If you thought that it was only wrong to use Biblical arguments in the public square, you’d be wrong. It is also against the canons of secularist law to make any statement or rule on any aspect of public policy if you are known as one of those terrible “true believers.”
We’ve seen it in Supreme Court confirmation hearings, as well as in hearings for appointments to lower courts. Pres. Bush has gotten it from all angles on all issues. The stem-cell issue is only the latest.
J. Bottum writes at First Things,
Over on the University of Chicago law school’s faculty website, Prof. Geoffrey Stone posted an argument about embryonic stem cells that’s quite revealing, in its way. The post garnered some attention from other law professors, here and here, for instance. The always interesting Eugene Volokh weighed in, as did the serious analyst Rick Garnett.
The argument Prof. Stone makes boils down to this:
In vetoing the bill that would have funded stem-cell research, President Bush invoked what he termed a “conflict between science and ethics.” But what, exactly, is the “ethical” side of this conflict? … What the president describes neutrally as “ethics” is simply his own, sectarian religious belief. … [I]n what sense is it “ethical” for Mr. Bush—acting as president of the United States—to place his own sectarian, religious belief above the convictions of a majority of the American people and a substantial majority of both the House of Representatives and the Senate? In my judgment, this is no different from the president vetoing a law providing a subsidy to pork producers because eating pork offends his religious faith. Such a veto is an unethical and illegitimate usurpation of state authority designed to impose on all of society a particular religious faith.
Either way, Stone’s argument demands that religious believers prove, far beyond any other public actors, that their public acts derive from rational motives—and when their actions match the result that their faith seems to require, the result is, on its face, constitutionally suspect.
The various pieces of this argument are odd, but it seems to me that one runs across them more and more: the assumption, for instance, that religion is inherently irrational, and the assertion that religious reasoning is incapable of arriving at an extra-religious result, and the postulate that a sectarian motive is inherently illegitimate in a democracy.
Those who believe in whatever G/god are automatically ruled out of court if the decision to which they come has any connection in any degree to what a believer might say. This has consequences especially for any Christian in any political office. There is an obvious fallacy at work here, namely, that those who do not claim religious belief are not acting out of their prior assumptions when they come to a decision. But the deeper problem is that the savviest opponents to embryonic stem-cell research do not make any explicit appeals to their religious belief; although behind the stance of Christians, at least, is the understanding that there is One who holds men accountable for their actions.
David Yeago wrote,
It is quite different, however, when religious people make claims that involve God’s immediate presence in some concrete shaping or ordering of the public world. Then a whole vocabulary of denigration is brought immediately to bear, and a whole strategy of repression comes into play. Such claims are superstition, fundamentalism; they violate the boundaries of religion and science[!] or religion and public life; they will bring back the old wars of religion. (“Sacramental Lutheranism at the End of the Modern Age,” Lutheran Forum, Christmass/Winter 2000, p. 6)
Any of that sound familiar? Stone’s arguments and those by others of his ilk epitomize the ad hominem arguments rampant in our culture: attack the character of the one whom you oppose, rather than his actual point. Needless to say, the unacceptability of this in public, rational discourse has largely been buried.
Perhaps what is needed is not to argue against these irrational attacks on religious believers. Most of these debates are believed to be based on emotivism, anyway. We should not expect them to go away any time soon (if ever). Rather, we should simply make the arguments that need to be made, and let the results be what they may. It’s not our job to control the future. Someone’s already in charge of that.