ABSTRACT

One of the principal objections to religion turns on exclusive truth claims seemingly embedded in the main world religions, and the consequences these claims entail for peaceful coexistence. Yet the concept of truth, and the concept of falsehood, emerged in a very late phase in the development of religious consciousness, and cannot be predicated of religion in general. Moreover, the concept of truth is a two-edged sword wielded not only to confound the worshippers of idols, maybe by exemplary violence, but also to establish the idea that there are criteria, including criteria that can be turned critically and prophetically against those who expound them. The issue is important because these criteria relate to kinds of truth and falsehood very different from those in the natural sciences, even though there may be a genealogical connection between the late emergence of the idea of religious truth and the even later emergence of the idea of scientific truth. It is a paradox that the critics of religion present themselves as exponents of the unequivocal truth of the established findings of natural (and biological) science to the exclusion of other modes of truth-telling. They too rejoice in exclusive truth claims and in a self-image as warriors, heroes and martyrs in the cause of an aesthetically satisfying beauty inherent in the truth of things as they really are. In recent times religious people have suffered a great deal from the zeal of those who restrict truth-telling to the type of truth represented by the natural, biological and social sciences. The concept of truth is a two-edged sword in every context, not just in the context of religious affirmations.