Conservatives, including myself, are often flummoxed by the fact that liberals do not find their logical, rational arguments persuasive. But a statement by a conservative politician about religion and a new “gender identity” law helped me better understand why. It also helped me understand why some conservatives have trouble defending their own positions.
While the statement was made by a conservative senator in Canada, Grant Mitchell, it is still instructive, for it was made in the context of the same kind of debates our local school systems and our state Legislature are now having. It was a debate over a Canadian law passed last week that prohibits “discrimination” based on a person’s “gender identity,” which conservatives know is a social construct being used by liberals to replace references to (and our understanding of) biological sex.
Mitchell’s comment shows his own confusion and uncertainty as to how to argue against what he apparently thought was a bad law:
“[There’s an argument] that transgender identity is too subjective a concept to be enshrined in law because it is defined as an individual’s deeply felt internal experience of gender. Yet we, of course, accept outright that no one can discriminate on the basis of religion, and that too is clearly a very deeply subjective and personal feeling.”
What he is saying is that as a conservative, he didn’t know how he could logically support laws prohibiting religious discrimination and yet oppose a similar law relative to “gender identity,” given that both, to him, are subjective and based on feeling.
His position feels inconsistent to him. And it should, if everything, including what is right or wrong, is based on feeling. From his statement, I draw two important lessons.
Feelings Are Not Debatable
The first lesson rests on the fact that liberals’ “arguments” are often grounded in feelings. But that presents a problem for the conservative because feelings cannot be argued; by definition, feelings don’t claim to be knowledge.
In other words, when a man says he feels like a woman, how can someone argue that he doesn’t feel that way? What conservatives can argue about and defend is a person’s chromosomal makeup or genitalia. Those are objective criteria that can be rationally evaluated, which explains why proponents of “gender identity” want to avoid the word “sex” and discussions about objective, verifiable realities. It also explains why logical arguments fall on deaf ears when it comes to many liberals; feelings, not arguments, determine right and wrong.
But if feelings are unassailable and determinative, then consider how a conservative might make an emotive argument against the new “gender identity” law. A conservative woman could say it’s wrong to let a biological male use her locker room because it makes her feel bad to have a biological male next to her. Given the liberal premise that feelings are unassailable and determinative, how can a liberal credibly argue that a conservative woman should not feel that way? And why shouldn’t her feelings not carry the day? Between two opposing feelings—those of the sex-confused person and those of the conservative woman—who, then, should rightly win that argument?
The lesson for conservatives is that we must start making people defend beliefs. We’ll never get anywhere if our debates are only about feelings.
True Religion Is More Than a Feeling
The second lesson is drawn from the fact that Mitchell has allowed himself to fall into the trap of seeing religion as nothing more than a feeling, not beliefs about the nature of God or the cosmos that can be debated and defended. That’s not surprising.
In his book The Future of Faith, Harvard theologian Harvey Cox argues that we have now entered the “Age of the Spirit.” In this new era, Cox says that spirituality is now replacing formal religion, and actually experiencing God is much more important than maintaining correct beliefs about God. Simply stated, feeling is in and doctrine is out.
Sadly, too many Christian churches are floating along within that cultural stream. They soft-peddle doctrine for the sake of making sure that those who attend have an “experience” that leaves them feeling better about themselves. Of course, to believe experience is more important than doctrine is, itself, a doctrine.
But the lesson to be learned here is that if what we believe as Christians is anchored in feelings rather than truth, then we’ll continue to find ourselves like the Canadian politician, flummoxed and unable to defend in the public square what we know deep down is more than a feeling, but something we really believe.
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.
Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.