« Faculty Appointments Chairs | Main | Funniest Sports Commercial Ever? »

Friday, July 20, 2007

Koppelman on "Religion As Conversation-Starter"

May I commend a short but incisive post by Andrew Koppelman over at Balkinization.  Koppelman, who has published wonderful articles on law and religion among other topics, questions the widely shared norm of public reason that holds that "political discourse must rely on arguments that are not sectarian and can be assessed in terms of commitments that all citizens can share."  Noting the "bitter response" that religious individuals have had to this norm, he asks: "[W]hy did the liberals converge on and keep producing new articulations of a proposal, in the name of social unity and comity, that was so widely received as an insult?"  His answer, in short, is that the norm is related to wider norms of civility in American discourse, in which religion is treated as essentially private and disagreement on expressly religious terms is treated as impolite.  What's his solution?

[T]he norm of politeness needs to be revisited. As soon as A invokes religious reasons for his political position, then it has to be OK for B to challenge those reasons. It may be acrimonious, but at least we’ll be talking about what really divides us (and we’ll avoid the strange theoretical pathologies that have plagued modern liberal theory, though that seems to be a disease mainly confined to the academy). It’s more respectful to just tell each other what we think and talk about it.

I agree with him, and can't resist flacking this paper, in which I argued that religion ought to be a welcome part of public discourse, but that any genuine respect for religion and its role in public discourse compels the conclusion that religion ought to be equally subject to open criticism and attack, just as any other set of public reasons is.  Any rule in which religion is permitted in public discourse but also immunized from criticism fails to accord religion genuine respect.  Like Koppelman, I agree that the light will be worth the heat.

Anyway, read the whole thing.  Some of the comments are chaff, but others provide decent opposing views.  And if you like these sorts of discussions, note that Koppelman's article is a tip of the hat to a wonderful piece by the late Richard Rorty, "Religion as Conversation Stopper." 

 

Posted by Paul Horwitz on July 20, 2007 at 09:58 AM in Religion | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
https://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c6a7953ef00e00996dc308833

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Koppelman on "Religion As Conversation-Starter":

Comments

This comment is going to ramble incoherently. Be forewarned.

Often discussions that end up with I subscribe to such and such political position for religious reasons don't have much further to discourse about because people use religion as a default reason that can't ultimately be challenged. So, for example, someone might say that they believe life begins at conception and therfore abortion is wrong because it is wrong to destroy a life without a really good reason. When challenged about evidence or reasons to believe that life begins at conception, they may respond that they believe that as a matter of faith. At that point, the discussion turns to either whether having faith is a legitimate way of informing social views or to whether the person properly understands their own faith. Neither of these conversations is often useful. People see what they want in their own faith even when shared texts are involved. Many religious people don't agree that religion is a private matter that ought not be involved in their public decision making. In fact, this bent on bringing religion into politics is already playing a very interesting role in the Republican presidential primary as it relates to Mitt Romney. Romney's social positions could be the platform for a southern evangelical political agenda. Yet, many chrisitan conservatives remain skeptical of him. Why? Because their faith informs their decisions so much. They want their faith to prevail. In fact, they might even swallow something much less palatable in the process rather than see a candidate from another faith prevail. While many may view this as religious close mindedness, whatever it is is rooted in the way they relate their religion to politics. They reject the candidate the same way they would reject Mormon missionaries at their doorstep, making no effort to separate the two things. So, the lesson learned, I suppose, is that for some people, Religion and Politics are inseparable and that having a discussion about either one with them may end up being pointless. That may be pessimistic about the hope for some meaningful discourse, but I fear more and more it is accurate.

Posted by: Timotheus | Jul 25, 2007 4:45:31 PM

It's an okay piece, with some good points of its own, but I'm pretty skeptical of the historical analysis offered as to why political philosophy developed as it did. The developments were much more a result of internal tensions within liberal theory than he gives credit for, I think. Surely that's not the whole story but the one he's telling is too one-sided and makes for a distorted position as to _why_ one might find public reason a valuable idea. (I'd comment over there but, 1) in general the comments at Balkin's place are too full of garbage and 2) I can never remember my log-in properly and hate to have to keep making new ones.) Generally, though, my impression is that Koppelman doesn't understand the views he's talking about as well as he might.

Posted by: Matt | Jul 20, 2007 1:15:20 PM

It's an okay piece, with some good points of its own, but I'm pretty skeptical of the historical analysis offered as to why political philosophy developed as it did. The developments were much more a result of internal tensions within liberal theory than he gives credit for, I think. Surely that's not the whole story but the one he's telling is too one-sided and makes for a distorted position as to _why_ one might find public reason a valuable idea. (I'd comment over there but, 1) in general the comments at Balkin's place are too full of garbage and 2) I can never remember my log-in properly and hate to have to keep making new ones.) Generally, though, my impression is that Koppelman doesn't understand the views he's talking about as well as he might.

Posted by: Matt | Jul 20, 2007 1:15:13 PM

Post a comment