There are no purely religious disagreements. As most of you know, I was educated at a really good private liberal arts school associated with the Stone-Campbell Movement. Even though I did not grow up in the “Movement” nor did I have any expectations of joining it, I still went there, even though I became an Episcopalian my Sophomore year. Most everyone was wonderful about it. In my own area of study, we’d give each other goodhearted ribbing: they’d accuse me of Marian Idolatry and Popery; I’d inquire if their bishops had valid apostolic succession. But we, brothers and sisters in Christ, cared and prayed for each other. Some, though, were not so nice.
I realized rather quickly that to disarm these, I had to explain my faith by speaking evangelical, as it were: I couldn’t frame my faith for them using catholic terminology. No, I had to use the language of my grandparents and hometown. For example, I couldn’t say that The Books of Common Prayer are the best frickin’ books in the English Language and word my faith better than I ever could. No, I had to say that Christians have always prayed scripture (especially the Psalms) and The Books of Common Prayer basically had scripture arranged for prayer. Most arguments stop when you’re able to frame things in an understandable way. After all, our religious disagreement was really just misunderstanding masquerading as such.
But, even this didn’t work all the time. That’s when it suddenly dawned on me that these few who were still vitriolic had similar personalities to mine. That is to say, they — like me! — cared more about being right than anything else. I suddenly realized that perhaps all these religious disagreements were really just personality clashes masquerading as such. Once I realized this, it was incredibly freeing; I only had to prove my faith by living it.
There are no purely religious disagreements. Consider Henry VIII splitting the Church in England from Rome. As you well know, unsatisfied and impatient with Catherine’s inability to produce a male heir, he asked for an annulment from the Pope. The King was denied this for sometime, so over the next few years, he used the Protestant Reformer’s fury to crush Rome’s political power in England. This King was no Protestant, though, because the Pope awarded him the title of Fidei Defensor for a tract he’d written against the Lutheran heresy. Even after his eventual excommunication, Henry VIII never deviated from Roman Catholic teaching — minus, you know, that whole Pope thing.
Anglicans, especially Anglo-Catholics, like to remind the world that the English Reformation was a political reformation, not a theological one. Or, to put it another way, perhaps the English Reformation was a political reformation masquerading as a theological one. Even in this crude sketch of history, a religious disagreement was used as a puppet of state control.
Consider, also, my recent series on the Chick-fil-A boycott last month. If you remember, my argument wasn’t that the issue was free speech or gay marriage. I argued that the real culprit was corporate greed. In other words, a popular religious disagreement had nothing to with religion and everything to do with money. These culture wars of ours are completely phony.
What if disagreements on the nature of suffering have nothing to do with these supposed religious disagreements and are about something else, really? What are we really talking about when we talk about suffering? What masquerades beneath the surface, just beyond these phony religious disagreements? What is the real disagreement between Atheists and Christians, as it were?