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Richard Cohen’s religious test

WaPo columnist Richard Cohen argues that Mike Huckabee owes us an explanation of how his faith is going to affect his policies. You see, according to Cohen, in a democracy we argue, and you can’t argue about something held on faith, so we need to know what Huckabee won’t let us argue about.

I’d like to know what Cohen won’t let us argue about. As is evident from this passage, the authority of science is pretty close to the top of the list:

When Huckabee says he favors the teaching of intelligent design in public schools, he’s taking a distinctly religious position. Intelligent design has no basis in science. And when any issue, any question, becomes a matter of faith, it means it cannot be argued. That’s not what we do in a democracy. We argue about everything. (This column is my modest contribution.)

First of all, I doubt that Huckabee argues that we should teach I.D. instead of evolution, but rather both. In other words, he encourages discussion (which Cohen apparently can’t distinguish from argument).

And then there are all the "self-evident truths" (both those in the Declaration and those that are ordinarily the subjects of pious belief by right-thinking bicoastal elites): can we argue about or discuss them, or are they off limits?

Perhaps Cohen should write a column explain how his unexamined or nonnegotiable commitments influence his policy recommendations. Or does he just mean to suggest that "argument" involves shouting about one’s secular commitments. Perhaps we can’t do that about religion because genuine conflict is likely to follow. Tell that to the victims of the Russian and Chinese Revolutions, not to mention all those who died in the killing fields of Cambodia or in Nazi concentration camps, to name just a few instances of atrocity accomplished by people with nonnegotiable secular commitments.

Religious fanaticism surely poses a threat to our decent regime, as does its secular counterpart. But I don’t see Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney as a religious fanatic. And I think they’re capable of making reasonable cases for the positions they hold, as President Bush has been for the positions that Cohen claims are motivated entirely by his faith. By the same token--just to be clear--I don’t think that any of the plausible Democratic nominees (or Cohen himself) poses a threat to our regime. They may be profoundly mistaken or misguided, but that’s a different "argument."

Discussions - 9 Comments

Joe, isn't Cohen's essential fallacy his belief that reason and faith are mutually exclusive? Huckabee's (and anyone else's) religious views cannot be defended on rational grounds, he assumes. In short, Cohen has bought into the fact-value distinction.

Yup. And I'd love to see a defense of the fact-value distinction that doesn't on some level assume (that is, take on faith) what it must prove.

This kind of stuff really chaps my be-hind. There's this entirely undefended claim - it's just a newspaper column, but still - that matters of faith are beyond rational argumentation. Really? So all those books upon books of theology are just so much fluff? C'mon, I'd put the works of Alister McGrath or Alvin Plantinga or the like up against any "rationalist." The choice isn't between Hitchens and Deepak Chopra here! Grr...

At some level faith and reason do become mutually exclusive. We can talk a lot about their similarities, but when you go to the bottome of it you'll still be left with a choice between the two.

That choice is what separates today's secular deism from religious people like Huckabee.

Michael,

Amen, brother!

Libs love to delude themselves that the founders were closet secularists. Most of the leaders of this country before, during and after the founding, would be characterized as RADICAL Christians by today's standards.

And as for reason and faith, check out JOHN PAUL II's FAITH AND REASON Encyclical, which puts the lie to the notion that reason and faith are at root, inconsistent. Check out too THE SPLENDOR OF THE TRUTH.

So we can oppose murder because it violates the "I won't kill you if you won't kill me"-contact, and we can oppose murder because it litters the sidewalk--but we can't oppose murder simply because its wrong, based on intangible and unprovable moral judgements?

Of course, when Cohen says its wrong to follow Huckabee, he too is making an unprovable and unscientific faith-based assertion...Cohen the Theocrat!

This is simply a shop-worn liberal parlor trick to pre-emptively disqualify people of faith from engaging in the public square. Inclusion my contusion!

But if Cohen is serious, he might want to have a word with the Prophet "This Debate Is Over!" Algore. His Church of Global Warming combines the scientific rigor of Phrenology with the theological sophistication of a South Pacific cargo cult. "You make Sun God angry with Humvee chariot! Bad chariot!"

And as for reason and faith, check out JOHN PAUL II's FAITH AND REASON Encyclical, which puts the lie to the notion that reason and faith are at root, inconsistent. Check out too THE SPLENDOR OF THE TRUTH.

Look Dan, I've had this discussion before in the contexts of several books/philosophies and the like. Very few people if pushed far enough will continue to claim the faith and reason are always in concert. It's really a ridiculous and unchristian end. Perhaps the "root" as you say is similar, but there are certain branches of faith that the root of reason can never get to. In that case you have to jump a little bit.

Faith has its own reason. That is a rational alternative logic based on a premise. Granted, the premise is not shared by everyone, hence that leap Clint hints at. (I never felt that I actually leaped. The experience was more like being pushed.) What you guys are calling reason contains a faith of its own, maybe faith in the innate rationality of the human mind or other things like that science, human observation, provides absolutes. Those premises cannot be proved any more than God can be proved. Some of the most emotional and irrational people I know are atheists.

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