Sunday, November 28, 2004

Two Fragments on "Why an Exclusively Religious Argument Makes for an Unethical Political Discussion"

The two passages below are my comment taken from a discussion at Ciceronian Review and they were meant to show that an exclusively religious argument is not proper in any political discussion involving a pluralistic society. Yet there are still holes to be filled, and some of the terms are quite ambiguous; I hope to one day fix and polish them into an essay.

=start of first passage=

Certainly you can see the difference in categories and criteria used between an exclusively religious argument (i.e. argument advanced based solely upon a belief; hence un-reason) and one for, say, utilitarianism. Whether or not an argument for utilitarianism is appealing could be examined by the very same method used to advance the argument in the first place, that is, a thinking process subject to criticism done by using the same criteria (i.e. deductive reasoning) available to others doing the same thinking process, as supposed to a feeling process (i.e. raw religious belief) subject to nothing but personal impulse.

An exclusively religious argument is based solely on a criterion, that is, one's personal faith. Why this should be unreasonable when it comes to a political argument especially in a pluralist society is, again, because of its unethical imposition on those who do not share the same personal impulse upon which to base their feeling process. It is the more unethical when such argument involves proscribing private individual behaviors.

To put it more directly: a necessary condition for a political argument to be ethical - which in turn would fulfill a condition for reasonableness - is that it should be advanced out of a (thinking) process based on those criteria (agreements on what constitutes a valid argument and what makes one a fallacy, etc) which would then again be used by others seeking to either support or disagree with that argument in turn.

Religious or secular value of a political discussion should always be besides the point in a pluralist society; one should not murder another human being because a little thinking would make it clear for him the consequences that result in a society where murder is allowed, and not because the Commandment says so.

And so, asides from the feeling that those religious zealots have that Judeo-Christian God is against gay marriage, they *think* that gay marriage should be illegal because...? Of all the types and variety that could pass as a political discussion, a homily should definitely not be one of them. Fxs


=end of first passage=

=start of second passage=

"Religious beliefs based upon faith" (a tautology) are, of course, in themselves not unethical. They become unethical when used to impose upon others (via political arguments) who do not share the same criterion from which to judge those impositions. If a political argument in favor of a particular Rawls's point were presented based solely on the *feeling* that Rawls is right, then it would become unethical especially when it is binding to those who do not share the same sentiment. However, it would as soon no longer be the case if there were other criteria that have nothing to do with blind faith (i.e. religious sentiment or obssession with Rawls) on which one can explain such argument and to which anyone (and not just Rawls-cultists or religious zealots) is able to utilize in determining the strength or weakness of such argument.

For example: someone who is making a political argument saying that Rawls's theory 'will produce a society where individual liberties are maximized for all citizens' solely on the bases of Rawls saying so and his *belief* in everything Rawls has to say is clearly making an unreasonable (thus unethical in this political context we are discussing) argument; whereas someone who is making the same political argument but on the ground of points that Rawls states in his works is neither unreasonable nor unethical because those points are reviewable using criteria that are accessible to those who want to examine the strength and weakness of those points.

The difference between two arguments in the example above is not as obvious as I would like it to be, but consider: a) Rawls was an actual person who, b) advanced his theories based on some premises which, as you argue, may or may not have been "reasoned to"; but to the extent that they have become theories (and political arguments), they must have gone through a series of examinations by deductive reasoning or even comparison with empirical evidences. I am afraid it would be terribly hard to find someone who argues for Rawls's theories only because Rawls says so and who otherwise is totally ignorant of the points supporting those theories.

Now substitute Rawls with Judeo-Christian God (or any god) and the consideration becomes: a) that the existence of such God cannot be proved or disproved using accessible criteria and hence b) what considered to be His Words by the believers cannot in turn be applicable to the non-believers since no criterion is available to determine their validity; or rather, no criterion from which to judge the merit of an argument created out of this mere belief is available.

Of course, unless you think that there is nothing more to the notion that men should be free from a tyrant, or that slavery should be abolished, or that people should be equal, etc. than just a religious belief, then those historically religious-sounded arguments are certain to be distinguished from *exclusively* religious arguments, the only kind which I have been pointing out since my last post to be unethical ones. Notice also that those historically religious-sounded arguments happened to be committed to social justice, a criterion which any non-religious member of a society should be able to utilize in a political argument.

Now tell me what other criteria are available to justify banning gay marriage (which is clearly an exercise in social injustice) or to justify teaching children that the earth is only some six thousand years old - or sixteen thousand according to my high school religion teacher's calculation: yes, I did go through 9 years of Catholic school and 3 years of "Christian" high school - (which is a blatant disregard for science and its procedures) except for the one grounded on a religious belief? Until someone can provide me with a non-religious criterion to justify such nonsensical practices, then I am sticking to my point that those are immoral political decisions stemming from unethical political arguments.

A point about Ben Franklin's attempt: if it was motivated by nothing more than a religious belief, then certainly the attempt was unethical - in so far as that attempt constituted a political argument, which I think it did. But it would have been an exception iff everyone working in the Constitutional Convention had shared the same religious belief upon which Franklin based his political argument. Then the criteria would have been universal within that society (i.e. everyone working in the Constitutional Convention) and to base a political argument that would affect a society on a criterion that is shared by all members of that society is not unethical.

To sum: to have a religious belief in and of itself is NOT unethical; it becomes unethical when such belief is used as the only means to justify a political argument (i.e. an argument about how a society, a collection of people with diverse beliefs, should be governed or should conduct itself) which then results in a political decision used especially - but not limited to - to proscribe private individual behaviors who are members of that society. Fxs

=end of second passage=

Again, for the complete discussion visit Ciceronian Review. Fxs

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