This post has been motivated and inspired by a thread on Julia Sweeney's Forum, Fresh Fish Bait. It's a discussion of some blog postings by Stanley Fish over at the NY Times. I'd link to it but it's subscription only. I have my own reading of what Fish is up to, again, you can my posts in that thread easily enough.
That thread and another one, Really good stuff (trust me) from P Z Myers, got me to thinking about the arguments that some, but not all, atheists make against religion.
I'll declare my biases up front: I think scrupulousness in matters of truth and religion leads pretty quickly to some form of disbelief: atheism, agnosticism, or something similar. I have hunch that former Christians, in particular, place a great deal of value on Truth and truthfulness. I say hunch because I haven't done or read any studies of why former Christians are no longer Christians. I generalize from my case and from what I've read in various discussion groups, especially over at exchristian.net.
There is a difference between how many atheists, agnostics, and exchristians treat the Truth and how believers of all kinds treat the Truth. For believers Truth is a means to an end. A Christian values Truth for what he believes the Truth will bring him: eternal life, Escape from Hell, etc. Truth has an instrumental value. Eternal Life, Escape From Hell, feelings of blessedness, or feeling the indwelling presence of The Holy Ghost, all these are benefits of seeking and finding the Truth.
The greater the benefits of having the Truth, the greater the value of Truth. However, if Truth in all of its manifestations is a means to God, Eternal Happiness, then one needs to take care that what is declared "Truth" really is Truth. Error leads to damnation and separation from God and Eternal Light.
But with Truth having an instrumental value, consideration of the possibility that there will be occasions when Truth conflict with its putative end of Eternal Happiness. In an age with a robust faith and a more meager experience of philosophy and logic, it is possible to believe honestly and with integrity that honest and rational inquiry will lead to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Or at least at a bare minimum indicate clearly the need for such a deity.
But once it is no longer possible to honor Truth and honor God in the same breath for the same reasons by the same means, God is dead. Or rather, one faces a terrible dilemma: either God, or Truth.
As I said to someone once, "Nietzsche's critique of Christianity is straightforward: he was too honest to be a Christian."