The truth of religious beliefs cannot be established

My friend Udo Schuklenk has an opinion piece on why “John Paul II day” is a very bad idea.

Looking back at this pope’s legacy, John Paul II was a highly conservative head of the Roman Catholic Church. Under his leadership, pedophilia in the church was not addressed seriously, and repeat offenders were busily shuffled through the worldwide church empire. He invariably made the noises about this behaviour being bad, but he did little to follow through as the man in charge.

His views on artificial insemination, abortion, euthanasia and homosexuality are considered offensive by the overwhelming majority of Canadians. This did not stop him from proactively lobbying Jean Chretien at the time against marriage equality, because the thought of providing equal rights to gay and lesbian Canadians was something this Catholic pontiff was not prepared to tolerate, not even in a country that was not his own. Well, that is if you accept that all-male Vatican as a country, of sorts.

John Paul II has rightly been criticized by public health and reproductive health experts for his absolute prohibition on condoms. He did not care that it could reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, and he certainly did not like the idea of preventing the birth of unwanted children. Under his leadership his clergy campaigned in many developing countries relentlessly against sex-education campaigns involving the use of condoms. Deliberate misinformation, in the name of God, was not beneath many of these campaigners.

So even if you wanted to have a “Cleric day” this particular cleric would be a terrible choice.

But you wouldn’t want to have a “Cleric day” anyway.

The inevitable question this “honouring” business gives rise to is this: Where should we draw the line? What other religious figurehead is next? How about the founder of the Church of Scientology, the deceased science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard? Or perhaps we should next honour a Muslim cleric for good balance?

The bottom line is this: Religion is a private and typically highly divisive issue. The truth of religious beliefs cannot be established. It is bad public policy in modern, multicultural societies to honour religious figureheads.

That sentence about the impossibility of establishing the truth of religious beliefs is one that almost always gets left out when people defend secularism. I’m glad Udo put it in. It makes a difference, after all; it’s basic; it shouldn’t be left out.


  1. sqlrob says

    The truth of religious beliefs cannot be established.

    In many cases they can be and are. They are wrong at best, lies at worst. I think saying the truth cannot be established is waffling.

  2. Robert B. says

    I notice, sqlrob, that he didn’t say “truth value” or “truth or falsehood” or “one way or another,” he just said “truth.” I read it as a very tactful way to say “no one has any evidence for any of this, it’s all just made up.”

  3. says

    As a former Catholic who has several reasons to be appalled at abusive priests…It never ceases to amaze me how they think. One reason they feel Pope John Paul deserves sainthood is because he flagellated himself with a belt, just as Mother Theresa made nuns in her service do…like beating your body bloody will get you to heaven. Crud! Who wants to go to a sadistic heaven?

  4. James Howde says

    You should be able to test the truth of religious beliefs but the problem is similar to that with alternative science. You can’t design an experiment unless the proponents can agree on what should happen and preferably how.

    Religion is much worse though because God has free will and is Magic. Thus any result of any experiment is consistent with there being a God as he can choose whether to act and has the ability to suspend, change or ignore the rules at will.

  5. says

    The “religious” belief that because Pope John Paul flagellated himself with a belt is one of the reasons he deserves to be declared a saint is an example of how sadistic the “Church” still thinks.

  6. sqlrob says

    @James Howde:

    So you don’t do it that way. You don’t really experiment on dinosaurs do you? Experiment isn’t the only way for new data.

    Remember, a lot of discoveries were because scientists were looking for the glory of god. And gee, all those point in the direction of no god (at least not one corresponding to any mainstream religion). Continental drift, Big Bang come to mind and I’m sure there were others.

  7. busterggi says

    Clerics can wear armor and cast spells – don’t they have enough special privileges already/

  8. says

    An agnostic-esque statement about religion is at least better than nothing, especially if you’re trying to build support with god believers to rejecting silly sectarian honoring of a pedophile enabling, HIV spreading papam.

  9. James Howde says


    Good point Rob.

    I still think there is a problem though. In the examples you give the people involved agree on the basics and for religion those basics are subject to the whim of God.

    For example it would be difficult to say useful things about dinosaurs if people were forced to treat seriously my theory that dinos could tuck their legs up and scoot along like a hovercraft; based soley on wishful thinking and the fact that we have found quite a lot of fossils of bones but very few of tracks

  10. sailor1031 says

    It is correct that “The truth of religious beliefs cannot be established”. It is also correct that the untruth of many religious beliefs has been established. For example Adam & Eve, Exodus, Noah’s flood – all disproved by science.

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