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The Gagging of the Christian

On account of a penchant for ice cream and a distinct hatred of the toothbrush, I was forced to visit the dentist. It was with fear and trembling I opened my mouth and placed my gnashers in the control of an armed stranger. Sure enough, cavities abounded and various contraptions of torture were produced and laid out on a table ready to be put to use.

Whilst I lay there, a conversation between the dentist and his assistant ensued. It related to the nature of God and how we should live. The dentist said that his God didn't mind how he lived, because his god was his “flexible friend.” The assistant, a devout Jehovah's Witness, pulled out her sacred book and began to refute the claims of the dentist. The discussion became more and more heated and consequently the drilling of my teeth became more frenetic. At one point the dentist, drill poised over my right incisor, asked for my agreement with him. I did not agree, but did not want to risk the ire of my passionate friend, so shrugged my shoulders in the most ambiguous manner.

The truth is, I wanted to speak but I had no way into the conversation due to the obstructions placed in my mouth. I certainly had something to say on the matter. Being a Christian, I wanted to tell them about what I believed and how I thought that affected how we should live. Short of spitting out the drill and suction device, I was obliged to remain silent.

It is in this condition the Christian is increasingly finding him or herself in. Let me be clear: I do not think our voice has been abolished yet, in fact the Christian is often provided with privileged access to the microphone. However, there are those who wish, not purely to diminish our voice, but to eradicate it. They wish to gag us and render us silent. The future, in their minds, is one where an argument for or against a public policy, for example, cannot be based on any prior commitment to religion.

In a recent conversation on Philosophy Bites, a regular pod-cast with short interviews with philosophers, Mary Warnock, who sits in the British House of Lords said in regards to public policy on euthanasia, “Anyone who says that human life is a gift from God is just simply talking irrelevantly because not everyone believes that. And so how can that particular belief be brought in to justify blocking any attempt at legalizing assisted suicide?” Her argument rested on excluding the premise that there is a God and that he has spoken, and that he has certain moral requirements for human behavior. The argument, she stated, must rest on good evidence—both rational and scientific—not on the want or desire of a certain deity.

The question for Ms Warnock is: On what basis does one exclude the opinion of the theist or the religious? If the exclusion is based on whether or not there is evidence for God, she must conclude that there is no such empirical proof either way. If the exclusion is made on the basis of reason, which reasoning leads to the logical conclusion that theism is unreasonable? Indeed this Christian is an admirer of that same logic, as was Aquinas and many Christian apologists before and after him. If, as she seems to imply, it is based on the fact that not everyone believes in God or a particular religion, can we not simply reply that not everyone believes in what she believes in? That Warnock's opinion is confined to small elite groups of politicians and academics is untrue. The Richard Dawkins approved popular campaign, OUT seeks to “KEEP OUT the supernatural from our moral principles and public policies”

But, you might argue, aren't there some things which the religious are better equipped to talk about and other things they are not. For example, my encounter at the dentist seems to be a legitimate arena for discussion as the debate was about God. True, however, is not the discussion also about how we should live in the light of who we think God is? If, as a believer, I hold an ethical position because of my view of God, is it unreasonable to allow me to follow the internal reasoning provided for me by my belief? This is certainly the privilege granted to those without such a belief. A scientist will use experience (as might a Christian by the way), a rationalist might use sound reason (again, as might a Christian), but both appeal to a belief they hold prior to the conversation (namely the belief that either their senses or their reasoning shall bring forth good policy)

Another method used to gag the Christian is to appeal to the method in which we communicate our worldview. In the recent US election, President Obama stated that, “Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument and amenable to reason” (Call to Renewal). This means that the Christian would be obliged to “clothe” the Christian view in garb which looks non-Christian. The fact that the Christian does not expect the same in return shows a minor discrepancy in this thinking. Should our voice be clothed in language that is devoid of references to scripture or to a belief in God? Perhaps God is okay, as long as we mean a universal mind which is indiscriminate in its selection of truth. However, if I talk about Christ, do I step over the line in public discourse? Jesus claims exclusive divinity – that he is fully God therefore what he said on marriage, murder and love of neighbor hold a kind of authority which is absolute.

In my opinion (freely expressed and knowing that some will disagree) there is no basis for the exclusion of the Christian voice in public life except for one of prejudice. Furthermore, the Christian is not obliged to make his or her opinion known incognito, but should assert his or her premise that God is real and He has spoken and this affects how we live our lives—in private and in public.

My propensity to treat my teeth badly means that I will probably have many more opportunities to join in with conversations at the dentist. My opportunities to speak in the public square, on the other hand, seem to be shrinking. My plea to those who do not espouse the faith is: By all means argue with us, challenge our presuppositions and point out any flaws in our argument, but do not silence us!

Obama, Barack. "Call to Renewal." Building a Covenant for a New America Conference. Call to Renewal Building, Washington, DC. 28 June 2006. 28 June 2006. Barack Obama U.S. Senator for Illinois. 23 Oct. 2008 .

The OUT Campaign - 28 Feb. 2009 .

Warnock, Mary. Interview. Audio blog post. 2 June 2007. 2 Mar. 2009 .