I’m in the process of reading John Rawls’ Justice as Fairness. It is not easy reading. But still, I’m sure you’ll hear me talking more and more about Rawls as time goes on. That’s the way I am.
Reading this book got me thinking of another of his books, Political Liberalism where he tries to answer the question of political legitimacy. Basically: why should we even accept “justice as fairness” as the basis of our society? Why not just accept the idea that what it says in some holy book as the basis of our society? His answer is universality. Only people who accept the book as the word of God think, for example, that God cries whenever a sperm is wasted. But no one can reasonably argue that beating up innocent children is a good thing to do. (Actually, the Bible is pretty big on that too!)
As a society, we accept this. So in general, you don’t see people arguing against gay marriage because “God” is against it. Instead, you see arguments cloaked in a patina of universality when the actual point is simply a plea to a particular religious or cultural doctrine. So they argue (against all actual facts) that same sex couples are bad for children. Sure, their holy book is very clear that God hates fags, but that has nothing to do with their argument. It’s just about the children!
What this all comes down to is the fact that policy debates usually have a high percentage of content that is disingenuous. What’s more, those arguments come mostly from the conservative side. Consider abortion. The only argument against abortion rights is that the fetus should be considered a full citizen. But this isn’t a reasonable argument when you are talking about a zygote that has no brain. Again: it is a religious argument about souls masquerading as a universalist argument about protecting the innocent.
It isn’t just social issues either. Almost every conservative economic argument I hear is based upon the aristocratic idea that the rich really are better than the rest of us. It is a belief of pure faith and is completely unsupported by the facts. But the argument is rarely put in this way. Instead of “the rich are better” we get the Job Creator myth. By this myth, the poor will only have jobs if we let the rich keep all their money. Again: a disingenuous argument intended to hide the real argument.
Related to this is the evolution debate. In the 19th century and through much of the 20th, the argument was purely religious: God said it was seven days, dontcha know! But over time, the creationists realized they were losing the battle with all this religious talk. So they got disingenuous. They started making scientific-like arguments against evolution. They developed Intelligent Design. But regardless of how much mumbo jumbo you pile on, it is still Genesis 1.
I love theoretical discussions and I think John Rawls is brilliant and adds a lot of insight into my thinking about these things. But such serious discussions don’t mean much in the practical world. The conservatives know how to play the game, even if they don’t really understand the game. And as a fairly practical guy, I want to know how to deal with all this disingenuousness. I wish the Christians would just go back to their old way of arguing: God said it; I believe it; that settles it. At least it’s truthful.
I would never try to prove natural selection by offering Bible verses. I really do not understand why they think it is alright to pollute my science as they do. They think they have the whole truth. If it were me and I just knew that after I died God was going to take me to heaven for eternity, I wouldn’t care much about this life. I know there are Christians like that out in the world. But most American Christians seem awfully angry when they talk about anything but how much Jesus loves them. Why does it matter to them what I believe? By their way of thinking, the best that’s going to happen to me is that I’m going to cease to exist. Given I only get one go at this, why not at least let me have my science and politics unpolluted by their faith-based disingenuousness?