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Book Sneak Peek: Imposing Your Beliefs Fallacy

All, here is a segment, a tease, a mere fragment, of an upcoming book of popular fallacies from the chapter Imposing Your Beliefs Fallacy. The Imposing Your Belief Fallacy occurs when somebody says, “You should not impose your beliefs”, which, of course, is an attempt to impose the speaker’s beliefs, and so the command is self-contradictory.

A pertinent example. In the early fall of 2017, Senator Diane Feinstein, a secular Jew (which needs mentioning because of the role religion and group identity plays), in her official role of senatorial inquisitor was questioning Amy Coney Barrett, a law professor from Notre Dame, who was nominated for a federal appellate court judgeship. Feinstein is in favor of would-be mothers having the “right” to kill the lives that live inside them, ensconced (in the United States anyway) in the law decided in Roe v. Wade. Barrett is a Catholic who professes belief in that religion’s stance on abortion, which is that such killing is always immoral, akin to murder, and thus the height of selfishness.

Feinstein was concerned Barrett would draw upon her religious beliefs in making future rulings about abortion. Feinstein said,

You are controversial. Let’s start with that. You’re controversial because many of us who have lived our lives as women really recognize the value of finally being able to control our reproductive systems, and {\it Roe} entered into that, obviously. You have a long history of believing that your religious beliefs should prevail.”

She also said, “The dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern.” We grant that Feinstein had no choice but to live her life as a woman. Incidentally, to prove Americans still have a sense of humor, Feinstein’s “dogma lives loudly” quip instantly became of catchphrase among traditionalist Catholics. Almost before she was done speaking, t-shirts with the slogan were available.

Now there are all sorts of legal quibbles about Feinstein’s method of questioning that are of no concern to us; for instance, whether it is legal or “Constitutional” to ask the question Feinstein did. The point here is that Feinstein implicitly invoked the Imposing Your Beliefs Fallacy. She did not want Barrett’s values to be used in deciding legal questions pertinent to abortion, but she did want her (Feinstein’s) values to be used. Feinstein was anxious to continue to impose her beliefs on the nation.

Feinstein’s tactic of highlighting Barrett’s religious beliefs fails because there is no point in which a religious person’s life is not touched by her religious beliefs, no matter how weak that touch. Of course Barrett’s views on abortion, informed as they are by Catholic dogma, will be used by her in deciding abortion litigation and on matters regarding human life. One can imagine purely bureaucratic or technical rulings associated with abortion which are, at best, faintly religious; for instance, deciding what date hearings will be scheduled on an abortion matter and so forth. But it is just as obvious Feinstein’s religious views arising from her secular background inform her own votes on these matters. Somebody has to win these debates and decide the law of the land; therefore, somebody’s views will be imposed.

It does not matter that Barrett ran from Feinstein’s accusatory fallacy and hid behind the law saying she would “follow unflinchingly all Supreme Court precedent.” That is, it would not matter except if she meant by that that she would readily abandon her Catholic beliefs in the face of precedent, or that she meant she didn’t really hold her religious views strongly. All that matters is Feinstein believed Barrett’s faith was genuine, and thus Feinstein’s line of argument was fallacious.

Because Feinstein’s argument was fallacious, Feinstein bullied Barrett, or tried to. A practice which, I hasten to add, is well accepted in politics. If Barrett estimates she will once in office be unable to blunt these barbs, she ought to consider remaining in the Ivory Tower. Feinstein’s bullying revealed the majority position of the ruling elite (a view which may not be the majority belief of the entire populace). Feinstein argued from a position of strength, taking her own views on abortion as granted and accepted by right-thinking people. So natural are these beliefs to her that she did not see that she imposes her own beliefs. Her failure to recognize minority viewpoints is why the Imposing Your Beliefs Fallacy exists.

5 thoughts on “Book Sneak Peek: Imposing Your Beliefs Fallacy Leave a comment

  1. Article Six of the Constitution prohibits imposing a “religious test” on, in particular, judicial officers. This is exactly what Feinstein was trying to do, so this is more than a quibble. She was out of line.

  2. BRIGGS Says: “Of course Barrett’s views on abortion, informed as they are by Catholic dogma, WILL be used by her in deciding abortion litigation and on matters regarding human life.” [EMPHASIS ADDED]

    BUT THEN BRIGGS also says: “…Barrett … hid behind the law saying she would “follow unflinchingly all Supreme Court precedent.”

    A plain interpretation of those remarks is that Briggs perceives that the nominee asserted objectivity, but nevertheless WILL use her religious views in deciding certain litigation — which is the opposite of objectivity. In other words, the nominee, if given the chance by being seated in the position, would impose her religious values contrary to law — that would be an Imposing Your Values Fallacy in action.

    If there is a basis for believing a nominee might use a position of power to impose their personal values contrary to law while purportedly exercising law (as there is ample precedent of this occurring by others with comparable leading indicators) then exploring if the nominee is prone to do this IS a valid line of inquiry consistent with due diligence.

