Bias in scholarship: Greek grammar edition

In a previous post I gave some excerpts of Jason BeDuhn’s excellent book Truth in Translation. I’ve continued to think about one of the sections. In his discussion of why John 1:1c is usually translated incorrectly (e.g. in every example here) BeDuhn refers to a common defense of the traditional rendering, an appeal to “Colwell’s Rule” about article use and definiteness. He writes:

Yet another argument made in defense of the traditional English translation of John 1:1 is based on something called “Colwell’s Rule.” This is a supposed rule of Greek grammar discovered by the great biblical scholar E.C. Colwell. Colwell introduced his rule in the article “A Definite Rule of the Use of the Article in the Greek New Testament.” Based on a sampling of New Testament passages, Colwell formulated his rule as follows: “A definite predicate nominative has the article when it follows the verb; it does not have the article when it precedes the verb” (Colwell, page 13). There are two problems with using “Colwell’s Rule” to argue for the traditional translation of John 1:1. The first problem is that the rule does nothing to establish the definiteness of a noun. The second problem is that the rule is wrong.

. . .

Colwell’s mistake, as so often is the case in research, is rooted in a misguided method. He began by collecting all of the predicate nouns in the New Testament that he considered to be definite in meaning, and then, when some of them turned out to look indefinite in Greek, he refused to reconsider his view that they were definite, but instead made up a rule to explain why his subjective understanding of them remained true, even though the known rules of Greek grammar suggested otherwise. Notice that he had already decided that the predicate nouns he was looking at were definite, based on his interpretation of their meaning rather than on the presence or absence of the one sure marker of definiteness in Greek: the article. His predetermination of definiteness made his whole study circular from the start.

Colwell decided that the nouns he was looking at were definite before he even started his research. He was not prepared to change his mind about that. So when nouns he thought were definite showed up without the definite article, he assumed some rule of grammar must case the article to be dropped. He never even considered the possibility that the article wasn’t there because the noun was not definite. It seems that Colwell was misled by how we might say something in English. If a certain expression is definite in English, he assumed it was definite in Greek, regardless of what the grammer suggested. Of course, Colwell know perfectly well that Greek communicates meaning in different ways than English does. It was an unconscious habit of mind that interfered with this usual capable scholarship in this instance. It was a bias derived from his everyday use of English.

As flawed as the original “Colwell’s Rule” is, it has been made worse by misrepresentation down through the years. Notice that, according to Colwell, his “rule” allows him to explain why a noun that you already know (somehow) to be definite turns up sometimes without the definite article. The “rule” does nothing to allow you to determine that a noun is, or is not, definite. Even if “Colwell’s Rule” were true, it would at most allow the possibility that an article-less predicate nominative before a verb is definite. It could never prove that the word is definite. But since the rule leaves no way to distinguish between a definite and indefinite predicate nominative before a verb, many have mistaken it as making all pre-verb predicate nominatives definite.

Most people couldn’t be less interested in the minutiae of Greek grammar and its implications for Christian theology, and frankly I’m not terribly enthused about it either. But if BeDuhn and others are correct—which I don’t know for certain, not being expert in Koine Greek, though he continues after the excerpt to make a good case—it illustrates a point about scholarship: many intelligent, conscientious scholars in a field can be wrong because of bias. If they all share the same perspective, they don’t check each other. In this example, at least several hundred thousand people have read the original Greek passage countless numbers of times, and most have failed to see it correctly.

I think about this a lot when I see articles from Heterodox Academy. I think this is less of a problem in economics than in other social science fields, although that too could be bias. But it ought to be keeping scholars awake at night, at least for a little while.

Experts vs. everybody else, pt. 71394587236

One of the things I find so interesting about the sociology of religion is the divide between scholars and non-scholars. Take, for example, this part of the introduction to the book of Judges from The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Revised Standard Version:

Despite the optimistic report in the book of Joshua that Israel conquered Palestine in a brief series of campaigns under a single leader, it is evident from the book of Judges that the process was not quite so simple. Chapter 1 says plainly that many parts of the country were never subjugated, while the rest of the book is largely an account of battles which had to be fought through several generations before the land was securely in Israel’s hands. The enthralling tales the book contains are traditions preserved by various tribes about the exploits of their particular heroes—the “judges” of whom the title speaks. An editor has given the tales a factitious unity by making all the judges national, instead of tribal leaders and by providing for all the events a moral and theological interpretation.

I think many Christians would balk at hearing this, but the editors of this version were committed lifelong Christians, and as far as I can tell, acceptably orthodox; see e.g. Old Testament editor Herbert May’s bio. (I am less confident in my ability to guess how religious Jews would react, although I imagine it is similar.)

Why this divide exists continues to puzzle me. I touched on it here but still don’t have a very confident answer.

Residual claimancy in the tribal era

Here’s an interesting bit of social organizational wisdom reflected in Numbers 5:5-8 (RSV):

5 And the Lord said to Moses, 6 “Say to the people of Israel, When a man or woman commits any of the sins that men commit by breaking faith with the Lord, and that person is guilty, 7 he shall confess his sin which he has committed; and he shall make full restitution for his wrong, adding a fifth to it, and giving it to him to whom he did the wrong. 8 But if the man has no kinsman to whom restitution may be made for the wrong, the restitution for wrong shall go to the Lord for the priest, in addition to the ram of atonement with which atonement is made for him.

The most common form of keeping order for most of human history was to have tribal or clan groups avenge infractions of a known code of conduct done to their members. It’s more famous in the breach than in the observance, but the threat of having a small war over infractions was incentive not to commit them in the first place, making antisocial behavior less likely on the margin.

This threat is (obviously) less effective when the offended party has no kin to avenge him. This is the wisdom embodied in the passage: ensuring there will always be somebody interested in seeing the penalty exacted. As a bonus this system protects the most vulnerable, i.e. turns the juiciest targets into the least appealing.

Few would argue this system is ideal, true, but the ancients had far fewer feasible alternatives than we have. Given their constraints, this is a clever feature.

Excerpts from BeDuhn’s Truth in Translation

Here are a few passages I found interesting in Jason BeDuhn’s Truth in Translation. Overall I recommend it highly, especially for Christians but also for people who aren’t Christian but who are still interested in what the Bible says, e.g. people interested in the Western intellectual tradition, of which the Bible is an essential text.

I. The fundamental problem of Biblical translation:

Since the passages of the Bible can be fit together to form many different interpretations and theologies, we must be aware of how easy it is to reverse the process, and read those interpretations and theologies back into the individual passages. It is perfectly legitimate for those various interpretations to be made and maintained on the basis of a biblical text that does not preclude them. What is not legitimate is changing the Bible so that it agrees with only one interpretation, that is, changing it from the basis of interpretation into a product of interpretation. (pp. 61-62)

II. Sola scriptura has pros and cons:

Although a few Protestant biblical scholars participated in the [New American Bible] translation, it is largely the work of Catholic scholars and received the sanction of the Catholic church. One might assume a distinctly Catholic bias in the finished product. But ideologically the Catholic church is under less pressure to find all of its doctrines in the Bible than is the case with Protestant denominations, and this fact, combined with the vast resources of Catholic biblical scholarship, seems to have worked to the NAB’s advantage. (p. 34)

III. Hebrews 1:8 is rendered in the King James Version as “But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.” Many other translations follow this pattern. BeDuhn says it should rightly be translated with “…God is your throne, for ever and ever…” These two footnotes were interesting:

1. It should be noted that the author of Hebrews is familiar with, and does use, vocative forms of nouns, such as kurie, “O Lord,” just two verses later, in 1:10. So he or she could have used a vocative form of “God” in 1:8 to make direct address perfectly clear, if that is what was intended.

2. Rolf Furuli, in his book The Role of Theology and Bais in Bible Translation, reaches the same conclusion: “Thus, in this passage the theology of the translator is the decisive factor in the translation” (Furuli, page 47). (p. 101)

Note: “he or she” in footnote 1 is not mere courtesy. There is some inconclusive scholarly speculation that the unnamed author of the Letter to the Hebrews was a woman.

IV. The most controversial chapter of Truth in Translation concerns John 1:1, rendered in the KJV as “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” BeDuhn credits the New World Translation (the official translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses) as the only one under review to translate it accurately: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” [Emphasis is mine.] I’m not a Greek scholar so I am not equipped to judge the grammatical part of his argument, but his case is reasonable overall.

If John had wanted to say “the Word was God,” as so many English translations have it, he could have very easily done so by simply adding the definite article “the” (ho) to the word “god” (theos), making it “the god” and therefore “God.” He could simply have written ho logos ēn ho theos (word-for-word: “the word was the god”), or ho logos ho theos ēn (word-for-word: “the word the god was”). But he didn’t. If John didn’t, why do the translators?

The culprit appears to be the King James translators. As I said before, these translators were much more familiar and comfortable with their Latin Vulgate than they were with the Greek New Testament. They were used to understanding passages based on reading them in Latin, and this worked its way into their reading of the same passages in Greek. Latin has no articles, either definite or indefinite. So the definite noun “God” and the indefinite noun “god” look precisely the same in Latin, and in John 1:1-2 one would see three occurrences of what appeared to be the same word, rather than the two distinct forms used in Greek. Whether a Latin noun is definite or indefinite is determined solely by context, and that means it is open to interpretation. The interpretation of John 1:1-2 that is now found in most English translations was well entrenched in the thinking of the King James translators based on a millennium of reading only the Latin, and overpowered their close attention to the more subtle wording of the Greek. After the fact — after the King James translation was the dominant version and etched in the minds of English-speaking Bible readers — various arguments were put forward to support the KJV translation of John 1:1c as “the Word was God,” and to justify its repetition in more recent, and presumably more accurate translations. But none of these arguments withstands close scrutiny. (pp. 115-116)

BeDuhn later writes that he thinks the best translation would be “…and the Word was divine.” Perhaps this phrase will find its way onto the page at some point. Another sample from the same section:

The translators of the KJV, NRSV, NIV, NAB, NASB, AB, TEV, and LB all approached the text of John 1:1 already believing certain things about the Word, certain creedal simplifications of John’s characterization of the Word, and made sure that the translation came out in accordance with their beliefs. Their bias was strengthened by the cultural dominance of the familiar KJV translation which, ringing in their ears, caused them to see “God” where John was speaking more subtly of “a god” or “a divine being.” Ironically, some of these same scholars are quick to charge the NW translation with “doctrinal bias” for translating the verse literally, free of KJV influence, following the most obvious sense of the Greek. It may very well be that the NW translators came to the task of translating John 1:1 with as much bias as the other translators did. It just so happens that their bias corresponds in this case to a more accurate translation of the Greek. (pp. 124-125)

One last sample from this chapter, and possibly the only time in the book where BeDuhn waxes interpretive:

When one says “the Word was divine” a qualitative statement is being made, as Harner suggests. The Word has the character appropriate to a divine being, in other words, it is assigned to the god category. Of course, once you make the move of saying the Word belongs to that categeory, you have to count up how many gods Christians are willing to have, and start to do some philosophical hair-splitting about what exactly you mean by “god.” As Christians chewed on this problem in the decades and centuries after John, some of them developed the idea of the Trinity, and you can see how a line can be drawn from John 1:1 to the later Trinity explanation as a logical development. But John himself has not formulated a Trinity concept in his gospel. Instead, he uses more fluid, ambiguous, mystical language of oneness, without letting himself get held down to technical definitions. (p. 130)

V. In the chapter on “the Holy Spirit”, which he cautions should several times be translated “a holy spirit”, he writes:

…Some things that would be handled with “which” in English, because they are not persons, are referred to with the equivalent of “who/whom” in Greek because the nouns that name them are either “masculine” or “feminine.” But even though the ‘personal” category is larger in Greek than in English, the “Holy Spirit” is referred to be a “neuter” noun in Greek. Consequently, it is never spoken of with personal pronouns in Greek. It is a “which,” not a “who.” It is an “it,” not a “he.”

This is a case, then, where the importance of the principle of following the primary, ordinary, generally recognized meaning of the Greek when translating becomes clear. To take a word that everywhere else would be translated “which” or “that,” and arbitrarily change it to “who” or “whom” when it happens to be used of “the holy spirit,” is a kind of special pleading. In other words, it is a biased way to translate. And because this arbitrary change cannot be justified linguistically, it is also inaccurate. (p. 140)

And further:

…Since the KJV program followed by most modern translations capitalizes “Spirit” only when a reference to the “Holy Spirit” is understood, any appearch of a capitalized “Spirit” implies “Holy Spirit.” An issue of accuracy, therefore, is whether the original Greek suggests that the “Holy Spirit” is meant when the word “spirit” appears. The decision to capitalize “Spirit” when the references is thought to be to the “Holy Spirit” gives license to the biased insertion of the “Holy Spirit” into dozens of passages of the Bible where it does not belong. (pp. 143-144)

VI. After commending the New World Translation and the New American Bible as the most accurate of the translations compared:

I have pondered why these two translations, of all those considered, turned out to be the least biased. … [A]t the risk of greatly oversimplifying things, I think one common element the two denominations behind these translations share is their freedom from what I call the Protestant’s Burden. By coining this phrase, I don’t mean to be critical of Protestantism. … I use this expression simply to make an observation about one aspect of Protestantism that puts added pressure on translators from its ranks.

You see, Protestant forms of Christianity, following the motto of sola scriptura, insist that all legitimate Christian beliefs (and practices) must be found in, or at least based on, the Bible. That’s a very clear and admirable principle. The problem is that Protestant Christianity was not born in a historical vacuum, and does not go back directly to the time that the Bible was written. Protestantism was and is a reformation of an already fully developed form of Christianity: Catholicism. When the Protestant Reformation occurred just five hundred years ago, it did not reinvent Christianity from scratch, but carried over many of the doctrines that had developed within Catholicism over the course of the previous thousand years and more. In this sense, one might argue that the Protestant Reformation is incomplete, that it did not fully realize the high ideals that were set for it.

For the doctrines that Protestantism inherited to be considered true, they had to be found in the Bible. And precisely because they were considered true already, there was and is tremendous pressure to read those truths back into the Bible, whether or not they are actually there. Translation and interpretation are seen as working hand in hand, and as practically indistinguishable, because Protestant Christians don’t like to imagine themselves building too much beyond what the Bible spells out for itself. So even if most if not all of the ideas and concepts held by modern Protestant Christians can be found, at least implied, somewhere in the Bible, there is a pressure (conscious or unconscious) to build up those ideas and concepts within the biblical text, to paraphrase or expand on what the Bible does say in the direction of what modern readers want and need it to say. (pp. 163-164)

Catholicism avoids this pressure by accepting church tradition as legitimate, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses avoid this pressure by representing a more radical break from previous traditions, allowing them to take “a fresh approach to the text, with far less presumption than that found in many of the Protestant translations” (p. 165) There is, of course, their use of “Jehovah” 237 times in the New Testament—where the Greek has it zero times—but that at least is jarringly obvious to the reader.

VII. Only at the end does BeDuhn explain why he chose the passages he did:

I could only consider a small number of samples in this book. Another set of samples might yield some different configuration of results. But the selection of passages has not been arbitrary. It has been driven mostly by an idea of where one is most likely to find bias, namely, those passages which are frequently cited as having great theological importance, the verses that are claimed as key foundations for the commitments of belief held by the very people making the translations. Choosing precisely those passages where theology has most at stake might seem deliberately provocative and controversial. But that is exactly where bias is most likely to interfere with translation. Biblical passages that make statements about the nature and character of Jesus or the Holy Spirit are much more likely to have beliefs read into them than are the passages that mention what Jesus and his disciples had for lunch. (p. 166)

Contra Hayek, Maybe: The Intellectuals and Christianity

In The Intellectuals and Socialism Hayek attributes the success of socialist thought to its penetration among intellectuals, defined as “second-hand dealers in ideas” such as writers, editors, and pillars of the community, who were not theorists but relayed the ideas of theorists to the people at large. Students of Hayek to the present day have tended to accept this hypothesis, but I think it is incomplete.

Consider a narrower case. The traditional accounts of who wrote the Bible haven’t held up to scrutiny very well. Scholars of the New Testament almost universally agree that the fourteen books of the New Testament traditionally attributed to Paul were not all written by him.* David Aune writes in the Blackwell Companion to the New Testament:

While seven of the letters attributed to Paul are almost universally accepted as authentic (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philemon), four are just as widely judged to be pseudepigraphical, i.e. written by unknown authors under Paul’s name: Ephesians and the Pastorals (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus).

