“Question one moral absolute and you’ll soon be questioning everything.”

For Sam, it started in the young adult Bible study group at his church. All the other group members believed that because a certain political candidate wanted to criminalize abortion, that postion justified all his other behaviors, no matter how uncharitable, antisocial, or even antidemocratic. To make matters worse, Sam had become convinced of the reality of climate change: for him, the scientific evidence was undeniable. Every cause has an effect, so pumping millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere could not be without effects. Yet this candidate called it a hoax, and that deeply offended Sam. The pill felt unswallowable. 

So privately, Sam gave himself permission to hold an opinion different from that of his Bible study members. He decided to chisel out that one small “abortion trumps all else” brick and replace it with another brick. It would be his secret, and he would differ from his faith community just this once. Then everything would be perfect again. And it was, until one night, during a prayer time in the group.

Someone prayed for the political candidate in question, that he would be protected from the satanic attacks of his opponents and would prevail “in Jesus’ name.” Same tensed up. Having Jesus’ name associated with this candidate elicited an almost convulsive reaction in Sam’s body. He made it through the prayer time and remained silent through the rest of the meeting, but his jaw was clenched tight and he felt hot, angry, and edgy. He noticed that his hands were even shaking a little.

During the refreshment time after the meeting, Sam spoke to the group leader, trying to project calm even though he was seething inside. “Do you really believe that opposition to abortion should trump every other concern in politics?” he asked. The leader responded with sincerity mixed with concern: “Yes, I do with all my heart. Don’t you?” Sam shook his head: “I find that really hard to accept. It seems like you’re saying that character doesn’t matter, honesty doesn’t matter, morality doesn’t matter, science doesn’t matter…..nothing else matters except that one issue?”

The group leader’s answer sent a chill up Sam’s spine: “I think you’re on a slippery slope, Sam. Question one moral absolute and you’ll soon be questioning everything.”

Sam could see a dozen flaws and weaknesses in his group leader’s argument. But he could also see that the leader’s mind was closed and any further discussion would get nowhere. “Thanks,” he mumbled, and excused himself.

Driving home that night, it was as if a dam broke. Questions flooded into his mind: Was the earth really created in six literal days? Why would God create the universe with a deceptive appearance of age? Is an all-male church leadership really required by Jesus Christ? Does God actually send everyone who doesn’t believe what we believe to hell, forever? Might our predictions about the end of the world, based on speculative readings of the books of Daniel and Revelation, be wrong, and even harmful? Is the church never allowed to change its mind on such things?

From “Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What To Do About It” by Brian McLaren