To some, the citation of Biblical verses is a powerful ethos appeal; however, to others, it discredits an argument to the point of irrelevancy. In a country that is growing more and more secular, religion is becoming as philosopher Richard Rorty calls it, “A conversation-stopper.”
According to data from the Pew Research Center, only 22.8% of Americans are religiously unaffiliated while 36% of young millennials do not affiliate themselves with a faith, and since younger millennials are leading social justice efforts and public discourse more and more, it is becoming apparent that religion might be dismissed altogether from political and social rhetoric.
It doesn’t take much for people to recognize this dismission from both sides of the political spectrum either. For example, when Pope Francis wrote the encyclical Laudato si’ about the need for environmental advocacy, one conservative circle criticized Francis, saying Francis “is hijacking ecological catastrophism for a pre-determined spiritual agenda.”
From the left, the most common dismissal is on the topic of abortion. As further data from Pew has shown, 97% of people who think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases believe in God, and this statistic makes it easy for pro-choicers to state their opposition’s argument is invalid on the grounds that it is religiously based.
Furthermore, the stigma of most of the world’s religious institutions as outdated or brimming with controversy has caused many to disregard its arguments particularly on topics such as same-sex marriage.
In turn, the logic by unaffiliated Americans commonly goes as follows, “I don’t think God exists, and your argument is rooted in a belief in God. Thus, your argument is unsound.”
As a result, the people protesting in front of planned parenthoods are dismissed not because their arguments are unsound but because their beliefs don’t align with one’s particular notion of God or one’s secular opinions and circumstances.
This automatic dismissal is extremely dangerous because of the effect on argumentation in any democracy. As a conglomeration of cultures, backgrounds, and religions, the United States has been built on public discourse as essential towards promoting social justice, but if a minority is ignored against because of their beliefs without any serious consideration, then there is an issue.
As philosopher and theologian Nicholas Wolterstorff said, “It is [religious people’s] conviction… that they ought to allow the Word of God, the teachings of the Torah… to shape their existence as a whole, including, then, their social and political existence.”
In turn, for the American democracy to thrive, recognition must be given to religious beliefs as valid bases for argument.
However, for this recognition to be merited, there must be an effort on the part of religious people to first accentuate the context of their beliefs. After all, most dismissal of Church teachings is not due to disagreement but rather because of a lack of contextual justification for said beliefs.
As Stuart Rosenbaum argues in his article in the Harvard Theological Review, “When [religious people] are able to accept the historical, ecological context that underlines those religious grounds, then stepping back from a foundational appeal to the absolute authority of persons, texts, or traditions becomes possible.”
By explaining the genealogical roots of one’s spiritual beliefs, religious people can discard any veil of intellectual superiority they might have. Moreover, it enables religions to be viewed in light of their traditions, history, and social contexts instead of their spiritual philosophies, allowing for a complete and justified argument to be shared amongst public discourse circles.
Thus, whenever one cites their religion in deciding their beliefs on social and political matters, it is their duty to understand the background of the belief, whether it comes from spiritual texts, religious philosophers or not, because without it, the burden of proof has not been satisfied.
At the same time though, it is everyone else’s duty to utilize the principle of charity and respect the potentially sound argument of religious people who have satisfied their burden of proof.