What is the main barrier to peace in the world?

asks Tim Keller in the first of a series of talks related to his new book, The Reason for God.

[T]oday I think most people would say that the main barrier to peace in the world is religion, and especially religious exclusivity. ... And I want to start right off by agreeing that religion, generally speaking, has a very strong tendency to divide people

So how can we deal with the divisiveness of religion? Most people hope the problem will fade if we agree on two things:

First we need to agree that all religions are equally valid paths to God. That way you won't try to convert everybody to yours or say you have the superior one. ... And secondly, the second thing we have to agree on, is that religion is good to give you strength in your private life, but never bring it out into public discourse, never argue for values in society that are based on your particular religious faith.

But Keller goes on to argue that

Neither of those statements can hold water. This strategy will not succeed.

Why not? What about the first statement: that all religions are equally valid? Seems self-evident. I mean,

Who dares to say they see the whole picture?

But the example of the elephant helps to show that

the only way you could possibly know that every religion only sees part of the truth is if you assume that you see all of the truth ... the only way you could know that religions only see part of the truth is if you assume you have the whole truth, which is the very thing you say nobody's got!


when you say, "No one has a superior take on spiritual reality," that is a take on spiritual reality, which you say is superior to everybody else's. And when you say, "No one should convert everybody else to your view of religious reality," that is a view of religious reality that you want the listener to convert to!

Okay, so we've all got our own exclusive beliefs. But what about the second statement: surely we can keep our religious beliefs private? Apparently not.

What is religion? ... Religion is a set of answers to the big questions. ... Nobody can operate in life without a set of answers to these questions.

So, Keller argues, the idea of leaving religious beliefs outside of public life doesn't make sense. But when people say we should do that, what do they mean? What religious values are we allowed to take into the public realm, if we cannot function in life without any religious values?

Therefore if you say, "Keep your religion out of the public realm," what you really are meaning is, "My Enlightenment Western individualistic faith assumptions about human nature are privileged over yours."

He quotes Michael Perry as saying

To say, "Religious reasoning must be kept out of the public square because it's faith based and it's controversial," is itself a faith-based statement which is incredibly controversial and therefore on its own terms ought to be thrown out.

So both statements turn out, on closer examination, to be mistaken: we all have exclusive religious beliefs, and we all bring our exclusive religious beliefs into the public sphere.

So what's the solution? We can't get rid of religious exclusivity: that's logically impossible. But what we need to do is look at the various exclusive beliefs and ask

Which set of exclusive beliefs can produce loving, inclusive, reconciling, peaceful behaviour?

He then draws attention to those aspects of Christian belief that make it totally different from other religions and concludes that

Everyone has got a set of exclusive beliefs, and Christianity's got a set of exclusive beliefs, but which set of beliefs leads to the most inclusive behaviour? I submit this:

  • take moralistic religion into your life and you'll feel superior to the secularists,
  • take secularism into your life and you'll feel superior to all those stupid religious people,
  • take the Gospel into the centre of your life and you'll be humbled before people who don't believe what you believe, you'll seek to serve the people who don't believe what you believe, and you'll know that a man who loves people who don't love him is what your whole life is built on.

In summary, Keller argues that we must have exclusive beliefs, and we cannot keep exclusive beliefs out of the public realm. But which exclusive beliefs, when genuinely held, will stop people from acting superior to those who disagree with them and therefore be conducive to world peace? Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ.