The Spectacle Blog

Kathleen Parker and “Secular” Reason

By on 12.7.08 | 11:39PM

Kathleen Parker has a major case of secular reason sickness and it needs to be cured.  I'll keep this short and simple.  Here is an offensive line from one of Kat's latest columns:

How about social conservatives make their arguments without bringing God into it? By all means, let faith inform one’s values, but let reason inform one’s public arguments.

Problem #1:  Social conservatives very rarely argue for their public policy positions on the basis of straight-up revelation.  It is much more common to hear them talk about scientific evidence that life begins from conception (which could be found in an embryology textbook, for example) than to hear a scriptural exegesis of, say, Jeremiah 1.  If anything, American social conservatives have worked quite assiduously to persuade their fellow citizens without direct appeal to revelation.

I think the Yale Law professor Stephen Carter was more correct several years ago when he complained conservative Christians relied on a platform that lacked spiritual distinctives and simply mimicked Republican positions.  See, Kathleen, Mr. Carter is a scholar in the area of law and religion.  His observation runs completely counter to yours, which you have seemingly formed on the fly in response to your personal Sarah Palin fiasco.

And let us not forget that when some Christian leaders hid behind the separation of church and state to avoid addressing topics like Vietnam, the civil rights movement, and nuclear proliferation, their liberal colleagues were applauded for highly public spiritual approaches to those controversies.  When liberals do it, we call it "speaking truth to power" or "speaking prophetically."  When conservative religionists enter the political process, everyone suddenly frets about impending theocracy.

Problem #2:  Ms. Parker acts as though everything we discuss in politics can be parsed scientifically.  This is the same sort of casual toss-off we get when some self-satisfied personage says, "You can't legislate morality."  Really?  Hate crimes?  The illegality of segregation?  A welfare state?  Human rights?

The simple fact is that politics concerns itself with the realm of value as well as the realm of fact.  There are both religious and philosophical approaches to questions of value.  Is there any compelling reason to commit epistemological segregation, Ms. Parker? Must the religious contestants sit at the back of the bus to satisfy you?

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