« Coming Out as a Bisexual Woman When You're Dating a Man | Main | Anonymous Female Academic Blogging: A Parallel Blogosphere? »

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Balkin on Wills on JC

An interesting post by Jack Balkin today, itself referring to an op-ed by Garry Wills in the New York Times.  Wills argues against the institutionalization of Jesus in politics -- against the tendency to recruit him as "a campaign aide."  He argues that doing so -- whether the party in question is the Republican or the Democratic Party -- domesticates and dilutes the richness of the Jesus who appears in the Gospels. 

As far as Wills's piece goes, I think the basic idea I've summarized above is true enough.  But it is not quite the same thing to say, as Wills does, that "[t]here is no such thing as a 'Christian politics,'" or to elide, as Wills does, the difference between a "Christian politics" and a politics built around the invocation of Christ.  The two are not quite the same thing, and in either case I am not sure we can or should erect a firm rule against either.  All the follows from the core proposition above, I think, is that we should never rush to strip the mystery from religion, that we should recognize the dangers of domesticating it too lightly, that we should approach religion as we approach much else in life -- in humility and with a full appreciation of the limits of our understanding.  But in a sense these points are especially important for those -- especially religious intellectuals -- for whom religious life has a substantial intellectual and/or mystical aspect.  Many people, however, are less interested in those aspects of religion than they are in simply trying to live their faith in practice -- and as long as that is true, of course religion will (and should) be a part of our political and public dialogues.  We should be wary of simplistic efforts by the political parties to enlist Jesus for their own ends (for both secular and, as Stephen Carter points out in his book God's Name in Vain, religious reasons), and we should seek a richer form of discussion of religion than the thin gruel we so often see; but we should not take from this idea the further conclusion that religious arguments or even invocations of Jesus are best left out of public debate altogether.

More on Balkin's end of the argument below. 

Two more things on Balkin's contribution to the discussion.  Balkin writes, correctly in my view, that it's one thing to say that Jesus is beyond politics, and "quite another to say that your religious views have no necessary connection to the pressing political issues of the day."  But I have a bone to pick with two of his later statements.  He writes:

People want to quote Jesus precisely because we live in a world of profound moral and political disagreement; tying our arguments to widely acknowledged moral symbols or authorities is a good way to persuade others, or, at the very least, to shame them in front of others.

Balkin may not mean it that way, but it seems to me he's suggesting that people invoke Jesus in politics strictly for strategic reasons, to "tie" our arguments to him, and not because Jesus' words actually speak to those issues that are the subject of profound moral and political disagreement.  That seems to me overbroad.  There is nothing inherently wrong, let along cynical and dishonest, about trying to discern as best as one can what Jesus' teachings demand of us as we approach various contemporary political and moral dilemmas.  While I would rather that people did not conclude with certitude that Jesus necessarily would come down on one side of many issues or another, and so would again hope that his name would be invoked with humility, those invocations are not necessarily a matter of mere rhetorical strategy.

Second, Balkin writes:

The best way to make the argument that Wills wants to make is not to insist that Jesus is otherworldly and therefore beyond politics; it is, rather, to point out that not everyone in the United States is a Christian, and that, even among Christians, not everyone agrees about what Christianity requires. Therefore, in a world of pervasive moral disagreement and sectarian division, it is probably not a good idea to base public policy-- under which all Americans must live-- on a particular interpretation of Christian scriptures. People are free to argue about what Jesus meant and what religion demands in the public square, and government is free to recognize the important and powerful influence that religion plays in people's lives. But government officials should not make laws that are binding for all Americans on the basis of the religious views of a single religious group, even a dominant one. You don't need to have a particular view of what Jesus meant to believe this principle of politics. You only have to believe that there are good reasons, in a democracy with many different peoples and cultures, to keep the life of politics separate from any one religious orthodoxy.

