When a person stands up in public and claims to speak in favor of reason, that person had better be able to think and speak reasonably. Otherwise, such a person fails to meet their own criterion of what should be considered valuable.
Yesterday, U.S. Representative Steve King made such a speech, claiming to promote reason, yet failed profoundly to show a command of the basic principles of reason. His speech rambled incoherently, making erratic claims without being able to establish the credibility of those claims.
The following is a representative passage from Representative King’s speech:
“This is a Christian Nation, and the foundation of Western civilization are those kinds of values. And this is rooted going as far back as the Age of Reason in Greece where the foundations and the principles of logic and reason and science were developed, and it flows through Western civilization into the division of the Age of Enlightenment that took place, the English speaking half where we got our free enterprise and our freedom from and the non-English-speaking half of the Age of Enlightenment where we got a lot of these utopian ideas that flowed down here. And some of them have polluted the thought process, and they clearly pollute the thought process here in the United States Congress where many have suspended their ability to reason.”
Let’s identify the arguments in this rather inarticulate passage:
1. The United States is a Christian nation. Why can this be said? Because the roots of the United States are in ancient Greek philosophy and in the Age of Enlightenment.
2. There are two aspects of the Age of Enlightenment, and its influence on the United States. The first Enlightenment aspect comes from English-speaking sources, and is worthwhile. The second Enlightenment aspect comes from sources that spoke languages other than English, and is worthless pollution.
The conclusion that Congressman King arrives at, that the United States is a Christian nation, is not at all supported by King’s findings of fact. The ancient Greek philosophers who developed principles of logic and science, after all, were not Christian. So, if we accept King’s unstated premise that the United States is what its historical influences have been, then we could as easily conclude that the United States is a polytheistic nation that believes in divine beings living on Mount Olympus.
The Greek reference unravels King’s argument about the inherent superiority of the English language as well, given that the ancient Greeks did not speak English. King’s linguistic prejudices form a flaw that runs throughout his efforts. King claims that the United States is a Christian nation because its values come from the foundations of Western Civilization, of which the Age of Enlightenment is given as an example. However, the existence of a lingering pollution (the non-English-speaking half) of unreasonable values contradicts King’s assertions about the character of the Age of Enlightenment . If the Age of Enlightenment was not inherently based in reason after all, then the legacy of the Greek inventors of reason has not been consistently characteristic of Western Civilization. If the Age of Enlightenment can be both a source of worthwhile values and a source of pollution, it ceases to exist as a coherent entity in the historical founding of the United States.
All King is left with in the midst of this wreckage of an argument is the idea that people who speak the English language are by nature intellectually superior to people who do not speak the English language. Given that King himself speaks English, it is reasonable to call that assertion into question.
The historical truth is that the most reasoned aspects of what Representative King calls the Age of Enlightenment triggered the growing rejection of Christianity. Using King’s idea of logic, wouldn’t that mean that the United States is a nation that rejects Christianity?
Actually, in a sense, the United States does reject Christianity – at least as a pillar of government. The founding legal document of our nation, and the document that remains the highest law of the United States, the Constitution, never mentions Christianity at all, and twice forbids the intermingling of religion with the government.
Steve King may be able to do a little historical name dropping, but the ability to name an Age of Reason or an Age of Enlightenment is not identical to the ability to be reasonable or enlightened.