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(Re) Building the Public Square

By       Message Constance Lavender       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   No comments

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RE: David Brooks's Op-ed Article, Faith vs. the Faithless (NYT Friday, December 7, 2007):
The purpose of this letter is to place in clear, stark terms the syllogistic fallacy long misused by some Americans to promote religion in Government. My humble reply is intended to shed light on that logical fallacy in order for readers to be better informed of the argumentation.
David Brooks's article, Faith vs. the Faithless (NYT Friday, December 7, 2007), hints at the confusion I hope to clarify when he says, although many religion scholars with whom he spoke after Romney's speech were enthusiastic, "I confess my own reaction [was] more muted."
Aristotle is the authority to which it is most useful to turn in seeking to understand what a syllogism is and what it is not. A syllogism, simply put, is a form of logical argument in which some statement, C, is asserted as true based on the truth value of two prior premises, A and B.
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The operative syllogistic fallacy in Romney's speech, and in most of what we call the "cultural wars," initiated as part of the conservative revolution, beginning with the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980, is based on the proposition that modern America is besieged by rampant secularism and if only we returned to the faith of our fathers, that is, restored religion to its rightful place in government, the United States would be both more godly and more moral.
The syllogistic argumentation here rests on a number of premises whose truth value is at best questionable. The excluded middle upon which these types of arguments are based include the premise that a person can not be both faithful and secular. The categorical fallacy upon which this reasoning is based confuses faith, or religion, and government, or politics.
Religion essentially belongs to the realm of culture just as government fundamentally belongs to the realm of politics. Surely, there are intersections where in real life the two overlap; that intersection is what in America we call the public sphere. However, that does not mean that faith ought dictate government anymore than politics ought dictate religion.
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It may be the case that American society is worse off because of a godless, secular culture. That is fundamentally a different proposition from saying the cure for what ails American society is to inject more faith into government or more religion into politics.
Typically, advocates of a more religious, faith-based culture look towards the Declaration of Independence, as does Romney, to justify the faith of the founders. Of course, in so doing they ignore the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. There is not one foundational document of the United States of America. There are three foundational texts: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights taken together.
While it is true that the revolutionary foundational document---the Declaration of Independence---cites an anonymous Creator (who importantly is not called God), the enabling (U.S. Constitution) and limiting (Bill of Rights) foundational documents do not. The U.S. Constitution makes reference to neither a God nor even a Creator. And the Bill of Rights specifically forbids the government from establishing an official religion, while forcefully preserving an individual's right to worship freely.
Romney does mention all three texts in his speech, but he ascribes enabling status to the Declaration of Independence when he uses that document as the foundation for arguing that the founders placed God, rather than the People, at the center of American Government.
Romney makes several claims that citizens need carefully examine:
"Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom."
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And, "We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism. They are wrong."

Romney explains: "The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust."
It seems to me that one may be faithful (religious) and secular, by removing religious beliefs from affairs of government (politics), without eliminating the element of religion from its prominent position in the public square.
The public square does not simply consist of houses of government, nor does it singly consist of houses of worship. The public domain consists of both houses of government where politics is played out and houses of worship where religion is practiced. The danger is when public servants confuse the Congress with the Cathedral.
Ultimately, the public square as envisioned and experienced by the founders was large enough to contain both churches and court houses. But social conservatives today often do confuse the two. Secularists are no more faithless or less faithful, than devout observers of religion are more or less political.
Romney says that our freedom is premised on religious belief. It may be that our freedom, including our religious freedom, is premised on our belief in secularism.
That may help explain David Brooks's more muted reaction.
See:  and


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Constance Lavender is an HIV-Positive pseudonymous freelance e-journalist from a little isle off the coast of Jersey; New Jersey, that is...

In the Best spirit of Silence Dogood and Benj. Franklin, Ms. Lavender believes that a free (more...)

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