Sunday, April 19, 2015

Is Religious Freedom a "Rearguard" Argument? Some Brief Thoughts

I came across a few articles saying that speaking about the defense of the Church teachings as a Religious Freedom issue is a “rearguard” movement. Since rearguard is a term used to describe defense during a retreat, it is clear this is a negative description. The arguments I have seen claim that if we try to defend “religious freedoms” against “human rights,” people are going to decide that it is “intolerance vs. tolerance.” These people who describe it as a rearguard action say that we need to start promoting the right and wrong aspects. 

I tend to disagree with this, because I think this argument makes a logical error. The argument that instead of arguing religious freedom, we need to argue right/wrong is technically an either-or fallacy. We need to do both, but which argument we give depends entirely on who is the target audience.

The Church teaching on right and wrong is always present. We speak against certain things because they are wrong. If the Church were somehow to be entirely indifferent on something, we wouldn’t bother to defend it. Such arguments work well with people of good will who are seeking the truth and want to live it. But there’s one problem with the right and wrong argument—it really doesn’t reach the people who believe in moral relativism. For the person who denies right and wrong—particularly if the moral claims come too close to home with the person’s lifestyle—such arguments are going to be ignored.

That’s where the Constitutional arguments are needed. Such people need to be shown that once a regime decides it can set aside rights to benefit a cause it supports, another regime which replaces it can make use of the same tactic to benefit the cause it supports. To such people, one needs to show that the only way to be protected from that arbitrary behavior is to make sure that nobody gets away with setting aside the real Constitutional rights in favor of fictional rights.

The point is, before we can get people to listen to the right and wrong arguments, we have to get them to listen in the first place. So, for those who do listen, we do need to explain why X is wrong. But for those who don’t listen, we need to get them to think about how this whole heavy-handed approach by the government sets a precedent that can be used against them by a future government which is just as unscrupulous as the one we currently have which supports what they don’t like using the same tactics.

In other words, we need to reach out to all people to encourage them to break away from the unthinking mob mindset, but the starting place is going to be different depending on who is being spoken to. If they’re unwilling to listen to the moral arguments of right and wrong, we need to start at another level where they are willing to listen.

Otherwise, they won’t listen at all.

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