The relationship between rhetoric and religion, between the sacred and the secular, has often been difficult to pin down. The question 'What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?' puzzles as many people now as it did anciently. Emblematic of the complexity of the issue was Rome's shift from persecuting to promoting Christianity. Rome discovered that religion and secular society can coexist. The question is how.
Augustine thought that understanding rhetoric was critical in order to understand religion. Perhaps one reason for this was their interdependency. Rhetoric is primarily focused on form, while religion is more content-driven. However, form and content are inseparably connected. A teacher cannot communicate content without a form to carry it, and a listener cannot understand the message without wading through the form. At the same time, there is no such thing as pure form; every sentence carries semantic meaning. Despite the necessity of rhetoric in order to communicate religious values, the misuse of persuasive tactics can also be detrimental to morality. Historically problems have emerged when rhetoric came to represent content that differed from the speaker's true purpose. For example, the Sophists often persuaded people of things that the speakers themselves didn't believe were absolutely true, and the result was an amoral worldview. During the crusades the Catholic Church used an ethos built upon the backs of Christian doctrines such as charity and forgiveness to push soon-to-be soldiers toward murder and hatred.
In modern times, rhetoric has shaped the way that the public has viewed moral issues such as abortion, LGBT rights, and the exclusion of Muslims from the United States, as well as religious freedom, democracy, and equality. Rhetoric is a necessity when talking about religious subjects in modern society, but it has also done considerable damage. I believe that truth is naturally persuasive, despite differences between people in both capacity and willingness to perceive and receive it. Rhetoric can be a tool that allows pure truth to shine through, or a smoke machine that clouds other's perceptions of reality. If we let the content drive the form, rather than the other way around, rhetoric can be a means of persuading the world's citizens of Christian values that will bring them peace and happiness. Making rhetoric our servant rather than our master will make us more capable servants of the One true Master.
Short Rhetorical Analysis
Jacob had good reason to do his best to be persuasive. His people was in deep spiritual trouble and the Lord had given him the responsibility of motivating them to repent. Several kinds rhetorical tools allowed him to make his point powerful, well-rounded way.
For example, Jacob used each of the rhetorical appeals during his sermon. He directly referenced receiving his assignment from God to build his ethos. He supplemented this point by telling the people specific details of their sins, which would have helped them realize that he knew what was happening in their lives. He appealed to pathos by portraying vividly the suffering of local families, "Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hearts ascend up to God against you" (Jacob 2:35). Logos helped him emphasize why the people should not think that they are better than the Lamanites. "Their hatred towards you is because of the iniquity of their fathers; wherefore, how much better are you than they, in the sight of your great Creator?" (Jacob 3:7) By using all three appeals, Jacob created a more balanced argument than he would have had by just using one.
On a deeper level, Jacob utilized topics of invention that emphasized the steep contrast between his expectation for the people and reality. He incorporated a combination of cause and effect and past fact/future fact to describe how the people's sin had affected their families in the past, implying that such damage would continue to occur in the future unless the people repented. Jacob also showed how similar the Nephites had become to the Lamanites. That must have stung particularly hard because the Nephites saw the Lamanites as savages. Both of these methods painted a stark picture of the Nephites' situation and encouraged them to repent.
On the micro level, Jacob's tropes made his description of the Nephites' sinful state more poignant. "Many hearts died, pierced with deep wounds (Jacob 2:35)," is an example of metonymy, using the heart to symbolize feelings, and of hyperbole, and contributed strongly to pathos. Perhaps the most salient use of metonymy was the phrase "their skins will be whiter than yours (Jacob 3:8)," which Jacob used to reflect the relative degrees of righteousness of the Nephites and Lamanites. That particular metaphor played well into the kairos of an audience, who connected the skin color of their enemies directly to their brutal nature. The mention of skin color in particular, the mark of God's displeasure with their brethren, held a subtle threat that if they weren't careful, the Nephites would fall to their spiritual level.
Jacob masterfully incorporated a variety of rhetorical techniques into his address that played on the Nephites' culture, emphasized contrast between reality and the ideal, and utilized multiple persuasive appeals. By exerting a well-rounded persuasive effort, he was better able to touch the hearts of his listeners and encourage them to change.