SATURDAY, 3 JULY 2004
Allow me to lay some truths on the table:
1. Identity plays a vital role in the normal functioning of an individual.
2. The particular community in whose midst an individual is born and where he or she grows up plays a central role in the formation of identity.
3. It is very common that a particular religion is closely connected with a particular community; this particular religion is in many cases a crucial determinant of identity for people who were born and who grew up in this community.
4. For the adherents of various religions, it is essential to lay claim to the universal application of a particular religious “truth”.
5. It is understandable if a person who was born and who grew up in a community where a “universal application” religion is a key determinant of identity, continues to recite these claims for the sake of their own particular identity, and also that they will communicate these claims to the next generation.
A question: Can a rational person be blamed if he has a sceptical attitude towards the claim to “universal truth” by the adherents of any particular religion?
To put it differently:
a) Communities all around the world function as sources of particular identity.
b) To question, as an outsider, the validity of a particular community as a source of identity, simply because your own identity does not come from that source, is illogical. (Among other things, this means that someone who was born and who grew up outside your community can also question the validity of your community as a source of identity simply because their identity did not originate from the folds of your community.)
c) A particular religion is in many cases closely connected to a particular community, and plays a pivotal role in defining identity for people born in that community.
d) Community A is thus equal to Community B as a source of identity.
e) It can also be said that Religion A is equal to Religion B as a source of identity.
1. On what basis can followers of Religion A, taking into account the above points, still insist on universal application of their “truths” – across all historical, cultural, and other boundaries?
2. On what basis can the followers of Religion A – most likely followers of that particular religion because that particular religion had been a primary given factor in the process from which their identities developed – make the assertion that the value of their religion extends beyond the value of Religion B – that plays a similar role as a determinant of identity in Community B?
3. Where can the line be drawn between religion as a transmission medium of “timeless truths” (no matter how true they may be), and religion as a determinant of identity?
After thorough consideration of this subject, there remains a question that one cannot resist the temptation to ask: WHAT IS THE TRUTH?
It’s easy to recite one of the principles of secular religion and answer, “The truth is relative.”
However, I still believe that there is an ABSOLUTE, UNIVERSAL TRUTH. I also believe that the particularity of fate data with which everyone is confronted at birth, the givenness of instruments with which to express an awareness of individual self, and the significant role of religion as a co-determinant of identity are all pieces of the puzzle that is the TRUTH.
Finally, do I think it is possible for a human being – a living member of the species Homo sapiens – to know the absolute, universal, timeless truth?
My answer remains, without doubt, no.