’s impossible to twist its meaning.

  11. While this is mixing threads across the meta, I would like to distinctly separate the idea that the Religious or Christian right had anything to do with religious or Christian orthodoxy. Any coalition of people rallying about any moral point of Law are failing to rally about the Gospel. I do like the idea that Tom puts forth in his thesis statement (or it should have been his thesis statement) that you should remove the word “religious” from the sentence and see how you feel about the statement. That sort of argument works well in any discussion to see exactly what sort of rhetoric we are using.

    At the end of the day, from where our values emanate is not the issue. They are our values and we have as much right as the next to attempt to legislate based upon these values. The problem about forcing people to act out contrary to their values is not a passing problem. If a judge is in a position of being forced to render same-sex unions, this is not the same as what has been threatened in this country. The judge is a public official and obligated to the laws of the land.

    What I have heard here is that the tax exempt status of a church would be revoked if said church refused to perform same-sex unions. This is clear interference of freedom of religion. But believe me people, if you abuse the Constitution in one direction, the Constitution can be, and probably will be, abused in the opposite direction.

    My point is this, again (following up from the other blog.) Our mission as the Church is the Great Commission. The Law is just not a good way to Evangelize. The Gospel is a better place to start. The United States is not a Christian nation, perhaps it never has been, but it clearly isn’t now. If your values reflect the Law as seen in the Bible, then sell the Gospel before you attempt to push the Law. Otherwise, the pagan mind does not recognize your well grounded Biblical argument to the Truth of the Law as valid.

  12. Responding to Jayhuck #10, he is right. We don’t have our own house in order. If we cannot at the very least give a clear and consistent point of view of salvific issues like justification, imputation and propitiation, then how can we expect the pagan world to take us seriously on non-salvific issues like the application of the Law to the conduct and practice of the law of man.

  13. “This is a red herring. Ironically, even though ‘Christian’ groups disagree in many areas, all orthodox Christian groups and their derivative cult sects (JW’s, Mormons, etc) agree on the issue of human sexuality (as far as I know). Why? Because Scripture is clear on the matter. It’s impossible to twist its meaning.”

    Not a red herring and not true! There are a number of Christian groups that do not agree on the issue of human sexuality, although you are right about the cult sects.

  14. It is a red herring, because the fact that Christian groups may interpret Scripture in a variety of ways on some issues has no bearing on the observation that the issue of human sexuality is relatively unchallenged among said groups. Hence, who has ultimate authority–God, who has spoken rather clearly on this issue, or men.

    You say there are a ‘number of Christian groups that do not agree on the issue of human sexuality (in this context, homosexuality). While this wouldn’t surprise me, (“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear,” 2 Tim 4:3), can you provide a reference?

  15. “It is a red herring, because the fact that Christian groups may interpret Scripture in a variety of ways on some issues has no bearing on the observation that the issue of human sexuality is relatively unchallenged among said groups. Hence, who has ultimate authority–God, who has spoken rather clearly on this issue, or men.”

    No its not a red herring. You’ve already admitted there are Christian groups that disagree with each other on the issue of sexuality. I know you believe you have ultimate Truth, that’s fine. So do many others, who don’t agree with you, who also use Scripture to illustrate their point.

  16. “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear,” 2 Tim 4:3

    The same verse could be used against you. Whose to say you are not the false teacher saying to others what they want to hear?

  17. There are disagreements within the Christian tradition. Generally speaking, those who hold to the authority of Scripture do not support same-sex “marriage.”

  18. Tom,

    “Generally speaking, those who hold to the authority of Scripture do not support same-sex “marriage.””

    That depends on what you mean by the authority of Scripture, because Christians also do not agree on this.

  19. I conceded no such thing, which is why I’ve asked for a reference. That way, if such group(s) exists, we can examine their Scriptural arguments together and see if they’re operating under sound exegetical procedures.

