An Empirical Perspective on Religious and Secular Reasons

3017257227_7f7a90bc4d John H. Evans in Immanent Frame:

The use of religious reasons by ordinary citizens talking over the fencepost may be different than their use by activists. I recently published an empirical analysis of whether there is a shared moral language among diverse religious people in the U.S. used in debates over reproductive genetic technologies. In one chapter, I evaluate whether people would want to refer to religious reasons in discussing reproductive genetics with their neighbors. I asked in-depth interview respondents whether one should explain one’s position on reproductive genetic technologies to a Hindu neighbor “using religious terms or secular terms.”

In my interviews, a majority of the people thought one should use religious discourse with the Hindu neighbor, with conservative Protestants being the most likely to say so. Interestingly, a majority of the secular respondents also thought that one should use religious discourse, which I will address below. The most prevalent reason given for advocating the use of religious reasons is that using only secular reasons is not possible if you are religious. For example, a Pentecostal woman said that she would use religious reasons because “that’s who I am . . . so that’s probably how it would come across.” A traditional evangelical woman said, “I can’t separate that because my spiritual beliefs influence everything I do and say. If I really feel that that’s the core of who I am, then to say, ‘it only influences me some of the time,’ is a mistake.”

This seems to be empirical support for the claim made by Calhoun and many others, such as Wolterstorff and Habermas, that people who are religious cannot separate out their religious reasons and their secular reasons—or, more subtly, that they cannot translate between the two. They have no choice but to use religious reasons.

Not quite.