The other day I had a conversation with someone about the public square and what is acceptable to bring into a conversation about social change. The public square is colloquial speak for any public environment where debate or deliberation takes place. In the context of my conversation with this person, the public square meant a political arena.
The individual with whom I was conversing stated that, “Only secular arguments should be brought in the public square. Religion is private and does not belong in the public square. Secular is public, whereas religion is private.”
I had an immediate response to the above comment which I will share below. But first, I would like to add a quick note.
A quick note: I do not consider myself religious. I am a truth-seeker. If a religion is true, then I will recognize the truth of that religion. But I do not follow a religion because of “a religious feeling.” I believe Christianity is true because of many forms of evidence. Even with that, I do not have many “religious experiences.” By religious experiences I mean a supernatural, transcendent, or other-worldly feeling or experience. I feel overwhelmed at times at the truth that the Creator of this world loved me enough to humble Himself and suffer and die for me. However, I am overwhelmed because of truth, not because of an ethereal feeling.
Now on to my response.
My immediate response to this individual was, “What I say in public is completely dependent upon my religious convictions. If you take away my religious convictions, you get a completely different person, thereby getting a completely different argument. By asking me to leave my religious convictions at home, you ask me to leave the most important part of myself at home; you ask me to come as an empty shell.”
My response has three different overlapping levels to it. Below are the levels.
Level 1: What I say in public is completely dependent upon my religious convictions.
There is a backstory to every conviction. If someone comes to the public square arguing a point, you had better know that they did not come up with this point from a completely blank slate. This is true for everybody, not just people with religious beliefs. So by asking me to leave my religious convictions at home, you are asking me to come to the table with a completely blank slate, nothing to offer and nothing from which to draw. All my experience, all my moral conclusions, and all my successes are to be wiped away and not referenced.
Is it fair to remove my backstory that allows me to come to the public square with arguments? If you remove my backstory, you remove almost all arguments.
The only reason I hold my public convictions is because of my private convictions. Who I am in public is completely dependent upon my religious convictions. So religion is not a private thing, it is a very public thing. People create huge social change because of their religious beliefs. If it were not for the religious arguments of William Wilberforce, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr., we would not see nearly the amount of racial equality as we see now.
Level 2: If you take away my religious convictions, you get a completely different person, thereby getting a completely different argument.
If I have to leave my religion at home, then I will have no reason behind my arguments in the public square. I will never be able to answer the question, “Why do you believe that?” The “why” is the most important part of any argument. If I cannot answer the “why”, then my argument is subject to change.
In fact, if I really do leave my religious convictions at home and only argue from secular perspectives, then my argument changes immensely. If you ask me to embrace the secular method of argumentation, then what I argue for, or against, will radically change because I will be coming at a problem from a completely different viewpoint. Allow me to give you an illustration of this.
Let us say the topic we are discussing is care for the elderly.
As a Christ follower I believe elderly individuals to be worthy of honor and that they should be supported in their times of need. Why? Because they bare the image of God just like everyone else and we are called to care for “the least of these” (i.e., people who cannot help themselves) just as Christ did.
From a secular standpoint I can see some value in caring for the elderly, but only the elderly who can contribute in some way to society. If the elderly – or anybody for that matter – mostly only take from society, then we should not be wasting precious resources on them that could be used to care for someone who can benefit society. The weak, sentimental feeling that we need to keep the elderly around is outdated and we need to realize that we need to stop allowing ourselves to be swayed by unproductive feelings. We need to teach our society that you live your life as well as you can while you can be productive, but once you cannot contribute in a meaningful way, then you can be gently released to the other side. Why? Because there is a lot of money, time, and effort that goes into keeping a practically dead person alive for a few more hours, days, months, and yes, even years. We need to use these valuable resources in other areas. We need to change our mindset that elderly people near death need to be preserved. We need to teach our young now to learn to embrace the circle of life and death so that they can be ready to give up the last painful days of their lives for the sake of those with a brighter future.
So, if you ask me to leave my religion at home, you get a completely different answer.
Level 3: By asking me to leave my religious convictions at home, you ask me to leave the most important part of myself at home; you ask me to come as an empty shell.
The “why” is the purpose behind a conviction. Without purpose a thing is meaningless. So by asking me to come into a conversation without bringing in my religion, you are asking me to make meaningless arguments. By asking me to leave my religion at home, you are removing the deepest part of not only my argument, but me. You are asking me to come with no backbone, as an empty shell of a man.
Imagine if I asked you to talk about your child, spouse, or best friend, but then I added, “You cannot talk about them in subjective terms, in fact, you cannot even show emotion when describing them.” By only talking about your loved one using objective terms and no emotion, you would feel robbed in your description of them. Well, that is how I feel when I cannot give the drive behind my reasoning.
The only reason I encourage people to be compassionate to “the least of these” is because Christ showed me that compassion. That is what drives me to show compassion. Being completely honest here, if we talk about compassion without bringing God into the conversation, then I feel like a self-righteous goody two-shoes. Who am I to tell someone they should care for a stranger? That person probably has enough troubles of his own to have to worry about some stranger as well; and if the person is well off, then they deserve to glean fully from the fruits of their labor (or luck), and not be forced by someone playing God to do something they do not feel obligated to do.
Not only is leaving my religious convictions at home not feasible because who I am in public is because of my religious convictions, but it is not fair to ask me to leave my religious convictions at home because by asking that you ask me to leave the most important part of me at home. Lastly, you do not want me leaving my religious convictions at home. If I leave them at home, you get a much different individual. From a secular standpoint there is nothing wrong with this other side of me, it is just who I am without my religious convictions.