Rhetoric, Religion, and Secular Humanism. (Op-Ed)

By Burke, Richard | Free Inquiry, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Rhetoric, Religion, and Secular Humanism. (Op-Ed)


Burke, Richard, Free Inquiry


"Rhetoric" is not necessarily high-flown language, and it is not necessarily manipulative language either. Aristotle defined rhetoric as communication in which the "speaker" and the "audience," as well as the form and content of the "speech," are relevant to the understanding of its meaning (Rhetoric, I,i). Politics and advertising are mostly rhetorical by this definition, but science is not: its "speech" (theories based on solid evidence) is determinative, regardless of who says it to whom. And philosophy, ideally at least, is like science in this respect: its arguments are expected to stand on their own merits, without appeal to authority or popularity. This distinction is useful in explaining concepts like rationality (as opposed to rationalization) and knowledge (as opposed to belief).

For many years now, I have been puzzled by the fact that most religious people seem to "believe" things that are just as incredible as Santa Claus: "God" as a wise old man who lives in the sky, "heaven" as a place where people go when they die, "guardian angels," "devils," etc. The explanation, I now think, is the "belief" here has more to do with identity politics than with epistemology. Religion should be understood as a rhetorical stance, a position taken by a "speaker" before an "audience." The relevant consideration is not primarily whether it is true, but what it will do for you if you believe it. Some religion, but not all, is based on the authority of a higher "speaker" called God. Some religion, but not all, expresses an attitude of reverence toward "the sacred." When the major world religions were first formulated, they naturally incorporated the ideas about nature and mankind prevalent at that time. But what all modern religion, including Eastern and "New Age" religion, has in common is a preferenc e for the metaphysical and ethical ideas of yesterday over those of today. Why would anyone want to do this? Because the ideas of today being new and less familiar, may seem to threaten settled human values.

Darwin's theory of evolution seems to threaten human dignity by making us animals; twentieth-century physics seems to threaten the need for a divine intelligence planning the universe; modern historiography seems to threaten human progress; modern theories of mind seem to threaten the immortality of the human soul; modern permissive ideas about healthy sexuality seem to threaten moral values like purity and modesty. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Rhetoric, Religion, and Secular Humanism. (Op-Ed)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.