I read a blog post today written by someone I admire greatly. In a response to the question of what religious institutions should teach to followers and believers she states:
“The main things is that I believe religious institutions should rigorously teach those truths they are sure of. What those truths are or should be is another discussion all together. But I do think some truths can be known, and that perhaps is where our difference of opinion lies. Mainly I take issue with the idea of rigorous theology as a commodity pedaled by institutions to their credulous followers.”
It is true that a large part of me believes, in a very Platonic sense, that Truth exists. There is some form of Goodness, Beauty, Righteousness, and Love. Yet, much like Plato, I believe it is impossibile to perfectly manifest such ideals in this material world. How can we teach pure love? Are religions duty bound to only teach what truths they know? If so, how do they know what they know? Instead, are they simply teaching the Idea of Truth, without any actual manifestation of Truth in this realm?
But is this the heart of the critique on religion? Yes and no. The problem is not the belief in a truth and the attempt to disseminate it. Or at least, that is not the only problem. The problem is the way in which truth is conceptualized. As if, one thing is true so that necessarily negates the other. Truth can be absolute, but it can be gray at the same time as it is absolute. It is the belief that a religion owns a truth, or has an exclusive glimpse. Maybe the esoteric manifestations of religions and religious peoples do not believe that their faith is an exclusive owner. However, most believers are not esoteric believers, and religions often do not even educate followers to be this way. For this reason, their duty is to teach truth without notions of exclusivity or ownership with the full knowledge that faith of the believers is not just placed in the religion but in the institution and authority behind the religion.
It is not that “rigorous theology” is inherently wrong. Rigorous is not bad, in and of itself. Exclusivity of truth, or the belief that one owns the exclusive rights to truth, is the wrong here. This is the violation of an institution’s duty to its followers.