Well, it may be that that is the argument "Wills wants to make," although I'm not sure.  But I think there are a couple of tricky moves here.  Balkin moves quickly from the idea that one should not enlist Jesus casually as a member of one political party, or as a participant in politics altogether, to the view that religion can be invoked in public politics (which I think is what Wills really is upset about, so Balkin is not making the argument Wills wants to make), to the view that although religion can be invoked, the views of any one faith cannot form the basis for "laws that are binding for all Americans."  These moves come too fast and furious, I think.  Moreover, I'm not sure, notwithstanding what he writes, that what Balkin is saying doesn't ultimately come down to the idea that one ought not invoke religion in politics; since a single faith's view might win out in the political contest, how does one "keep the life of politics separate from any one religious orthodoxy" without eliminating religion from public debate?

There are a variety of problems with the views in the paragraph by Balkin that I quote above, I think, besides the way in which he hastens to tie together a number of disparate conclusions.  I'll stick with one: why is the best argument for the position he takes that not everyone is a Christian, and even Christians disagree?  In particular, why is this the best argument to make to a Christian?  If one is compelled by one's understanding of one's own faith to seek to make this a just society through law, why should it be convincing to tell this person that he might be wrong, and that in any event others don't share his faith?  It seems to me Balkin makes a liberal argument for his position, but that the liberal argument is only convincing to those who buy into its premises.  It seems to me entirely appropriate that a Christian (or Jew or etc.) who deeply believes God requires the state to do or not do something should seek to enact those views.  The Bill of Rights blunts many of these impulses, or channels them in ways that may counteract some of the dangers of these impulses.  But the impulse is not illegitimate.  And it seems to me that if I wanted to argue against such impulses, if I wanted to convince people not to seek to enact their religious views into law -- as opposed to simply trying to coerce them into abandoning such projects through the power of the state -- I would have to seek a religious argument against them, not a practical, prudential, liberal argument against them. 

Posted by Paul Horwitz on April 9, 2006 at 02:57 PM in Religion | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Balkin on Wills on JC:


Are you interested in SSBBW(super size BBW)? if you like these sexy SSBBW check the site: http://www.ssbbwdating.biz/ which is a leading ssbbw dating site for super size BBW singles big handsome men and their lovers. You can meet ssbbw singles in this popular BBW dating site, start dating bbw now.

Posted by: Bobkeliven | Jan 4, 2018 5:47:04 AM

Are you interested in SSBBW(super size BBW)? if you like these sexy SSBBW check the site: ssbbwating.biz which is a leading ssbbw dating site for super size BBW singles big handsome men and their lovers. You can meet ssbbw singles in this popular BBW dating site, start dating bbw now.

Posted by: Bobkeliven | Jan 4, 2018 5:46:00 AM

before addressing specific points, it might be helpful to try and define where we might agree and disagree, based on your comments to date. I think we agree that:

- one's "worldview" is a product of a spectrum of influences, among which for some is religious training. it is unrealistic and inappropriate to require that one "check their worldview at the political door" if it is influenced by religious training.

- determining what is acceptable public behavior is inevitably and legitimately based on worldview and therefore may be based on religious beliefs

- requiring public or private behavior in conformance with specific religious dogma raises 1A establishment questions

- many philosophical positions attributed to Jesus do (or should) resonate even with those who aren't "Christians" in the evangelical sense

- public support for an activity should not be withheld simply because the activity is religious. if the support is generally available, it should be available to activities that are religious just as it is for those that are secular

however, we may disagree whether:

- a worldview based on religious training is preferable (in some sense) to one not so based

-determining what is acceptable private behavior may be legitimately based on religious beliefs

- prohibiting public funding of a religious activity constitutes an "anti-religious" posture

and we apparently definitely do disagree as to whether the religious viewpoint has been foreclosed in the political arena.

to your specific points:

"On a number of issues, the Supreme Court eliminated debate, the Federalism that promoted it, and the civic religion as understood."

