The most frequent lines of defence used by some religious individuals to trump a religious argument is "the church teaches that . . . ." or "the church has always maintained that . . . ." or "the church fathers made it clear that . . . ." And finally, "the Bible says that . . ." Has it ever occurred to these individuals that while these are helpful tools, they need to first and foremost consult the ultimate authority within? That is where they will find the peace and compassion that will help them resolve many of the issues confronting them.
To claim victory on an argument merely on the basis of someone else's opinion ignores the hidden motives behind the original argument – more importantly it minimizes or devalues the potential of your own unique insight into the issue which may prevent you from searching for a deeper truth. Yes, you may be wrong but by expressing your own personal views but you will at last have claimed the very freedom that God gave us in the first place. This attitude will only help you to grow in wisdome and become more compassionate and understanding toward people. Conflicting ideas can give way to new understandings. We need to learn how to respond with God's wisdom and patience to any contrary views. Revelation has not happened once and for all time; it is an ongoing process that can never end, because there are always fresh teachings to be discovered. (Karen Armstrong 2007).
Tradition and scripture must therefore be interpreted not in historical terms but in our own modern everyday experiences.
The writings of the Church and the Bible are often expressed in obscure and complex terms. Some interpretations or passages have even been found to contradict each other. Words expressed in writing, when not taken to heart, have a habit of becoming absolute truths in the eyes of many a fundamentalist. And that is precisely why the ancient Israelites struggled so intensely with the question of committing their oral tradition to writing.
One of the most divisive issues to arise within our religious communities today concerns the question of homosexuality. To give readers an example of contradictory teachings on one of this issue I will compare the Roman Catholic teachings on homosexuality based on two separate but official Church documents not published less than twenty years apart. The 1969 Catholic Catechism describes homosexuality as follows: "It is not the fault of the individual if he or she is not attracted to the other sex. The causes of homosexuality are unknown. In their human isolation, they look for friendship. But even where they find true and loyal responses, the perfect fulfilment of their human longings is not granted them". Compare this compassionate view with the one expressed by Pope Benedict XVI as Cardinal to the Bishops of the Church, 'On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons'(1986) describing homosexuality as an intrinsic moral evil and that gay services are not to be tolerated and that Church facilities cannot be made available [for gays]".
Historically institutional religion has always assumed a supremist position on matters of morals and ethics. Yet there are plenty of examples of non Christians and non believer who have exhibited far greater moral ideals. There have been too many instances in history where unbending religious attitudes have been responsible for much human suffering. Humankind is a Holy gift from God, but we have shown that we are definitely capable of many unholy acts. Is does not help anyone when we defend our negative actions with words like "The dogmatic teaching of the Church is in no way affected by the question as to whether the Inquisition was justified in its scope, or wise in its methods, or extreme in its practice. The Church established by Christ, as a perfect society, is empowered to make laws and inflict penalties for their violation. Fortunately Pope John Paul II recognized it otherwise and declared the Inquisition as the "greatest error in church history".
Our very human errors and arguments for and against any religious issue must be overcome with the heart rather than the head. More importantly we need to recognize our individual and unique role in resolving these issues. It must not be left just to the institution or a literal interpretation of scripture.
It would be very different if Pro-Life and Pro-Choice groups where to dialogue about abortion if it were understood as embracing life from the Alpha to the Omega. Finger pointing and confrontational attitudes merely present fodder for the media. Morals and/or ethical values are usually taught or passed on by parents, teachers, etc., but more often directly through the experience of life's difficult circumstances. Only when we are prepared to surrender our frailties can we be open to the inner gift of compassion and understanding. This gift brings a growth that is beyond the scope of legislation and law making. By forcing people to choose on the question of abortion without having experienced God's gift of compassion is not the way Jesus taught.