This sounds very much like what I had in mind when I referred to "the kind of right-of-center political ideology and movement that goes by" the name of Christianity. It raises the question: what is politics and what is religion?There is no honest line of argument from what the Bible says to substantive conclusions about the size of the United States government, the need for a free enterprise system, the right to bear arms or the proper interpretation of the Constitution. Family Leader (and many other religious groups with a conservative political agenda) are disguising partisan political positions as religious convictions. This cripples efforts to have meaningful discussions about their political views.Proponents of conservative views that require sober argument from empirical facts and generally accepted principles, instead merely assert them with religious fervor.
Are political positions being disguised as religious convictions? If so, how consciously and how cynically? Is a view asserted with religious fervor thereby a religious view? And if political views "require sober argument from empirical facts and generally accepted principles" do religious convictions too? Let me try to answer these questions in turn.
I think it is probably fair to say that some people do quite cynically and consciously disguise political opinions as religious beliefs. But the mixing of the two is so widespread that I find it hard to believe that every religious political conservative who mixes them up is just lying. Indeed, why would anyone bother with the disguise if they didn't expect some people, at least, to be taken in by it? So I think that it might be better, in some cases at least, to talk about a confusion than a disguising. And if we are going to be neutral then we should probably talk of mixing or combining rather than confusing. If there is confusion, then that remains to be shown, it seems to me.
Is a view asserted with religious fervor thereby religious? I suppose this amounts to: is religion a kind of fervor? And although the answer to this is surely No, there is something to it. Assuming that even religions we do not believe still count as religions, so that 'religion' does not mean 'true religion', what is a religion? It seems to be a family resemblance concept with no obvious defining essence, but a connection with fervor is surely an important characteristic. Other common features might be things like moral principles or ideals, rituals, tradition, authority, what Huston Smith (whose account of religion is influencing this list) calls speculation, and so on. Religious political conservatism has most, if not all, of these features. So why not call it a religion, or recognize it as, say, a branch of this or that religion (Christianity in the case Gutting has in mind)? I'll come back to this question in a minute.
Gutting's complaint about sober argument from empirical facts and generally accepted principles is appealing, but what religious belief is based on such argument? Pretty much none, I would think, even if rational argument and empirical facts support faith (I'm not saying that they do, just leaving open that possibility). You don't become God-intoxicated through sober argument.
Gutting says that "there is no objection in principle to religious arguments in political debates" because in such debates the "goal is to reach consensus about conclusions, but not necessarily consensus about the reasons for the conclusions." So why shouldn't rich people who want low taxes for selfish reasons and poorer people who want low taxes because that is what their religion preaches reach a consensus? Others (such as me) might be contemptuous of this consensus, not because they like high taxes but because they consider the reasons for it (i.e., the hypothetical consensus that taxes should be low) to be unethical, stupid, or shallow. But then it would be our part in the political debate to make the case for some other conclusion about taxes.
It's hard to see how there could be much of a debate if neither side engages with its opponents' reasons. This will mean, in the imaginary case at hand, considering whether the Bible really does have the implications for tax policy that some say it does. And this might well involve questioning the honesty of the reasoning given in support of such views. But it isn't debate if we just shout "You lie!" at each other. We would have to engage with the Bible itself. Which further suggests that this is a genuinely religious issue. And at the end of the day at least some people on the obviously wrong side will remain unmoved. This does not prove that they are religious, but it makes it hard to claim to be neutral if one insists that their beliefs are actually merely political.
In short, I think Gutting's position is untenable. Either we exclude religion from political debate (which would surely be hard to do, even if there is nothing else wrong with the idea), or else we accept that this debate must engage with (or simply give up on and ignore) various people who are irrational. I agree with him that "Eschewing this sort of appeal to religious considerations would be a good start toward reducing the acrimony and frustration of our political debates," but I don't see that it amounts to anything more than asking certain people to shut up. And I don't think they will do so any time soon.