16 March 2007

Some Interesting Rhetoric

As you've probably heard, the Christian Seniors Association recently had some inflammatory things to say about Congressman Pete Stark, whom they attack for admitting that he is "a Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being." You can read more at the blog of Evil Bender, whom I don't always agree with, but whose views on basing governments on religious ideologies are pretty close to mine.

While I have little to add about the rights of atheists in the public sphere, I do have some opinions about this quote from CSA Executive Director James Lafferty:
"We have long recognized that all of this hot air about 'separation of church and state' has been a veiled effort to intimidate and silence religious voices in public policy matters."
Let's take a look at some of Lafferty's rhetorical moves.

1.) He begins by establishing his own legitimacy by representing himself as but a single member of a large movement. He lends himself historical credibility by emphasizing that his group has "long recognized" the obvious trickery that his ideological oponents engage in.

2.) He trivializes his opponents' viewpoints by characterizing them as "hot air," thus shutting off all avenues of productive discussion and setting up a binary-based ad hominem environment for the discourse.

3.) He uses "scare quotes" to further trivialize his opponents' concerns and imply that they are ill-founded at best. Interestingly, he does not mention that this particular phrase comes from the writings of Thomas Jefferson, a Deist who was the third president of the United States and the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, as well as one of the foremost proponents of religious freedom in the early days of the nation.

4.) He criticizes his anonymous adversaries for their underhanded, "veiled" tactics, and in a neat reversal of actual circumstances, he further accuses them of attempting to silence and intimidate any and all who wish to espouse religious ideals while making public policy. It is significant that he implicitly claims to support religious freedom while simultaneously complaining that a member of Congress has revealed himself to be of a particular religious persuasion. The message here, apparently, is that it's all right to have religious freedom unless you are using it in a way that is unacceptable to James Lafferty.

This series of rhetorical moves is astounding in its unquestioning self-validation and its othering of anyone whose ideology differs from the speaker's. Quite frankly, I don't much like it.

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