- Published on Wednesday, 20 January 2010 03:00
- Written by John Draper
- Hits: 1895
First it must be said that it's hard to imagine debating religion with a Muslim - anyone who professes to be a Muslim either accepts the "official" teaching of the Qu'ran or does not. There seems to be no in between. Once you accept the Qu'ran there seems to be little room for interpretation - at least not for the man in the street. An ordinary (not an Imam) Muslim must have a hard time knowing how to interpret the Qu'ran because every Imam seems to teach something different.
Amongst non-Catholic Christians, there are two kinds; fundamentalists who take the bible as literal and those who take the bible as a guide so could believe almost anything - perhaps depending on who they are talking to. But Catholics have their Church which claims to be the guardian of their faith - councils of bishops issue decrees and the pope infallibly interprets doctrine from time to time. There are large numbers of books written by Catholic theologians which document what has been decreed so Catholics theoretically have every theological idea decided for them. Very reassuring - kind of like a 5 year old believes everything his parents tell him. One downside is that as new things are learned, it's very difficult to change - they need a clever interpretation to say that "we knew that all along, we just need to express it more clearly"!
One consequence of this is that Catholics believe there is an answer for every question although they may not personally know what it is - but surely a Jesuit somewhere can answer any question! Most Catholics also believe that all ethical dilemmas can be judged objectively so they will know what is a sin and what is not. For example, killing is a sin except in self defense or in a just war. And did they justify a lot of wars!! One thorny question is if a mother is giving birth and the doctor decides he can only save one, who does he save? The Catholic answer sidesteps the question by saying "he should try to save both" - even if by doing so he reduces the chances of either living.
So in practice, how do you debate with a Catholic? If the Catholic is knowledgeable about his Church's teachings, then he will have answers to everything although many may not be rational or may really avoid a real answer. Another classic (and this applies also to other religions) is that if you have an irrefutable argument about (for example) the existence of god, he will simply say "well from a rational perspective, you may be right but my faith tells me you are wrong - and I'm sticking with my faith". This is obviously an impasse and the debate stops right there.
If the Catholic is not knowledgeable, he will resort to a similar argument much earlier - something like "all the Church experts have studied all these things and concluded that the Church is right and I'm sticking with that".
So bottom line, it's mostly a waste of time. However, I find it useful to convey to Catholics (and everyone for that matter) that I am a moral, ethical, sensible and hopefully pleasant person despite beliefs that are different. Then eventually if, and hopefully when, reason gets through to them, they will not have a prejudice against atheists. Who would want to adopt a belief associated with rotten people?