Making the case in terms anyone can agree with
A comment on this post snagged my attention.
It depends on the context. But let’s stick to the political for now. In that arena, you make progress by gathering allies, not making enemies – although you will always have to make some of them. So you make the case in terms that anyone can agree with, even if they’re not atheists. I was involved in a pamphlet advocating restrictions on religious schools, and that’s just what we did. We didn’t premise the case on religion’s falsity, but issues of social cohesion, autonomy and so on.
Well, it depends. Even in politics you don’t always make the case in terms that anyone can agree with, because it depends on what the case is. You can’t make every case in terms that anyone can agree with and still make the case. (Of course the commenter knows that. I’m just trying to tease out some implications.) Some cases are of their nature going to have to be made in terms that some people cannot agree with.
But more specifically, what snagged my attention about this comment is that I think something is missing – or, to put it another way: I would put it another way. If I were involved in a pamphlet like that, I wouldn’t want to premise the case on religion’s falsity either, but nor would I want to limit myself to issues of social cohesion and autonomy. I would want to premise the case not on religion’s falsity, but on the related point that there is no very good reason to think religion is true (although I might well be willing to phrase it more tactfully, or possibly even evasively). I would want to talk about the fact that schools are supposed to educate and that education is supposed to teach things that there is good reason to think are true. It is not, to the best of my knowledge, supposed to teach things that there is no good reason to think are true. So – it is a problem if schools set about to teach things as true that there is no good reason to think are true. Schools do that, of course, but that’s a problem. That’s not the only reason to advocate restrictions on religous schools, but I would think it’s one.
In fact the pamphlet does make that case, or something like it.
It is, however, difficult to see how religious education and religious instruction could be compatible, and this is because religious beliefs, unlike mathematical truths (at least at school level), are contested and controversial…The teacher who is committed to the activity of education cannot, however, simply teach that religion as true, since there are other rational judges who believe that the religion is false and can offer reasons in support of that view, and pupils who are to be genuinely educated must be acquainted with those reasons.
So – I would just point out that those are in fact not terms that anyone can agree with; some religous believers will not agree with them. The issue is not so much whether or not religion is true as whether there is good reason to think so – but that itself is a contentious issue.