Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Sneaky Christians or Reasonable Pluralists?

So here's an interesting post over at TC. For the most part the post is about the ID movement (and how ID is just a backdoor way of teaching creationism). The broader question, and the more interesting question, is how this sort of technique is employed in other debates by Christians. Here's a bit from the post:
Go to many Christian websites or books about abortion and you’ll find a lot of arguments about why abortion is a dangerous procedure, can cause health complications in women, can lead to emotional problems for women, etc. These arguments are legitimate, but the real reason that Christians are worked up is not that they’re concerned about the health risks of abortion—it’s that they believe abortion is morally wrong and against God’s will. They just don’t dare phrase it like that.... I see something similar in the way a lot of Christians talk about premarital sex. They’re against it, and have a load of good reasons why: it’s unsafe, it can result in disease, it can produce children you’re not ready for, it can be emotionally damaging—all good reasons, but lurking behind them is the real reason: God.
So my question is: are these tactics employed because Christians are too cowardly to be honest about their real reason (God) OR are these tactics used because a pluralistic society necessitates them? I don't doubt that often times we, as Christians, talk about the "other" reasons not to do things like have pre-marital sex instead of just outright saying "because God says not to" because we are afraid to be honest. But, cowardliness aside, I still don't think it's a bad thing to do. Actually, I think it's what Christians should be doing when we discuss our moral principles in the public arena.

Why should Christians leave God out of the discussion? Well for one, our moral foundation makes sense (and has authority) only to us. We are supposed to hold fellow believers accountable to living up to the belief system that we hold, but we can't expect a non-believer to also comply with our beliefs. That's not to say that God won't hold them to his own standards, it's just to say that we have no right to ourselves. But, and here's the great part, God tends to give us his commands for a good reason. Like the whole no-pre-martial-sex thing, well there are some damn good reasons to follow that command (emotional, health, avoid pregnancy, etc). So yes, maybe as a Christian you won't have sex before marriage because God said not too, but if you still believe its important for others to do likewise, then you can explain how, even without God in the equation, it's still better not to mess around before you're ready. That's not to say this is true of all of God's commands, but for the most part you can pretty easily see why God would want us to stay away from certain activities. If you can see why God would want you to avoid certain activites, then you can explain that to a non-believer and they may even come to agree with you.

Why do I think being able to explain why is so important? Well for starters, we cannot and should not enforce our beliefs on other people (in so far as they are not harming anyone other than themselves). God allows us to choose if we want to follow him, and we have to let each other choose if we want to follow him. You can't force God onto somebody, and you can't force his commands on them either. Jesus didn't overthrow the Roman government. He did what he was supposed to do and he let society at large decide for itself. Why? Because you can't legislate love for God. It can't be done. The Puritans tried it, the medieval Church tried it, and it just doesn't work. People will always have to make that choice for themselves.

And then there's this whole reasonable pluralism thing. In a democratic society, you can expect to have a fair amount of disagreement, esp about what the foundation of a good life really is. The disagreement is pretty much unavoidable. So to make such a society function, it's members literally have to agree to disagree about certain things. But they don't have to stop there. They can disagree about moral foundations, but still agree about overall principles, or better yet, policies, that are derived from those foundations. They may not be able to agree on these, but they must try if they are going to coexist in the same society. The must let each other choose for themselves and then they must figure out how to get along after those choices are made. The best way to reach agreement, therefore, is by figuring out what you do agree on and building from there. So maybe you don't believe in God, fine, but do you believe in (insert alternative reason)? There is enough consensus on overarching moral standards (killing is usually bad, life is worth keeping and living to its fullest, children need to be taken care of, etc) that regardless of the base that they come from, you can agree on something. If Christians want to participate in this discussion, I hate to say it, but using "the Bible says so" will not get you very far. But it's not the end of the world! God knows if/why you are living the way you do, and He sees your effort to contribute to society. So simmer down and concentrate on how you can serve people instead of picking fights with them....

4 comments:

Mrs. Chambers said...

Well Lindz, the bible does say "thou shalt not kill." The big debate is when life begins. That is why abortion is legal in the first three months, as people believe it is just a blob. And it isn't capable of surviving on its own.

I find it interesting that drug companies and trying to get pregnancy tests to detect pregnancy as soon as possible. They are making detection devices available earlier and earlier. I wonder why people are so interested in finding out whether or not they have a blob? Or is it a baby even then?

Wilson said...

Only a dreadfully poor debater will build a case on premises he or she does not share with the audience. If you want to persuade someone, figure out what things you can agree about, and then use them as premises.

I think pro-lifers have set their cause back 30 years by identifying what they claim is a defense of innocent human life with religious belief, even with specific denominations.

Since when do I need to get someone to agree with me about the inspiration of the Bible in order to persuade them to defend the lives of innocent human individuals?

Lindsey said...

Mom, there is a reason I didn't use abortion as an example. Look at the part where I say that we can't enforce our beliefs on others *except* when third parties are harmed (ie, babies). But even then I think it's more complicated than that. The point is, when you participate in society, you have to appeal to things that everyone can agree on (saying God says so doesn't persuade anyone, and if you want to influence society, then you have to realize that). But I know that you know that. I just want you to realize that's the point of this post (in other words, it's OK for Christians not to invoke God as a reason in public debate, even if it is their biggest reason).

Wilson, dead on. Now why don't Christians realize this??

Mrs. Chambers said...

People choose what they believe or what they choose what not to believe.

Aren't debates for the undecided?