Oh Yeah?

This is a rather strange piece of comment. I used to quite like Karen Armstrong’s books, though I found her a bit too woolly about religion even then, but I suppose now that I’m older and less forgiving I’m more aware of…well, special pleading.

The religions are all committed to the quest for truth, however uncomfortable…There is unanimous agreement that the religious quest cannot begin until we see things as they really are. We cannot function effectively while trapped in enervating structures of denial, and a church that ignores the suffering of those it has injured in order to shore up its own authority has lost its way. There can be no healing for either the church or its victims unless the hierarchy learns once again to speak the truth that sets us free.

Hmm. Is that really true? Is it even close? Are religions all committed to the quest for truth however uncomfortable? You could have fooled me. They seem to me to be very much committed to the quest for untruth. For comforting fictions, for ways of thinking about ‘uncomfortable’ facts that make them seem less uncomfortable, for ways of thinking about the world that allow religions to go on interpreting the evidence in such a way that they have things right and non-religious people don’t. That’s not exactly my idea of the quest for truth. It is in fact my idea of an enervating structure of denial. I suppose Armstrong must have in mind some special definition of ‘the quest for truth’ that makes it match up with what ‘the religions’ do – spiritual truth, emotional truth, poetic truth, something woolly like that – which is why I call it special pleading. But that’s a perversion of the word. And if that’s not what she means, I truly don’t understand her assertion. Uncomfortable truth seems to me to be exactly the thing ‘the religions’ are not at all committed to the quest for.

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