    The burden of proof is on you to show that it is possible to exegete sound pro-homosexuality arguments from Scripture, since the Church at large monolithically affirms the contrary position. A few rogues and renegades erroneously twisting Scriptures for their own ends would not harm the orthodox position at all.

    Liberal postmodern relativists would have us believe that it’s impossible to discern any objective meaning from anything. Perhaps the Harry Potter novels don’t really mean what they say, and any and all interpretations regarding them are equally valid. It may be possible to allegorize the text making Harry Potter out to be Barack Obama who is fighting not evil wizards, but space aliens from the Planet Malmac. But would such an interpretation be warranted? What would Rowling have to say on the matter?

  20. Bryan,

    “The burden of proof is on you to show that it is possible to exegete sound pro-homosexuality arguments from Scripture, since the Church at large monolithically affirms the contrary position. A few rogues and renegades erroneously twisting Scriptures for their own ends would not harm the orthodox position at all.”

    You really haven’t been listening to anything that has been said on the two blogs have you? You don’t get to throw this back at me and claim that it is I who have to exegate sound arguments for the rights of LGBT people from Scripture because I am no longer a Christian. I’m asking for basic fairness and a recognition of the reality we all live in where people of different beliefs and backgrounds have to live together and hopefully learn to respect and tolerate each other and affirm the other’s right to the pursuit of happiness.

  21. Tom,

    “Jayhuck, if your point is that nobody knows anything whatsoever about religion in any way, please go ahead and say so. But it’s not true.”

    That’s never been my point. My point is in learning to respect others who disagree with you, realize they are human beings who deserve the same rights as you.

  22. “You don’t get to throw this back at me and claim that it is I who have to exegate sound arguments for the rights of LGBT people from Scripture because I am no longer a Christian.”

    Yes, he does. The fact that you’re no longer a Christian does not allow you to escape from your burden of proof.

  23. Jayhuck, are you suggesting that my disagreement with some others in the Christian tradition constitutes disrespect or a denial that they are human beings?

  24. My point is in learning to respect others who disagree with you, realize they are human beings who deserve the same rights as you.

    On what basis is this categorical assertion made? A warm-fuzzy “just-so” story? Who needs a burden of proof anyway, when one’s personal sentiments count… right? And, why would anyone critical thinker enter into a discussion–let alone be convinced in important matters–by someone whose “best” position is largely based on “the same could be used against you” (read: “so there!”) or “[Who’s] to say you are not the false teacher saying to others what they want to hear ?” (a deflection) or employs the “group hug fallacy” (since fringe elements of a group people hold repugnant positions or warped interpretations then for the sake of “equality” those interpretations should be accepted).

    I know of fringe groups who still hold a flat-earth vision of the cosmos. Are their ideas supposed to be “equal” to other ideas? Really? Why stop there? Why not accept the ideas of the “brights” or VEHMT or transhumanists or Nazis or pedophiles or necrophiliacs or bestiality promoters or polygamy or female circumcision or atheism or abortionists or euthanasia promoters or moral relativists, etc. etc., ad nauseum?

    You’re not a serious or deep thinker, Jayhuck, because you’re not concerned with truth but with imposing a lowest-common-denominator vision on anything that doesn’t suit your world view. Well, yippy-skippy: why can’t we all just get along–no matter how objectively repugnant some of the views expressed are? Your “contributions” here drip with an eclectic mixture of fallacies, ignorance, and self-serving postmodernism.

    Rev 3:16

  25. “Jayhuck, are you suggesting that my disagreement with some others in the Christian tradition constitutes disrespect or a denial that they are human beings?”

    No, not necessarily.

    Truth,

    why should I have to do this with Scripture when I’m not a Christian and I don’t agree with scripture? That doesn’t make any sense

  26. Holopup,

    “You’re not a serious or deep thinker, Jayhuck, because you’re not concerned with truth but with imposing a lowest-common-denominator vision on anything that doesn’t suit your world view. Well, yippy-skippy: why can’t we all just get along–no matter how objectively repugnant some of the views expressed are? Your “contributions” here drip with an eclectic mixture of fallacies, ignorance, and self-serving postmodernism.”