I'd have to know which cases you have in mind, in what relevant sense you are using "Federalism", and what "civic religion" you have in mind. if "Federalism" is meant to suggest "states rights" which in turn is meant to suggest "majoritarianism", then we definitely disagree here. but I'll save a detailed response until you resolve the ambiguity of these terms.

"Catholic emphasis on Natural Law ... specially equipped Catholics with tools to engage in the dialogue"

as noted earlier, I don't buy natural law arguments - the reason being that I don't believe in transcendant absolutes. I believe everything is, in a broad sense, man-made. nonetheless, I agree with this quote if the word "specially" is purged.

"Justice Douglas' decision on grade schools cited a virulently anti-Catholic book ..."

I googled averything I could think of but couldn't identify the opinion in question. cite?

"the SC ruled that secular humanism as dominant in public schools, is not a religion"

you seem to be suggesting that the absence of religious endoctrination equals promotion of secular humanism, which seems analogous to the (IMO incorrect) argument that atheism is a religion. the concept of indifference to religion seems to be quite difficult for the religious to accept, but trust me on this - many of us irreligious types don't refer to ourselves as atheists for the simple reason that we don't care about god(s) enough to have the strong position suggested by that word (ie, irreligious definitely does not imply "militant atheist" - malwords take note!]). similarly, "secular humanist" sounds way too pretentious a description of the absence of a religious aspect to public education. in short, the absence of an assertion doesn't necessarily imply the presence of its negation.

"there might be a collective wisdom and intuition (a worldview?) that is correct ... logic isn't everything"

this is an argument I routinely have with my wife, who unlike me is "spiritual". altho I understand the point, my position is that logic (ie, reason) properly interpreted includes all aspects of reality and doesn't exclude tradition, collective wisdom, intuition, etc. the problem I have with tradition, religious doctrine, et al, is that they may not be sufficiently adaptive in a time of rapid change in our understanding of natural phenomenon. but that doesn't foreclose including them in one's consideration, appropriately weighted.

"America is not irrational"

"rational" is a term that is so imprecisely understood as to be meaningless. but if one substitutes "ignorant" in its literal sense of "not knowing", then the statement is demonstrably false. various recent Pew polls suggest that (surprisingly, given the almost hysterical emphasis on education for at least two generations) the US public on average is shockingly ignorant. now realistically, I don't really expect the average citizen to be up on the ins and outs of evolution (until I got interested in the ID issue, I knew zip about evolution, and I'm relatively well educated). but I would have hoped that most people know between the sun and the earth which one goes around the other. and for the really savvy, what the period of that rotation is. according to Pew, not so. or how about the age of the universe. again, no reason to know that it's on the order of billions of years - but mightn't one "rationally" guess it's more than 6000 years? or how about when the american civil war occurred. no reason to know the exact dates unless you're a buff. but it seems reasonable to guess that it wasn't in the 20th century since it preceded WWI and it wasn't in the 18th century since it was after the revolutionary war. but a colleague, a perfectly capable engineer with a master's degree, was unable to guess the century.

in any event, I don't see how the assertion, right or wrong, relates to ID. the issue in dover was quite straightforward: is ID legitimate science or not. and the answer is also, assuming one accepts the definition of legitimate science as being acceptance within the relevant scientific communities. if not, then one is obliged to come up with an alternative definition. on this purely scientific issue, the opinion of the american jesuit magazine isn't of interest unless its editorial board is staffed by world-class specialists in relevant disciplines.

"public display cases are perfect symbols for the 'naked public square' tendency"

another clear disagreement. as I understand it, neuhaus's "naked public square" had to do with political discourse. whether one considers the display decisions overreaching or not, the issue (IMO) is public funding of religious activity. no church or other private entity is precluded from mangering away. so what do those who insist on religious displays on public property really want? it's clearly not freedom to display their religious symbols, since they can do so on any private property. it appears to be some sort of statement that religion - in particular, their religion - is endorsed by the government. and exactly how does refusal to provide such a statement adversely affect participation in political discourse?

in summary, not being especially courageous I probably wouldn't literally "defend to the death" the right of the religious to participate in political discourse - but I would certainly verbally champion it. however, since I sincerely don't see that right threatened by the elimination of governmental power applied in support of religion, I see no need to do either.

