Deeply Held Views

Listening to the radio over the weekend (Any Questions? I think, or was it Any Answers?) I heard some people described as having “deeply held views” that made them opposed to gay marriage. I have happened across the phrase in relation to the recent bout of Middle East rioting too.

This is an example of language and cliché being used to give weight to certain opinions, over others. When a speaker says that someone has “deeply held views” there is an implication that these opinions are more intractable than the opinion of the average person. The word “deep” suggests that the opinion is somehow buried beneath strata of rock.

But actually, an opinion or a value isn’t like that. It is exists within the malleable, mutable human brain, and therefore susceptible to argument, rhetoric, fact, emotion, and empathy.

Moreover, since we are all equal human beings (in the democratic sense, at least) there is no reason why a person with a “deeply held view” should receive special treatment or consideration. It’s a phrase that, to me, screams special pleading and it’s usually used to describe religious people. The message seems to be, My opinion is better than yours, because it’s older..

This is wrong. An antipathy to women or homosexuals (say) may have been encoded into the religious text or culture mores for centuries, but a person nevertheless chooses to adopt that opinion themselves within their own lifetime. That “deeply held” view is no older or deeper than the most new and liberal of opinions held by their next-door neighbour.

Or perhaps, “deeply held view” is actually code for those opinions that the holder has accepted (for reasons of religion, tradition or patriotism) without making a proper, considered choice? In which case, “deeply held view” is also a euphemism for an unthinking deference to the pronouncements of others (which is, in the end, a form of prejudice). I actually suspect that this is what the politicians and BBC journalists mean when they use the phrase.

Well, enough of that, I say! Let us stop giving undue credence to bad ideas, just because they have a long history. If the best argument you can give for holding an opinion is that it is “deeply held” then it’s not a very good opinion at all, and you should divest yourself of the burden of defending it as soon as possible.

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