Wednesday, November 3, 2010

School Prayer Redux

The school prayer issue is one of those issues where believers show their true colors, repeatedly telling bald-faced lies and refusing to engage in honest, intelligent discussion of the issue.  Instead they trot out their stock phrases, their lies, and their half-lies.  One of their favorite half-lies, both in this context and others, is the straw-man argument.

A straw-man argument is a logical fallacy where your opponent pretends that you said something you did not, then proceeds to refute that.  As you can probably guess, the thing he pretends you said is much easier for him to refute than the thing you actually said.  For this to work, however, the thing he is pretending you said has to be close enough to what you actually said to confuse you--or the audience if that his more pressing concern.

It doesn't have to confuse you completely, it just has to get you to follow him to this new, but related, topic where he can have a chance to win--or appear to win.  (Appearing to win is all that matters to religious people because they aren't actually interested in the truth.  Their gold standard--and you will frequently hear them say it--is whether or not something makes someone "look good" or "look bad".)  This is comparable to a military leader luring his opponent out of a strong position onto ground more favorable to the one doing the luring.  Don't fall for it; it's a trap.

The point of this is to get you to abandon your original point, which he cannot defeat.  If you follow his reasoning and engage him over this "new" point, he has won a huge tactical advantage.  By trying this, he is also signaling to you that he can't win the argument on your point.  Therefore, do not let him shift the topic.  Pull him up short with a demand that he respond and not try to duck out.

A perfect example of this is where you send a multi-paragraph letter to a school board member explaining why school prayer is wrong, say a letter just like my post on the subject the other day.  In reply, you get drivel like this:

      "I appreciate your stance on this very emotional issue.  I can
  assure you that I have made no plans to participate in organized
  prayer at school functions.  However, the same freedom you have
  to decline is also afforded the students who wish to pray in groups
  at school events, and I will support their right to do so."

Of course, the point I made in that post was that the so-called "right" not to pray didn't amount to much and ignored the student's right to keep his beliefs private and not be pressured to conform (both by peer pressure and by adding the power of the government to that peer pressure--reinforcing it both in the mind of the dissenting individual and in the minds of the potential bullies around him).

If you receive such a reply that simply ignores your main point and pretends you didn't say it but that you said something else, pull the person up short.  Tell him he didn't respond to your point and then sharpen it for him, so he can't help getting stuck on it:

"I must tell you that you didn't respond to my point and I am not sure you grasped it.

I will abbreviate it for you:  What about the right of the individual to keep his religious opinions to himself?"

You can follow up with some or all of the following:

Individuals who want to pray can always do so.  There is no reason to hold ORGANIZED prayer sessions except to make a public show of unanimity and government support.  The individual who exercises his right not to pray thwarts that purpose and he and everyone else will know that.  It is for that reason that organized prayer in schools is inherently coercive.

Saying an individual has a right not to pray is the same as saying that he has a right to move out of the community if he doesn't like the prayer sessions--or, more accurately, doesn't belong to the majority religion.  This is wrong, both morally and Constitutionally. 

It is more accurate under our Constitution to say that individuals who don't like living in a free country have a right to leave.

(I know how much the religious hate us for thinking they aren't smart, but when they say things like the reply above, which seems to indicate that the person didn't grasp the point, then how can they expect us to respect their intelligence?  If they are just being evasive, then how can they expect us to take them seriously when they claim moral superiority?)

No comments:

Post a Comment