assistant professor of philosophy
In “Religion is not the Answer to our problems,” Dr. Zingrone discusses a speech recently given by Pastor Dennis Terry of Greenwell Springs Baptist Church. According to Zingrone, Terry stated in this speech that those who do not share his political and religious views should leave the country.
My initial reaction to Zingrone’s letter is one of partial agreement. St. John says in his first letter that God is love, and as St. Augustine explains in De trinitate 8.8, in being commanded to love God, Christians are commanded to love love. If we do so, furthermore, we love everyone: those near to or far from us, friends or enemies. We love each of them because we love loving them.
As St. Augustine concludes, “We, therefore, love God and our neighbor from one and the same love.” (trans. Matthews)
While I certainly would not tell Terry to go to hell, I will say that telling those with whom we disagree to leave the country is inconsistent with placing a high value on love. Zingrone is right to point to our country’s diversity and the fact that all of us have a place here.
I’ll add that the views ostensibly held by Pastor Terry target persons we ought to love. Whatever our disagreements with others, we should keep in mind St. Aquinas’ words in his Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics: “We should love both: those whose opinion we follow, and those whose opinion we reject. For both have applied themselves to the quest for the truth, and both have helped us in it.” (XII.9, trans. Rosemann)
On the basis of this case (and other relevantly similar ones Zingrone could present), Zingrone states further that “This is the sort of arrogance that religious thought sanctions,” and “Only the blindness of religious thought can compel a person to spew such idiocy,” and finally, “The arrogance of religious thought has no bounds.” Zingrone’s statements, construed, as they are, as universal claims, are patently false. How it is that all religious thought would be guilty of arrogance and blindness in virtue of those vices being possessed by parts of it is a mystery? The inference made from a nominal association (e.g., Pastor Terry and I are both religious) to a shared responsibility (my thinking is arrogant and blind just as Terry’s is) is faulty. Note also that just as I would not tell Terry to go to hell, so too I would not call him arrogant and blind, though I would say this way of thinking is inconsistent with the message of love.
To suggest, as Zingrone does, that all religious thinking is arrogant and blind is to ignore differences between religious believers.
Nonetheless, Zingrone’s comments do raise an important issue. The conscription of religious language, beliefs and virtually any aspect of religious life into the service of purposes that are contrary to the values of the religion from which they come is a serious problem for religious thinkers to confront. Paradoxically, I do think Zingrone gives good advice near the end of his letter: “Religious thinking is what we all must question.” Christians ought to question whether the statements our leaders make are consistent with the values of Christianity. We ought also to question assertions of shared guilt between persons whose actions, beliefs, and attitudes are not shared.