Posted by: ctw | Apr 13, 2006 12:57:18 AM

Mr/Ms shaefer:

your response deserves a degree of attention (and a measure of research) inconsistent with an immediate reply. but I will reply in no more than a day, so please check back, despite this thread being relatively "long in the tooth".

a couple of interim observations:

- I didn't state that roe was "based on" (meaning, I assume, "decided on") on equal rights - I said it was "an equal rights issue, not 1A". (I thought about adding an "IMO", and should have done so.) I was implicitly responding to parts of fr. neuhaus's testimony which were in essence that the estab clause had overcome the free exercise clause and effectively suppressed religious discourse, a 1A argument. FYI, here's the link:


BTW, for commenter "malwords": the "unnamed person" was the very clearly "named" Fr. neuhaus, and the position that you suggest "no reasonable person argues" is pretty explcit (IMO!!!) in this quote from the cite: "'the separation of church and state' has come to mean the separation of religion from public life." want to reconsider?

- in the case of gay rights I had in mind the decided issues (eg, sodomy, employment discrimination) and perhaps should have added "IMO" there also. on the other hand, J o'conner based her Lawrence opinion on the EP clause, so since I have only derivative opinions on such issues, it's really "IHO - in her opinion".

as to addressing the point about catholic natural law arguments and the suppression of them in public discourse, I have no response other than that I don't buy the former (to the admittedly limited extent I understand natural law arguments) and simply don't see any evidence to support the latter. if you and/or fr neuhaus have in mind what I gather is a degree of religious PC on college campuses, for all I know it may be true (I'm two generations removed from campus life) but I consider it largely irrelevant since the number of philosophically-oriented college students who are subjected and susceptible to brain-washing by the "liberal elite" has to be miniscule (and of course I have no "data", and neither does anyone else as far as I cant tell). out in the real world I see no reluctance on the part of the religious to voice their opinions; we have a de facto religious test for public office, the constitution notwithstanding; and the issues with the public square are typically a matter of whether public funding is appropriate for the activity in question, not whether the subject matter is PC; etc. I simply don't see evidence of widespread suppression of non-government-funded religious expression and until I do will stand by my position that arguing that the religious are a muzzled, oppressed super-majority defies reason and observation.

