Stephen Carter’s “The Culture of Disbelief”: An Analysis of Pathos, Logos and Ethos

Stephen Carter’s “The Culture of Disbelief”: An Analysis of Pathos, Logos and Ethos


In his 1994 book “The Culture of Disbelief”, Stephen L Carter argues that in the United States of America, the national politics and law have heavily trivialize religion. He argues that this trivialization is significantly strong to an extent that the people or groups of people with strong religious affiliation and faith are made to bend in order to fit within the context of the public faith, which is predominantly faithless (Carter 54). In his argument, Carter has agrees that the separation of religion from the state in the constitution of the United States was justified. However, he argues that the aim of separating the state from religion was actually to protect the religion from state interference rather than vice versa (Caeter 58). Carter believes that the American public has too much silenced the expression of religion for its own good. Although Carter’s book did not receive much public attention when it was first released in 1994, his arguments have increasingly become a major topic of debate in religion, law and philosophy. It is evident that his theory and argument on religion and the law have gained increased attention due to his ability to apply rhetorical approach in convincing his audience, with special focus on ethos, pathos and logos.

Carter’s focus on Credibility to convince his audience (evidence and impact of Ethos)

By definition, ethos or ethical appeal involves credibility and character of the author in convincing the audience (Garver 31). In nature, the audience tends to believe in the person who is widely respected. The presenter/author must ensure that the audience develops an impression that he or she is worth being listened (Garver 63).

In the case of Carter, his authority and credibility are evidence. For instance, he is not only a great author, but also a renowned scholar and law expert. In fact, he is a professor of law at Yale University, one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the United States and the world in general. Secondly, law is a prestigious career not only because it has high returns to education, but also because it is considered as a noble and difficult line of education that requires hard work and brainy scholars. Considering these aspects of his career and expertise, the public holds Carter in high respect. As such, he has applied his credibility to convince his audience that his arguments on religion and the state are worth reading.

Carter’s application of Ethos (appeal to emotional approach)

Pathos means persuading by capturing the reader’s emotions (Garver 79). By using both layman’s language and professional approach to his topic, Carter has attempted to capture and appeal to the emotions of his audience. For instance, he has actually used the critical topic of religion as his primary area of argument in connection with the state and the law. He is aware that most people in the United States are at least affiliated to some form of religious belief, which means that they are likely to find the topic touching their senses and self, thus attracting and appealing to their emotions.

Carter’s application of Logos (logical) approach

Logos means persuasions based on logics, facts and reasoning (Garver 52). In fact, Carter has attempted to provide detailed review of the status of American religion in the modern world, giving the examples of people’s perceptions of God and how God has been taken as “a hobby” among modern American societies. He provides aspects of the Christianity since independence and the evolution it has undergone. In addition, he bases his argument on the relationship between the religion and the state, citing the evidence in modern churches as well as the constitution. As such, Carter’s ability to apply facts and reasoning provides his book with the strength in persuading his readers.


In view of the current review, it is evident that Carter’s ability to attract worldwide attention with his arguments is based on his credibility as a great scholar and law expert, in addition to the credibility and status of the institution he is affiliated to. In addition, it is worth noting that his ability to convince his audience is also a product of his ability to apply ethos and logos, especially because he chose a topic that touches almost everyone in the United States.

Works Cited

Carter, Stephen L. The culture of disbelief. New York, NY: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 1994. Print.

Garver, Eugene. Aristotle’s Rhetoric: An Art of Character. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago press, 2009. Print.


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