Some scholars go lower than seven. F.C. Baur went as low as four (Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Romans), and Bruno Bauer went all the way to zero. Regardless of the actual number or the possible biases of individual scholars, the fact is the consensus is lower than fourteen (or thirteen, removing the anonymous and long-debated Epistle to the Hebrews). Included in the consensus are the reasoned opinions of many self-professed Christians, who make up a majority of Biblical scholars. Even the Vatican, as official an organization as can be, acknowledges that this is the consensus, although it appears to lend greater weight to other theories.

There is a clear intellectual link between these Christian academics and the Christian faithful: church leaders and Christian writers. Yet it is far from common knowledge that even most scholars who are Christians deny Pauline authorship of a substantial number of the Pauline epistles, or that this is a topic of debate at all. The second-hand dealers in ideas have failed to relay what seems to be a very important piece of high academic theory to their non-specialist audiences. It is not as though these ideas are new; for example, Schleiermacher challenged the authenticity of 1 Timothy in 1807.

The question, then, is why the process by which socialist ideas were transmitted from theorists to the public is not repeated for scholarly takes on the Bible. I can think of a few possible reasons:

  1. Most Christians already have stronger opinions about the Bible than citizens in general have about forms of social organization. The people who were influenced by socialist ideas adopted a position where they didn’t have one before. Changing minds is a bigger task than making them up.
  2. Socialism is a clearer articulation of a perspective people already had; social creationism is and has always been popular. They were already ripe for it in a way that Christians as a whole aren’t ripe for accepting the scholarly consensus or they were in effect already socialists, just waiting for a creed.
  3. The essential aspect of these beliefs is the psychological desire for purpose. Socialism as a new ideology provided it and the current product in Christianity provides it, not the “newer” scholarly version. In the minds of the consumers of the Christian message there’s nothing to improve. You don’t consistently give sermons nobody wants to hear or you end up talking to an empty room.
  4. There are more intellectual rōnin in this arena who end up dominating the narrative. The second-hand dealers in ideas are disconnected from the theorists in the realm of Christianity in ways they are not disconnected in other areas. This is probably the least credible. It may have some small explanatory power for popular Christian books, but for church leaders the situation is probably the reverse; seminaries are full of stubborn apologists, of course, but they often teach critical scholarship and employ critical scholars, and the boundary between the two groups is not firm.
  5. The information isn’t relevant. I think this one is, if not self-evidently false, at least highly unlikely. Apologist theorists have spilled a lot of ink dealing with this issue. Even those who don’t think it leads to significant changes think it’s relevant.

This only recently occurred to me so I am not confident in ranking these options. I suspect some mix of 2 and 3.

I sign off for now with Colossians 1:24-26:

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the divine office which was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints.

…wherever it came from.


* I use this case as an example but it extends far beyond the New Testament, and indeed beyond Christianity.

Ancient law & economics: Sabbath-breaking edition

Ancient law often seems especially cruel to us moderns. Not only do ancient laws often condone and systematize things we find repellent—a topic for another day—but the punishments seem especially harsh. One famous example from the Torah*:

Exodus 31:12-17 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

The Sabbath Law

12 And the Lord said to Moses, 13 “Say to the people of Israel, ‘You shall keep my sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you. 14 You shall keep the sabbath, because it is holy for you; every one who profanes it shall be put to death; whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. 15 Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall be put to death. 16 Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout their generations, as a perpetual covenant. 17 It is a sign for ever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.’” [emphasis mine]

One way to deal with this passage is to say that God said it, and God’s wisdom is greater than ours, so we don’t have to understand it, we just have to do it however harsh it seems. (As long as we’re in the population to whom the law applies, Jews in this case.) There are various other apologetic ways to look at it. I’m not inclined or qualified to discuss all of them, but they’re similar.

If one interprets this example as coming from a human document the analysis is very different. There must be some other justification intelligible to humans. A little law & economics can help here. The Torah law is incredibly thorough in its proscriptions. Some of them govern the minutest details of daily household life. The probability of detection for many of these infractions is very low. If a person is seen to commit an easily detectable infraction, it’s likely he is also committing and getting away with smaller infractions.