Posted by: ctw | Apr 12, 2006 1:05:56 PM

Belgian philosopher Albert Dondeyne noted that Continental philsophy also presents worldviews, whereas Anglo-Saxon philosophy might be said to focus on arguments and conclusions. Jesus offers a worldview that is not simply religious. In addition, going back 2500 years, there is the perennial philosophy, which became, arguably, Christian philosophy, which is consonant with Christianity without failing to be philosophy. Peter Berger added that all cultures provide a worldview, from which arguments and conclusions flow forth.
The school decisions might end up not being anti-religious. But, as Andrew Greeley pointed out, Justice Douglas' decision on grade schools cited a virulently anti-Catholic book, extreme on separation of Church and State, in arguing that religious grade schools and high schools should not get aid, whereas colleges could. In the Oregon seminarian case, the SC almost overthrew the effects of the Blaine Amendments that passed in 37 states; but a Florida federal court upheld the anti-Catholic effects, leading public school officials to cheer a decision based on a prejudice the federal court declined to overthrow. Note that supporters of exclusively public school often argue that we have to produce a common way of thinking; so they do want to harm public discourse by suppression. Though religions are free to have their own schools, the kids are also REQUIRED to be educated and thus pay twice, a big price for the poor, not the rich politicians who send their kids to private schools. Justice Douglas ruled that for purposes of conscientious objection, secular humanism is a religion; yet the SC ruled that secular humanism as dominant in public schools, is not a religion. The public discourse within the public school and by and for the students is clearly affected by these decisions.
Roe was not based on equal rights; Archibald Cox is just one who said the decision had no legal basis. It is true, however, that the SC itself has said that opposition to legalization of abortion is not an attempt to impose one's religion; indeed, Catholic arguments are natural law and biological arguments.
Gay marriage cases are not equal rights issues, but involve the definition of marriage. Arguments might be from Natural Law, biology, legal tradition, and religion. Walter Lippmann even argued that sometimes arguments for a custom might seem weak, but society should go slow in throwing out the baby because there might be a collective wisdom and intuition (a worldview?) that is correct about the position--so logic isn't everything.
The liberal Jesuit America magazine rejected the reasoning and conclusions of the first creationism decision; their argument applies even more to the Intelligent Design issue; America is not irrational. It's true that a public display case is not primarily about public discourse, though the display might be didactic; but even ctw admits it may have been overreaching, not to mention that the two decisions were contradictory and irrational. And public display cases are perfect symbols for the "naked public square" tendency.
Whatever Fr. Neuhaus said in 1995, it would be good if ctw addressed the point that I cited from Neuhaus: Not only do Catholics have the advantage of being able to join in public discourse by using philosophy, Natural Law, and reason, besides faith--however much intertwined with them--but there is no reason they should not be allowed to do so; and arguments to suppress religious participation in the public discourse or to describe and dismiss such religious participation as being only biblical or exhortative are not accurate about what members of the Catholic Church, some Christian churches, and some religions actually do.
RLA Schaefer Dubuque Iowa

Posted by: RLA Schaefer | Apr 11, 2006 10:52:22 PM

The positions and arguments of Jesus deserve as much respect as those of any other philosopher...

This seems like a problematic claim, because the reason that people respect the positions of Jesus is largely because of his spiritual authority (I see that you say arguments, but think it's a strech to say that people respect the positions of Jesus Christ because he persuasively argued for their soundness). Philosophers are, of course, arguing for their views, and merit respect based upon the quality of these arguments, not the conclusions they reach.

Posted by: washerdreyer | Apr 11, 2006 3:28:00 PM

ctw states that unnamed persons claim there is "no" religion in public life. He then knocks down that assertion by naming some elected officials who are outwardly religious. He then deems the unnamed person "disingenuous or indicative of cognitive disconnect" because there are a lot of religious people in public life. This is a straw man of immense height.

1) No reasonable person argues that the "religious have no place in public life." Whoever does has obviously misses the obvious (and are therefore quite unreasonable):

2) Religion will always be in politics; in fact, it can never be separated from politics. For those who have religious convictions (whether worn on the sleeve or just held in their hearts), political/judicial decisions are a culmination of their world view. Religion (whatever faith) is a worldview.

3) I think most would agree that the influence of religion in this country has lessened in recent years, but it can never be eliminated. To eliminate religious impulses and reactions would be to eliminate our humanity.

Finally: I am a Roman Catholic. I have my faith, and no one should mistake that my faith is more meaningful to me than the militant atheist's convictions are to him. The difference is solely in what the state recoginzes as religion. I believe that under our Bill of Rights, only those who do not belong to an organized church RECOGNIZED BY THE STATE can win this contest because the pendulum can swing much further in their favor. But no matter how far it swings, religion will never be expunged from our politics.