    And I might say you jump to conclusions based on a few posts. You haven’t the faintest idea who I am. If you want me to start casting accusations at people based on some of their posts, I would have a great deal to say about the poster Truth, but I will refrain.

    You have completely missed my point.

  27. Jayhuck, you answered, “No, not necessarily.” In that case I conclude that you are saying nothing of substance whatsoever when you point out differences of opinion among denominations.

  28. Holo,

    “I know of fringe groups who still hold a flat-earth vision of the cosmos. Are their ideas supposed to be “equal” to other ideas? Really? Why stop there? Why not accept the ideas of the “brights” or VEHMT or transhumanists or Nazis or pedophiles or necrophiliacs or bestiality promoters or polygamy or female circumcision or atheism or abortionists or euthanasia promoters or moral relativists, etc. etc., ad nauseum?”

    My point has never been that there are not good people on both sides of the same sex marriage debate. There are. Good, honest, law-abiding, tax-paying citizens on both sides – not Nazis, but I do find it amusing when they are brought into the picture by both sides of this issue. My point, is that we have to learn to live together. Gay couples, gay people, gay families are not going to go away.

    I’m going to copy and paste something from the other blog because my fingers are getting tired of typing:

    “I am truly sorry if I came across as patronizing in some of my posts. I promise that was not my intention. Sometimes, however, I don’t think many Christians get that there are those who thoughtfully and respectfully disagree with them. I cannot label everyone on this blog as thoughtless and patronizing anymore than you can dismiss all the arguments from the Pro-LGBT camp as name calling.

    Look, gay people, gay couples and gay families are not going away, so we all have to figure out a way to live in peace with each other, and to be fair to each other. I’m sure there are gay people out there who have been so hurt by religion that they want to lash back out at it, but I can truthfully say, that of all the gay people and organizations with which I’m familiar (and that is quite a few), none want to undermine the rights of those whose faith calls them to disagree with practicing homosexuality. I think its only fair to call on some conservative Christians to behave in the same way with regards to gay people. Just because you allow gay people to marry, does not mean you have to agree with practicing homosexuals. That’s an idea that seems to get lost on some.

    We can allow gay marriage to go forward and protect the rights of all religious people involved. This would most likely happen if we worked together, although I don’t see that happening anytime soon. I can still pray for it though.”

  29. Tom,

    “In that case I conclude that you are saying nothing of substance whatsoever when you point out differences between opinions among denominations.”

    Conclude whatever you must, but I don’t understand your point here.

  30. Tom,

    I am starting to feel like I’m beating my head against a brick wall on your two blogs, and I’m sure some of the posters on here feel the same way about me. I asked myself early on why I was posting on a blog where I held a minority opinion and where everyone seemed very entrenched in their positions and I never honestly answered that question. I have too many obligations in my life right now to keep up a discussion on these two blogs so I am finally keeping my promise and bowing out of this discussion.

    I want to thank people like you and Gary who truly seemed to want to listen and dialogue with me, unlike some others. I realize you can find the latter on most opinion sites in cyberspace so its most definitely not just a problem with these blogs.

    I truly hope we are able to resolve our differences peacefully. I hope we are able to live in a society where every law-abiding and tax-paying citizens’ religious beliefs are respected and tolerated and where gay people are allowed to pursue happiness just as those who disagree with practicing homosexuality are. I think we are still pretty far away from that world (but I believe it is still possible), although I see positive changes happening even in the most conservative Evangelical of Christian groups.

    For all the heated debate, I don’t believe in demonizing or pigeonholing Christians for the record. I don’t think I can emphasize this point enough. I am sorry if any of my posts have suggested otherwise.