The logic of punishing things that are easier to detect because of an assumed correlation to things that are harder to detect (or prove) is apparent even today. Al Capone went to prison for income tax violations even though it was known by everybody that he was involved in many more serious matters. Structuring laws punish how people deposit and withdraw cash because this is much easier to detect than the illegal things they might do with the cash.

There was no science of forensics in the ancient world, no dedicated police force, and rarely any paper trails. In order to deter people from breaking the law when the chances of getting caught were slim, the magnitude of the punishments had to be ramped up. While we have no way of knowing it’s fair to assume violations occurred all the time without anybody else ever finding out about them.

The worthiness of the goals of these ancient laws, and indeed of parallel modern laws, is a separate topic. The goals of the Torah law may have been order and social cohesion among the people of Israel, or they may have been fabrications to shore up the power of the powerful at that time, or a combination. Readers of this blog know that I think the War on Drugs is a fantastically awful institution, for example, and it is one of the major justifications for structuring laws. But you can see how, given the ends, there is a logic to the legal means.

As a final note, though I don’t intend this as an apologia for any particular religious law, I suppose one could explain the passage by saying that God had the law & econ reasoning in mind when declaring the penalty for breaking the sabbath.


* I use the RSV here since the relevant passage in the Orthodox Jewish Bible is harder to follow for those not versed in it.

Non-Muslim Berbers in Spain?

From Early Medieval Spain by Roger Collins:

Unfortunately the question of the Berber contribution to the culture of Al-Andalus has received little attention. It is often assumed that they were thoroughly Islamicised by the time of their entry into Spain in the early eighth century. However, the Arab conquest of North Africa was hardly complete by that point. What is more, evidence of the continued use of Latin there can be found for as late as the tenth century, and substantial Christian communities were still in existence in Africa in the eleventh. It is thus highly improbable, particularly in view of the general indications of slow conversion to Islam on the part of the Arabs’ subject populations, that large numbers of Berbers were Muslims in 711, nor in view of their role would they have been required to be. A reference in Al-Makkarī to the religious practices of Berber rebels who besieged Mérida in 742 makes it clear that they were not Muslims.

Without in any way being expert on the topic of the expansion of Islam this runs counter to what I thought. Probably the biggest first-pass lesson I get out of reading history is that the most common mental error in thinking about history is to project today backwards onto yesterday. I doubt I am alone in this.

Price/Scholer on Biblical ambiguity

In discussing Colossians 1:24, Robert M. Price paraphrases his Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary professor David Scholer:

When there are loads of different interpretations of a Bible verse, it’s probably because the meaning is obvious. That is, so obvious—and offensive—that people will try to make it mean anything else.

This is from The Human Bible podcast, episode 3, starting at around 37’20”.

Mises on religious (and other) differences:

The pompous statements which people make about things unknowable and beyond the power of the human mind, their cosmologies, world views, religions, mysticisms, metaphysics, and conceptual phantasies differ widely from one another. But the practical essence of their ideologies, i.e., their teachings dealing with the ends to be aimed at in earthly life and with the means for the attainment of these ends, show much uniformity. There are, to be sure, differences and antagonisms both with regard to ends and means. Yet the differences with regard to ends are not irreconcilable; they do not hinder cooperation and amicable arrangements in the sphere of social action. As far as they concern means and ways only, they are of a purely technical character and as such open to examination by rational methods. When in the heat of party conflicts one of the factions declares: “Here we cannot go on in our negotiations with you because we are faced with a question touching upon our world view; on this point we must be adamant and must cling rigidly to our principles whatever may result,” one need only scrutinize matters more carefully to realize that such declarations describe the antagonism as more pointed than it really is. In fact, for all parties committed to pursuit of the people’s welfare and thus approving social cooperation, questions of social organization and the conduct of social action are not problems of ultimate principles and of world views, but ideological issues. They are technical problems with regard to which some arrangement is always possible. No party would wittingly prefer social disintegration, anarchy, and a return to primitive barbarism to a solution which must be bought at the price of the sacrifice of some ideological points.

– Ludwig von Mises, Human Action, p. 180

Insofar as religion is about the individual person or soul, true, they can’t all be right together, but insofar as religion is a social force dealing with life on earth, it’s not a barrier to social cooperation in and of itself.