Posted by: malwords | Apr 11, 2006 2:24:28 PM

I haven't read neuhaus's book ("naked public square"), but I did find his 1995 testimony to the judiciary committee in which I assume he encapsulated the essence of his position, which I take to be, in summary:

politics is "free persons deliberating the question, How ought we to order our life together?", "ought" implies morals, morals derive from religion, the SC "by declaring that religion is an exclusively private matter that cannot be allowed to impinge upon our political deliberation and public action ... has driven a wedge between the moral judgment of the American people and their public role as citizens".

the obvious flaw in this logic is that the SC has done no such thing. early 1A cases addressed such mundane issues as rules for parade permits and door-to-door soliciting for funds, and funding transportation to parochial schools. then came cases addressing how much accommodation of religious activities was appropriate for public schools (release for religious education, state-mandated prayer). then came Roe, which altho it was clearly against some religious dogma was essentially an equal rights issue, not 1A. then followed the evolution (round II) cases, to which hopefully no rational thinker objects. and more recently the public display cases, which inherently open the possibility to overreaching but can't seriously be considered a threat to political discourse; homosexual rights cases, again against some religious dogma but essentially an equal rights issue, not 1A; and evolution (round III). I don't see how any of these can be assessed objectively as inhibiting the free exercise of religion in the political arena.

for a very long time, at least where I was brought up, religion reigned unfettered. not that it was, for me, particularly oppressive, just discomfitting. for over half a century it has, admittedly, been in retreat. but the issue should be its absolute standing, not its standing relative to a local maximum. with a president, numerous senators, many representatives, and at least two supreme court justices wearing their religion on their sleeves, to argue that the religious have no voice in public policy is disingenuous or indicative of cognitive disconnect.

even as an irreligious person, I'll happily agree that public and religious "morality" are inextricably intertwined (altho I view causality as a chicken-egg issue). hence, I would argue that the voice of religious "morality" is heard in the public square even from the irreligious.

Posted by: ctw | Apr 11, 2006 11:26:24 AM

Fr. Richard Neuhaus clearly spotlighted the "Naked Public Square"--the retreat or absence of religion from public discourse. Even if evangelicals and Pentecostals don't argue that well, evangelicals entered the fray because they saw the implicit covenant broken by the Supreme Court abortion decision. Until then the extreme separation position, voiced also by JFK, had served as their view because they agreed with the way things were being run. On a number of issues, the Supreme Court eliminated debate, the Federalism that promoted it, and the civic religion as understood. Neuhaus pointed out that the Catholic emphasis on Natural Law (a branch of philosophy and the perennial philosophy one can trace from Plato through Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas) specially equipped Catholics with tools to engage in the dialogue, since they didn't rely so exclusively on Revelation. Some Catholic moralists had tried to redo Natural Law with an emphasis on rights, proportionalism, and an overemphasis on the branch of natural law that underemphasized the physical. Some correction in that is now occurring. Meanwhile, Neuhaus became a Catholic priest. And his point is still valid.
RLA Schaefer Dubuque Iowa

Posted by: RLA Schaefer | Apr 11, 2006 1:35:18 AM

the essence of wills's argument seems to be that it is questionable theology for Christians to invoke Jesus as authority for positions on government policies. the essence of prof B's rebuttal seems to be that a better argument is that it is questionable politics (for reasons that aren't, IMO, made entirely clear). prof H argues that it would be more effective to turn the tables by using a theological argument (isn't that what wills was doing?). a commenter suggests basing the argument on equity/symmetry.

I wonder who is envisioned as being the audience for these arguments? dobson, whose response to george stephanopolus's polite "is that a Christian position" responded "are you lecturing me on Christianity"? or falwell/robertson who think God exacts vengeance for homosexuality by destroying whole cities? perhaps bush, who wants to "teach the controversy"; or maybe lindsey graham, who thinks the prohibition on prayer in school "stinks"? roy moore?

the people who want to inject explicit religious dogma into politics are (IMO) unlikely to respond to these arguments, cogent or not. as noted in the post, the safety net for ill-considered majoritarian impulse is the B of R, not rational discourse (if the latter were adequate, why would we need the former?). of course, this is only true for a relatively expansive view of the 1A estab clause. give us three more justices sharing the narrow views of Js Scalia and Thomas and that safety valve will be (is?) gone. then neither secular nor sectarian arguments for religious moderation will help.

