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Friday, September 16, 2011

"Liberal Whateverism" in The Agnostic Age

My friend and colleague, Chris Smith -- a sociologist of American religion (and other things) here at Notre Dame -- has an opinion piece up at HuffPo in which he discusses the phenomenon of what he calls "liberal whateverism", an "outlook [which] reacts against sectarian conflict by dramatically discounting the claims of religion.  The more aggressive side of this view asserts that religion per se is pernicious and should be eliminated or radically privatized. The more accommodating side says religion is fine as a personal lifestyle commodity, but that religious inclinations are ultimately arbitrary and should not be taken too seriously." 

Paul's thorough response to Rob Vischer's review of The Agnostic Age is, among other things, a reminder that agnosticism of the kind Paul presents in his book is not (or need not be) "whateverism."  Paul, it seems to me, can easily agree with Smith's conclusion: 

I think we need to reject both sectarian conflict and liberal whateverism and commit ourselves instead to an authentic pluralism. Genuine pluralism fosters a culture that honors rather than isolates and disparages religious difference. It affirms the right of others to believe and practice their faith, not only in their private lives but also in the public square -- while expecting them to allow still others to do the same. Authentic pluralism does not minimize religious differences by saying that "all religions are ultimately the same." That is false and insipid. Pluralism encourages good conversations and arguments across differences, taking them seriously precisely because they are understood to be about important truths, not merely private "opinions." It is possible, authentic pluralism insists, to profoundly disagree with others while at the same time respecting, honoring, and perhaps even loving them. Genuine pluralism suspects the multi-cultural regime's too-easy blanket affirmations of "tolerance" of being patronizing and dismissive. Pluralism, however, also counts atheist Americans as deserving equal public respect, since their beliefs are based as much on a considered faith as are religious views and so should not be automatically denigrated. . . .

Posted by Rick Garnett on September 16, 2011 at 04:04 PM in Rick Garnett | Permalink


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