“People of Faith” took off as religious rhetoric in the late 1970s (see this ngram). It manipulative rhetorical value has only recently stood out to me. The phrase is sometimes used for any religious believers, but why not just say, “religious people”? Well, it is obvious, they wanted a more virtuous expression. And the cost of this “virtue” is to emphasize that the “faithless” are without virtue — an old, false, bigoted meme.
When used for Christians, it is meant inclusively — even including Christian-want-to-be Mormons and the like (tongue in cheek). But as Christian churches in the USA and Europe continue to shrink, the word “Christians” captures fewer people. So to boost their tribal numbers, Christians can use the phrase “People of Faith” and include Jews, Hindus and Muslims into their gang. [I am not quite sure what they do with Buddhists — unless “faith” is used here to just mean “religion”.]
Thus, “People of Faith” is broader, more inclusive than “Christian”. But the phrase makes the majority of Europeans and the many American agnostics, freethinkers, skeptics and atheists into “People without Faith” or “FaithLESS People”. Oh dear. That sounds horrible. So you can see why they created the new phrase .
Rhetoric is powerful — we need to stay alert. And so to counter this rhetorical manipulative phrase, I can imagine three strategies to manage the phrase:
- Reject: Make fun of the phrase by changing it to something like “People of Superstition”
- Co-op: Thus neutralizing by embracing it: “I am a person of faith too. I have faith in human cooperation and loving relationships.
- Adopt: Agree with the accuser — “Indeed, I am a “person without faith”, or I am “Faith Free!”
Historically, these are three common strategies to deal with pejorative language — I am sure you could imagine how these strategies have been used to deal with racial terms.
Question to readers: What phrases or strategies can you think of to respond to the divisive rhetorical use of “People of Faith” were it used to imply that you or your child is horribly or pathetically faithless?