PS: in what sense is prof B's argument "liberal"?

Posted by: ctw | Apr 10, 2006 7:02:24 PM

It was LBJ who talked JFK into backing a civil rights law. His argument was that it was the right, moral thing to do. Garry Wills attacked LBJ's approach--I think in "Bare Ruined Choirs." He said it was wrong to try to pass a law on the grounds that it was morally correct. He was going beyond even objections to using religious grounds. Michael Novak was more correct in New Catholic World when he said that politics is not salvation, but is connected with salvation.
A distinction needs to be made between using religion as a basis for passing laws in general and for passing laws about specific rituals, religious disciplines, and dogma. Ruled out would be banning work on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday; banning pork or meat on Friday; requiring a profession of faith in the Trinity of a potential political candidate.
Bill O'Reilly has an extra point: Jesus can be looked at as a philosopher. The positions and arguments of Jesus deserve as much respect as those of any other philosopher, independent of the question of how much influence a religion or religious leader should have on the making of laws. And note that scholars still argue to this day whether St. Thomas Aquinas is primarily a philosopher or a theologian, so the line isn't always that easy to draw.
RLA Schaefer Dubuque Iowa

Posted by: RLA Schaefer | Apr 10, 2006 4:00:52 PM

I think Paul is right that some religious people are going to need religious arguments for refraining from attempting to enact their sectarian views into law. But I don't see why Balkin's argument is necessarily unpersuasive to those with religious commitments. There is a basic claim of reciprocity in his argument. Balkins says to the religious believer: Recognizing that others disagree with you about fundamental religious and theological beliefs, how would you respond if laws were enacted and imposed on you based on convictions that you didn't share? And if your response would be to challenge the legitimacy of that imposition, then shouldn't you refrain from acting in ways that would lead others to have exactly the same kind of complaint? It's possible for the religious believer to respond to Balkin's argument by protesting that her convictions are the right ones, and that she wouldn't have any problem with others imposing laws based on true beliefs. But that misses the force of Balkin's argument, since everyone can make exactly the same claim. Of course, this argument could continue (and has, at least since Locke and Proast went three-and-a-half rounds), but I'm not convinced that you need to have bought into liberal premises to see its force.

A second point: Balkin's argument does not exclude the use of religious arguments for political secularism (which is an apt term for what he's advocating). The argument may well be consistent with some of the religious claims made by Perry, Audi, Weithman, An-Na'im, Abou El Fadl, and many others, not to mention the religious arguments made by canonical figures like Locke (shameless plug), who used both religious and nonreligious arguments to advance the case for liberal toleration.

Lastly, although I agree that religious arguments for religious toleration and, more ambitiously, political securalism remain under-appreciated, that doesn't mean that liberal arguments have lost their place or value. Nor does the fact that some religious believers reject them demonstrate that such arguments are unsound or invalid. It only shows that they aren't persuasive to people who insist on imposing their religious views on others. And that may not be much of an indictment. After all, what reason will those who favor religious imposition have given to those who don't share their beliefs? Again, there is a problem of reciprocity.

Posted by: micah | Apr 9, 2006 5:57:18 PM

Great post, Paul. Your final point is worth emphasizing: "[I]t seems to me that if I wanted to argue against such impulses, if I wanted to convince people not to seek to enact their religious views into law -- as opposed to simply trying to coerce them into abandoning such projects through the power of the state -- I would have to seek a religious argument against them, not a practical, prudential, liberal argument against them." Michael Perry makes a similar point, in his recent book, "Under God." And, it should be noted, there *are* arguments, internal to various religious traditions, that point toward a refusal to "enact [specifically] religious views into law." (Of course, it is not possible *really* to avoid enacting "religious views" into law, since the law reflects, quite rightly, "views" about the common good and human flourishing that are, for many of those who hold them, "religious").

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Apr 9, 2006 3:08:53 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.