Rhetoric and religion have had a very interesting relationship for millennia. There seems to be an awkward love-hate relationship between the two. While religion needs to persuade people to become followers, religionists tend to spurn the art of persuasion, rhetoric, as deceitful and dishonest. We will examine some examples here.
In 1 Corinthians 1:27, Paul says, “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty”. In Christianity, we often have this ideal of an uneducated preacher preaching by the power of the Holy Spirit. While this is important, and God does inspire men to preach greater than their natural abilities permit, we sometimes turn this into a disregard of skill at speaking. This is ironic, as the very man who wrote this verse, Paul, was a well-schooled Pharisee, and had no small skill in oration.
Perhaps this antipathy toward rhetoric comes from evil men who have used it for their own design. We read of the lawyers who tried to ensnare Alma and Amulek, the men of Athens who, skilled in rhetoric, scoffed at the teachings of Paul, or the many flatterers who have come along, misleading men. Because of rhetoric’s potential to be used by the adversary, it is sometimes cast aside as a tool unfit for moral instruction, not just by Christians but by men such as Plato and Socrates as well.
However, there is a strong Christian tradition of rhetoric. Augustine, who at first disliked the Church because of its rhetorical weakness, eventually came to view the prophets and apostles as the greatest rhetoricians of all. He spoke of the various ways that preachers can use rhetoric, and his thoughts were incorporated into church customs. Nobody can doubt that the Revivalist preacher, the mega-church pastor, and even the Mormon prophet all use rhetoric as ways to inspire their congregations to greater devotion to God.
In the LDS faith, we have a great microcosm of this. Joseph Smith was an unschooled 14-year-old boy when he saw God and Christ. He started a church with little to no schooling. Yet, in his later years, his words ring with eloquence. God used him as a tool when he had no skill in speaking, and He used him as a tool when he was a great speaker.
Short Essay 2
Jacob’s speech to the people at the temple in Jacob 2-3 is filled with rhetorical devices. He effectively uses a vast array of persuasive tools to create a sermon designed to touch the hardened hearts of those who hear him.
Jacob makes excellent use of persuasive appeals. Opening up his speech, he first mentions his authority from God to speak and preach. This establishes immediate ethos. He mentions ancient prophets and their teachings and uses them as proof for his logos appeals. Finally, he makes repeated and deeply touching pathos appeals, especially relating to the men’s relationships with their wives and children, and the deep pain that they are causing them. By using the full array of rhetorical appeals, Jacob constructs a very moving argument.
The overarching structure of Jacob’s argument is also calculated for effect. He starts out speaking of his call from God, and rises to denunciations of the sins of his audience. He then speaks of the awful power of God, compares his listeners to the hated Lamanites and finishes with a climactic threat of hellfire if the men don’t repent. This rising action moves the emotional level higher and higher, allowing the final plea to have maximum effect on the audience.
Jacob also uses very vivid imagery and figures of speech in his sermon. He talks about his desires to have his garments washed clean, how the men are causing their wives and children to have daggers placed to pierce their souls, and how God can smite them to the dust with a glance of his eye, as well as many others. These figures of speech are all deeply pathetic appeals, ones that create powerful imagery to sway his audience. This is particularly true regarding the men’s wives and children. I can’t think of a more horrifying image than having daggers placed to pierce the hearts of those I love, and I’m sure that as the men thought upon that, it caused them deep reflections on the sins they were committing.
Through his rhetorical devices, Jacob’s speech at the temple is an excellent example of the style that Augustine referred to as “grand”. Through his strong appeals, his excellent structure, and his striking figures of speech, he was able to deliver a sermon so powerful that nobody could ever blame him for not teachings his people the ways of righteousness.