    I sincerely wish you the all best Tom! Take care and God bless! If anyone cares to continue a dialogue with me feel free to email me at [email protected]. I will post this on the other blog as well

  31. “A few rogues and renegades erroneously twisting Scriptures for their own ends would not harm the orthodox position at all.”

    Well, these rogues and renegades do do some damage. Just have to put out the fire and limit the damage.

  32. Jaychuck says “I believe legislating you’re [sic] personal religious beliefs is wrong. Hold onto your beliefs, pass them onto your children, just don’t force everyone to live under your religious rules.” Yet, at the same time he wants everyone to live under his rules as if his weren’t informed by some overarching principal just like religion.

    I gather he believes that because “gay people, gay couples and gay families are not going away, so we all have to figure out a way to live in peace with each other” that gives him the basis for insisting that those that oppose SSM should give up their religiously informed belief for his “religiously” informed belief. Now, he doesn’t go to the “we all have to figure out a way to live in peace with each other” church. Ignoring his implicit red herring (that people who oppose SSM don’t want “everyone to live in peace”) he ignores that the basis for his beliefs has nothing more to recommend it than those who base their beliefs on their faith.

    It has become a point of popular “reasoning” that faith based beliefs are biased or lack reason in some way. What follows is that any basis for one’s beliefs other than religious faith is somehow based solely on reason and is value neutral. However, this is not true. All beliefs are based on principals. Those non-faith-based principals are just as value laden and are not necessarily any more reasonable than any other. Those on that side just want us to ignore this.

  33. Right. It’s alright for secular (religious) humanists to legislate their beliefs, but not Christians. After all, if all we are is higher-order pond scum with the same ultimate fate as a pig or a marmoset, why not legalize SSM? Anything goes. “If there is no God, everything is permitted.”

    But what if we were created in the image of God, and He has imposed His will on us? His natural order?

    Again–who has the authority? It depends on what is Truth. Christians have a commitment based on what we hold to be true (absolutely true–not just ‘true for us’) to uphold Godly values. Considering the ultimate consequences of sin, it would be unloving to act in any other way: to let our unbelieving brethren–who are also made in God’s image–carry on thinking that they are acting in accordance with God’s will with their lifestyle.

    “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death (Proverbs 14:12).”

  34. “why should I have to do this with Scripture when I’m not a Christian and I don’t agree with scripture? That doesn’t make any sense”

    It doesn’t matter whether you agree with Scripture or not because you’re still capable of exegesis either way. If you want to argue against the mainstream Christian position that the Bible is unambiguous with regards to human sexuality (homosexuality)–making it indeed a ‘man vs. God’ issue–you need to prove it. It doesn’t matter what a few fringe groups believe…people are capable of believing anything. We must look to the Bible and see what it actually says. This involves objective hermeneutical and exegetical principles such as considering context, analyzing the meaning and range of Hebrew and Greek words…etc.

  35. *The danger is in a group believing so much that they are right, that they have the “truth”, that there’s no possibility they are wrong, they are willing to persecute others…*

    Fascinating discussion. Thank you all.

    Jayhuch, I must tell you I’m at a loss as to why you link these two points…believing in right, and then this obviously leading to persecution.

    The danger in a police force with guns is that the neighborhood will turn into the OK Coral when the cops show up. The danger in giving the ‘right to choose’ will be in choose wrong (the standards being defined by something greater than ourselves…as in the personal choice to abuse alcohol while others know how to behave with that choice). I dont’ see the two linked. They are however linked to an moral standard…something those critical of faith forget to mention. I may believe I am right in my faith, but also believe that right has a HUGE responsibility…defined by the same creator that gave me the right beliefs.

    I really don’t accept the notion that a point of belief is valid based on the ‘possible’ choices on its misuse and the outcome from that.

    Ironically, your point does lead directly to the issue of ‘free will’…which is a concept that answers so many other questions about our relation to God and His role in our lives versus our choices and justice.

    I look forward to more postings.

  36.