And in conclusion
A little more on Monsieur Poisson. I know – it’s silly – it’s a waste of time – it’s just ol’ Stash – who cares. But it’s also the New York Times, albeit only its blog, and ol’ Stash is a Name, and it’s interesting to notice how pervasive his tricksiness is. There is tricksiness in every paragraph, and often in every sentence. It’s interesting that a reputable academic allows himself to be so…disingenuous. He sets up a strawman version of ‘secular reasons’ in the first sentence and then gives variations on it throughout the rest of the article – thus vitiating the whole piece.
A somewhat less stringent version of the argument permits religious reasons to be voiced in contexts of public decision-making so long as they have a secular counterpart: thus, citing the prohibition against stealing in the Ten Commandments is all right because there is a secular version of the prohibition rooted in the law of property rights rather than in a biblical command.
It’s interesting that he chooses stealing – when the more obvious choice would of course be murder. But with stealing he gets to frame it as a matter of property rights, whereas if he chose murder he would be forced to admit that there are secular reasons that do not boil down to economics. He doesn’t want to admit that, and by god he never does admit it.
Whether the argument appears in its softer or harder versions, behind it is a form of intellectual/political apartheid known as the private/public distinction: matters that pertain to the spirit and to salvation are the province of religion and are to be settled by religious reasons; matters that pertain to the good order and prosperity of civil society are the province of democratically elected representatives and are to be settled by secular reasons.
‘Secular reasons’ pertain just to ‘good order and prosperity’ – nothing more ambitious than that. No equality, no freedom, no rights, just useful but minimalist order and prosperity.
And that is how he gets himself to the all-important claim:
This picture is routinely challenged by those who contend that secular reasons and secular discourse in general don’t tell the whole story; they leave out too much of what we know to be important to human life.
Well naturally – if secular reasons and secular discourse were as Fish described them, I too would contend that they leave out too much of what we know to be important to human life. But secular reasons and secular discourse are not as Fish describes them! His description is grotesque – he seems to have secular reasons and secular discourse confused with the most autistic kind of economics. Or rather, he seems to be pretending he does – I doubt that he is really as confused as he pretends to be.
He goes on doing the same thing until the end, naturally, but I won’t bother quoting every place he does it; it’s obvious enough.