The Case for Moral Arguments in the Public Square, part II

by Ronnie Rogers

Ronnie Rogers is senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Norman, Okla., a university city cited by the North American Mission Board in 2006 as the most unchurched in the state. Pastor Rogers’ expositional sermons draw large collegiate crowds during the school year as he preaches and teaches (and writes) from a biblical perspective that boldly challenges popular culture.


The Legitimacy of Religiously Based Arguments in the Public Square:

The Moral Argument, part II

 

 

  1. Suitable publicly debatable ideas need only to provide some publicly accessible rational evidence

This evidence can be empirical, logical, historical, philosophical, religious, or drawn from human experience.

The existence of God provides one example. Arguments for the existence of God are available to even non-adherents of a particular religion or any supernatural religion. Anthony Flew is a well known example of a world renowned atheist who came to believe that “there is a God,”[1] and by his own testimony, his belief was not because of an experience, but rather from “following the evidence.”

Consequently, while beliefs solely drawn from a religion’s authoritative text may not be imposed upon non-adherents, (the Trinity, virgin birth, salvation by faith in Christ, etc.,) this by no means justifies excluding all religious beliefs from debates regarding imposable knowledge. To wit, the presence of a public belief in God and that belief affecting publicly imposable knowledge is absolutely proper. The absolute reliance of the Declaration of Independence upon God’s existence and bestowal of rights as the raison d’être for America’s existence and constitution provides an inarguable example of this. Therefore, the incorporation of “one nation under God” in the pledge of Allegiance is constitutionally proper, whereas “one nation under the Triune God” would be problematic since this nuanced statement is known from the Scripture alone.

As a result, the reality is that just because a belief is a part of a religious worldview—belief in God, marriage between a man and a woman, absolute truth, homosexuality is abnormal, stealing is wrong—does not thereby exclude it from being argued and considered in public debate or education any more than beliefs of the secularist are off limits because they are a part of his worldview, which contain faith or religious beliefs, e.g. morals are relative, big bang, matter is all there is, science can tell us all there is to know or can be known, there is a scientific answer to the origin of the universe, appeals to secular liberal tradition, or that humans are not different in kind but only in degree from animals, etc.

One additional thought. Even though beliefs drawn solely from a religion’s authoritative text may not be imposed upon non-adherents, these beliefs still have public debate appropriateness. For example:

  1. If some or all of the citizens believe in the same faith, or a particular candidate espouses his worldview or religion, these become topics appropriate for public discussion.
  2. Some beliefs about right and wrong are not merely personal. For example, the command to not murder does not merely mean that it is good that I do not murder, but rather that murder is not right; therefore if I want the good of society, I must seek to influence society to do what is good and in this case to not murder. I use murder as an example, Exodus 20:13, Romans 13:9, but the same can be said of stealing Exodus 20:15, adultery Exodus 20:14, etc.

    I once presented this idea in a forum composed mostly of secularist, and a philosophy professor said he would like to see a list of these ideas first—apparently for prior approval of market place suitability by people like him. I responded that his very request (suggesting prior approval of ideas from Christians by people who disagree) is symptomatic of secularism’s bias and unjustified status as guardian of the public mind. Fortunately, the framers of the Declaration of Independence, First amendment etc, and their successors did not think such.

  3. It is always appropriate for someone to argue a position drawn from or consistent with his deeply held faith, and to not do so is irrational.
  4. Religion, worldviews, or “faiths” do not exist exclusively in the private world of an individual, and to require such is to require what is extraordinarily unreasonable.
  5. If it is something that any free and equal person could be conceived of as believing based upon evidence.[2]

 

  1. The source of an idea is not a sufficient cause for aprioristic exclusion from public debate

The separation model not only delegitimizes religious opinions in the public square, government locales, it also has either the unstated goal or indubitable consequential effect of either seeking to exclude it from public dialog or at least make the scolding for expressing it such that few have the spiritual fortitude to withstand the backlash. Brit Hume’s recommendation to Tiger Woods to turn to the Christian faith provides an unsettling example.[3] Arguments can come from a source (whether religious or not) that others reject, e.g. recent study, opinion poll, scientific experiment, or the Bible, as long as there is evidence that is reasonable and accessible to all (history, archeology, logic, human experience, internal consistency) supporting the reliability of the source regardless if everyone agrees on the sufficiency of the evidence.

Further, to use an authority does not mean that everyone has to accept the claim of the authority, be it the latest poll, study, experiment, Bible, etc. In addition, one’s ideas should not be excluded from public debate because of his faith in God or because it is in part religiously motivated as though that is somehow a violation of the First Amendment or indistinguishable from seeking to establish a theocracy, which is at best faulty logic. While such tactics are often emotively persuasive, they are also subversive of the First Amendment and palpably undemocratic.

  1. Associated faith assumptions do not disqualify all associated beliefs

Religious opinions cannot be dismissed from the public square because the adherents have some beliefs derived solely from their authoritative text or because their opinions have moral and religious implications.

For example, Christianity’s beliefs like the virgin birth, salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, and the Trinity are derived from the Scripture. This however does not exclude one arguing from a Christian viewpoint in the marketplace of ideas those teachings which are so evidenced that even non-adherents can understand and believe them, e.g. stealing is wrong.

The void created by the expulsion of religious opinions is filled by secularism, and secularism is not benign. “Secularism is highly intrusive in the imposition of secular liberal values. It establishes public schools that systematically indoctrinate young people in secular humanism and prohibit the free expression of religion; it attempts to redefine masculinity and femininity by changing the culture of the family, the workplace, and the military; it launches its own versions of moral crusades, such as anti-smoking…in trying to restructure a private association like the Boy Scouts to diminish its moral opposition to homosexuality and to repudiate its religious roots [and so on].”[4] Secularism and materialism’s record for coexistence with religion should be enough to merit the sober embrace of religion’s place in the public square for all but the blindest of materialists—think Stalin, Mao Zedong, Hitler, eugenics, and abortion, etc.

  1. Faith cannot truly be excluded from the marketplace of ideas

Since the marketplace—education, law, politics, public morals—is a place of imposing one set of beliefs upon society, and by that necessarily displacing another set of beliefs, and since all argue from a worldview with faith assumptions, it is inevitable that ideas based upon or associated with one set of faith assumptions will be imposed upon all of society through public policy; therefore, it is thereby immoral and subversive to a republic or democratic society, to aprioristically exclude rationally accessibly evidenced ideas from public debate merely because of their derivation, which is the logical fallacy known as the “genetic fallacy.” For example, the acceptance of secularism in education results in ideas like “values clarification” which is premised upon the belief that there is no one standard of right and wrong that is suitable for public policy other than of course the standard of values clarification, which is actually a derivative of a scientistic view of the world. Since faith assumptions are always present in substantive deliberations and discussions, it is not reasonable or moral to summarily dismiss an argument in a democratic society because it is associated with a certain set of faith assumptions as long as the argument affords accessible evidence for its support or source.


[1] See his book by the same title

[2] I believe I first saw this idea in Brendan Sweetman’s book, Why Politics Needs Religion.

[3] David Sessions, “Brit Hume: Tiger Woods Should ‘Turn to the Christian Faith’”, Politics Daily, 1/14/10, http://www.politicsdaily.com/2010/01/04/brit-hume-tiger-woods-should-turn-to-the-christian-faith/, accessed 1/11/10.

[4] Sweetman, Politics Needs Religion, 148.