The rhetoric of religion has largely entailed talk about ethereal matters—those matters that do not have hard substance. Religious rhetoric concerns faith and faith is far from, if not opposite, fact. “Hail Mary, Full of Grace” and "All thanks are due to Allah" pertain to whom we cannot touch. These words are at the highest level of abstraction, yet admittedly they bring comfort to those who have become accustomed to their repetition. Thousands, millions, uncountable times these words have been expressed and are treasured.
Recently Dominic Infante, an accomplished scholar, one of my closest colleagues, died. In the months before he died, I forward to him a post I made on Hail Mary. He told me that “Hail Mary” brings great comfort to him, and at his wake as I thought of that as I passed by his still body in his casket.
Praise be to Allah, in addition to being recited daily during five daily prayers, Muslims are taught to recite this expression in every activity of their daily lives. These words, too not unlike a Hail Mary, contribute to religious identity and enable those millions of Muslim to feel they belong to something that is beyond the mundane.
The strongest claim that religion can make for its rhetoric is that it provides standards and motivation for how we care for our bodies and interact with each other. The “Thou shalt not kill” commandments are echoed in our laws and legal system, yet the hard work of prevention of drug overdose and crime is a tangible matter. Both those of faith and of carrying out the law can and for the most part is accomplished without religious rhetoric.
Yet our day-to-day world is better because of those of faith who carry out our laws. An alumnus of Kent State is now carries a gun and is a police officer. He believes his faith influences how he does is job:
“Every day I do my best to make a positive difference in the lives of another. Sometimes I have to enforce the law which when it comes down to, most people don't like because they are either receiving a citation or are going to jail. Many times my heart has gone out to some of these traffic or criminal offenders but I still have a job to do. That doesn't necessarily make them a bad person; they just made a bad or wrong choice. I am a Christian man, which plays a huge part in how I conduct myself as a police officer. Sometimes I have to choose justice over grace. I don't always bring it up on the job but many people do when they are in bad situations which then give me the opportunity to give them hope in Jesus Christ when they are about to spend a long time in jail. That is a success. Some instances I can think of however, recently I came across a woman who was ready to commit suicide. I talked to her long enough and convinced her to get some help. A squad came and took her to the hospital. That was a success in which obviously communication was important. Today another officer and I had to notify a mother that her 26 year old son died. She was obviously in tears but thanked us for being there. That was a success to me and obviously communication was important. Once after ensuring everyone was out, I stood by a home owner and talked with him as we watched his house go up in flames while the fire dept. did what they could. I once laid on the ground in broken glass with the possibility of a car on its side rolling over on me and talked with a girl who was stuck inside until we could get her out. Every situation big or small is a learning experience for me. And if often comes down to my ability to communicate with them in a manner that doesn't present myself as any better than they are just because I have a badge and a gun. Every day I need to rely on my ability to communicate with the public. I know there are some "bad cops" out there who don't know how to treat people with respect and communicate that. So if I can leave someone thinking I'm one of the "good cops" that too is a success and something I always strive to do.”
I am safer because of this officer, yet does not religious rhetoric make claims that it does merit. Blessings I grew up giving and being given over the food before us at our meals didn’t plant the seeds, hoe the weeds, harvest the beans and cook the soup, nor did they actually improve their digestion. The talk of “The Lord is my shepherd” makes no impact on how solid waste is treated—either being dumped unprocessed in polluting the river or making decisions by the Environmental Agency on regulation of herbicides that are toxic and protect watersheds.
Congressional hearings, for example, that confront the Administrator of the Environmental Agency are empty unless they deal with legislation and management of tangible, down to earth matters—of water and air in each legislator’s district. Even “canary in the coal mine” concern about how herbicides have killed off milkweeds upon which Monark Butteries lay their eggs as they migrate across our land is not empty rhetoric as is the ethereal vapory rhetoric fills costly buildings led by those in lavish or plain vestments those praying Hail Mary and of those on knees with body bending prone five times a day praising Allah.
Empty rhetoric is a term indication lack of accountability and commitment to action. It is when we use words that make little or no difference in what we do to manage our daily lives and environment—even solid waste. Let’s hope religious rhetoric with its talk of the hereafter and earthly relationships will also talk more about down to earth--of how we manage this planet and how we must stop warring with each other. Only then will religious rhetoric not be empty.