    The basic assertion that Feinstein exercised an Imposing Your Beliefs Fallacy is wrong.

    In accepting the nomination and later the office, the nominee’s acceptance of the position carries with it an obligation to perform as an objective agent of the US Govt, to uphold the laws as written. There is no lawful option where she can exercise different criteria from the law (though, she might easily get away with doing so if given the chance). When Feinstein inquired about the nominees personal values getting in the way of exercise the law as it is, versus, as the nominee might want it to be, Feinstein wasn’t imposing her beliefs (even though they align with abortion rights law) she was exploring to see if the nominee’s values would lead her to Impose her Beliefs Fallacy. Feinstein, or any other congressional “inquisitor” would be guilty of an Imposing your Beliefs Fallacy only if she/they willfully ignored indicators a nominee would willfully not abide by their obligations to uphold the law and instead apply their contradictory personal values (in which case they would be exercising an Imposing Beliefs Fallacy passively).

    The assertion that Feinstein was applying a religious-based test has negligible objective basis. The questioning was not about the candidate’s religion, it was about prospective performance and what would prevail in the candidate’s rulings — US law, or, some interpretation of alleged divine law? That is not a religious test, it is an assessment of future performance against standards. The candidate’s historical remarks are indicative of someone who might not be able to uphold their sworn duties to enforce the law as it is. The fact that the reason why the candidate might not enforce the law as it should be enforced derives from their religion does not make their religion the issue — it is reasonable expectation that their performance will be conducted contrary to the oath of office and law that remains the issue.

    Many other candidates for office held strong religious beliefs that Feinstein did not challenge similarly — because the candidate did not provide cause for concluding their beliefs would overrule their exercise of the duties of the office when those public duties conflicted with personal values. Barrett, on the other hand, did provide grounds for such a concern and it should be no surprise that she was evaluated accordingly.

  3. Ken, you make a good point. The situation is more nuanced than I made out.

    I think it would be unconstitutional to (keeping with the current example) give a judicial nominee flak for expressing the opinion that abortion, even in the first trimester, was wrong. This is because such a belief is, for most Catholics (and some would say for anyone who can legitimately call herself a Catholic), part of the religion, even if the candidate has never given expression to that belief. So to object based on this expressed opinion is tantamount to resisting the nominee based on the fact that she happens to be Catholic, which is a religious test. Religious identity and particular beliefs tend to go together.

    However, in this case, there is the complication that the nominee had written that a Catholic judge should recuse herself in cases involving such things as euthanasia or abortion, where her religious beliefs might conflict with the law. This suggests that she believes she wouldn’t be able to do her job and would have to sit out in what might be a large number of cases (all death penalty cases, for example). I think it’s legitimate to question a nominee about this.

    The case reminds me of the thrice-married county clerk who refused to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples, because of her “Christianity”. She was fired for refusing to do her job, and Briggs described this as being fired for being Christian. I don’t think that description makes sense, as of course she could be as Christian as she wanted to be, as long as she fulfilled the duties of her job. If those duties were in conflict with her religion, she should have sought another job. Instead, Briggs seemed to think she should be paid for not working. Likewise, if this nominee thinks that her beliefs would require her to recuse herself routinely, she should not seek to be a judge.

  4. Problems begin to arise when the laws of the land include the Dred Scott decision and Fugitive Slave Act, Plessy v. Ferguson; or in another land, the Nuremburg Laws. At what point does morality take precedence over the State?

    Everything within the State; nothing outside the State; nothing against the State.
    — Benito Mussolini

  5. In all fairness….

    If Christ is real His law is the supreme law.

    No law permitting gay “marriage” or abortion or euthanasia is actually “real”.

    The LawTM doesn’t exist like some think it does. It’s a collection of written documents that someone is willing to hit you with a stick over if you disobey. It’s not some mystical inviolate body of received wisdom, I mean it may be at times but in itself it is not.

    When some laws attain to an astounding overreach of what is actually proper any legitimate government deriving its authority from the end of all authority, God, it’s not a real law. No more than a man with a knife robbing you is “collecting taxes”. The degree to which you oppose that law is mitigated by prudence not justice.

    Why do we get so wise and jurisprudential on these matters when Feinstein et al are given a pass for straight violating the constitution that we do have?

    Why is it that Christian jurists have a moral obligation to recuse themselves from the made up horseshit of Roe vs Wade? Ironically you’d be on solid ground morally and legally by ignoring it. It’s nonsense.

    Poor Kim Davis was in the same boat. The court straight made up their legal reasoning on gay marriage and neither congress nor the state of Kentucky had the balls to say boo. Ironically, she didn’t try to keep the couple from getting “married” just said she personally couldn’t participate but that’s not good enough, lock her up, she personally had to do it. What’s been really fun is watching fellow Christians look at a sister being persecuted and saying she had it coming (especially shaming her over her divorces before she converted, maybe the only time a woman has been shamed for divorce in America in forty years).

    They hate us and they’re trying to hurt us. We act like they have honest motives that must be given due consideration, and weighed against the total, etc.

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