This thread kinda jumps off from the one on abortion. I have also touched on this in my long-ago series on poverty. It's about the conflict between being a free-thinking, tolerant, etc. American academic, and at the same time being a fundamentalist Christian.
Let me begin by quoting CS Lewis: "Christianity, if true, is of the utmost importance in the world. If untrue, it is of no importance. But the one thing it cannot be is moderately important." I believe, with every fiber of my being, that Christianity IS TRUE. Therefore, it follows that this belief trumps everything else.
However, I recognize (and value) that ours is a nation without a state religion, that we have freedom of (or even from) religion, and that a large and growing portion of our population, all equal in the eyes of the law to me, either do not agree that Christianity is true, or at the very least pay lip service to Christian beliefs without really holding them as of the utmost importance. I value reasoned debate, the exchange of ideas, logic, pretty much the entire enlightenment heritage of our nation.
That said, it is impossible for me to divorce my most deeply-held principles on what constitutes right and wrong, what is the proper structure of a society, what is "best" in any number of senses for our society and culture, from those debates. Everyone's opinion is based on something. Yet, for some reason, when a serious, sold-out Christian reaches a conclusion, let's say, that abortion is morally wrong, the cry rings out: THEOCRAT! TALIBAN! HOW DARE YOU EVER TRY TO IMPOSE YOUR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS! WHAT KIND OF BENIGHTED, MEDIEVAL FOOL ARE YOU? The introduction of the reason for my belief is supposed to be an absolute debate-stopper, which I should shelve to show how sophisticated and tolerant I am.
Hokum, I say. Libertarianism, environmentalism, supply-side or Keynsian economics, liberalism, conservatism, socialism, and just about every school of thought is based in first principles. Mine happen to have been tested by 2000+ years of human experience, and are just as legitimate as any secular system of thought. The big question remains not what we think of the principles, but again, whether they are true.
Of course, as Americans we get to vote on things. In our system of government, this has consequences. And you win some, you lose some. Christians are obliged (by Romans 13) to accept the authority of the law, but fortunately our system also allows for a way to work within the system to remedy laws when we disagree. Sometimes, like in the recent partial-birth abortion case, I applaud the results because I think the system worked in getting the issue "right." Others, like in the Dred Scott decision or Roe v. Wade, I firmly believe that "we" (this nation of which my voice is a part) got it "wrong." I'll even accept, for the sake of argument, that my own opinion could, in the end, be wrong. But that doesn't change the fact that there IS such a thing as truth, and there will be an "end" where truth will out.
But what if there is NOT such a thing as truth? What if there is no God? What if my first principles are themselves untrue? In that case, the random electrons forming my thoughts are no "less" true than anybody else's. I'll at least feel good that my positions were consistent. If you believe in no truth, you can't even be "right" about that "fact," because there's no such thing. As Blaise Paschal wrote almost 500 years ago, I'll take that wager.