Monday, December 24, 2012

On Bill O'Reilly's 'War on Christmas', Spielberg's 'Lincoln', Pathos, Ethos and Logos

Adding to the cherished traditions of baking treats for friends and neighbors, chestnuts roasting on an open fire and choreographed megawatt holiday lights on suburban homes, we now have a new ritual to remind us that the holiday season is upon us.  It’s Bill O’Reilly’s call to arms against the “War on Christmas” in his recent political joust with Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee.

His weapons are the rhetoric of pathos:
You [Govenor Chafee] are imposing your will and you’re making the people unhappy….You’re not making anybody happy.  Everybody’s unhappy with you. 
and ethos
Look! [Governor Chaffee], the White House has a Christmas tree.
In his latest salvo O’Reilly states,
Christianity is a philosophy. You don't have to believe Jesus is God in order to admire his view on life.  
Even if you were to accept his argument, there’s a devil that lurks in the details.

To reveal the two-edge sword of his critical deficient thinking, Mr. O’Reilly would be well served to look anew at the historical times of another Lincoln; Abraham Lincoln.  The subject of one of his  bestselling books was himself the victim of this demon.

A scene from Steven Spielberg’s movie Lincoln  has the Copperhead and New York Democrat Congressman Fernando Wood making the following argument against the 13th Amendment President Lincoln was spearheading:
Congress must never declare equal those whom God created unequal.
It’s not clear whether Spielberg took creative license with this scene, but the historical record echoes Wood’s exact sentiment:
The Almighty has fixed the distinction of the races; the Almighty has made the black man inferior, and, sir, by no legislation, by no military power, can you wipe out this distinction.
Wood was clearly making a religious argument using ethos-based rhetoric.  This illustrates the folly in the bloviater's “War on Christmas” defense.   It’s not the celebration of Christmas by private individuals that’s at issue.  It’s the risk we take that government will provide an imprimatur (endorsement) of the “philosophy” that can be twisted to subjective desires by legislators like Fernando Wood. 

Therefore, not only does government have a responsibility to protect the exercise of religion, it also has the responsibility to clearly, emphatically and rigorously defend itself from those that would use religion to subjugate public policy making.

Harvard University (O’Reilly’s alma mater
) has as its motto Veritas/Truth.  Rhetoric/argument supported by logos is the only philosophy that protects us from the Fernando Wood’s of our world. And to this end, science is revealing that the ‘Golden Rule’ is a universal that must inform our public policy.


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