The Future of Religion in American Politics
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In contrast to Locke, Thomas Hobbes sees religion and its divisiveness as a source of political instability, and so he argues that the sovereign has the right to determine which opinions may be publicly espoused and disseminated, a power necessary for maintaining civil peace see Leviathan xviii, 9. Like the issue of establishment, the general issue of whether people should be allowed to decide for themselves which religion to believe in has not received much attention in recent times, again because of the wide consensus on the right of all people to liberty of conscience.
However, despite this agreement on liberty of belief , modern states nevertheless face challenging questions of toleration and accommodation pertaining to religious practice , and these questions are made more difficult by the fact that they often involve multiple ideals which pull in different directions. Some of these questions concern actions which are inspired by religion and are either obviously or typically unjust. For example, violent fundamentalists feel justified in killing and persecuting infidels—how should society respond to them?
While no one seriously defends the right to repress other people, it is less clear to what extent, say, religious speech that calls for such actions should be tolerated in the name of a right to free speech. A similar challenge concerns religious objections to certain medical procedures that are necessary to save a life. While it seems clearly wrong to force someone to undergo even lifesaving treatment if she objects to it at least with sufficient rationality, which of course is a difficult topic in itself , and it seems equally wrong to deny lifesaving treatment to someone who needs it and is not refusing it, the issue becomes less clear when parents have religious objections to lifesaving treatment for their children.
For example, Quakers and other religious groups are committed to pacifism, and yet many of them live in societies that expect all male citizens to serve in the military or register for the draft. Other groups perform religious rituals that involve the use of illegal substances, such as peyote.
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Is it fair to exempt such people from the burdens other citizens must bear? Many examples of this second kind of challenge are addressed in the literature on education and schooling. In developed societies and developing ones, for that matter , a substantial education is necessary for citizens to be able to achieve a decent life for themselves. However, the pursuit of this latter goal raises certain issues for religious parents. In the famous case of Mozert v. Hawkins , some parents objected for religious reasons to their children being taught from a reading curriculum that presented alternative beliefs and ways of life in a favorable way, and consequently the parents asked that their children be excused from class when that curriculum was being taught.
Similarly, many proposals for educational curricula are aimed at developing a measure of autonomy in children, which often involves having them achieve a certain critical distance from their family background, with its traditions, beliefs, and ways of life Callan, ; Brighouse, The idea is that only then can children autonomously choose a way of life for themselves, free of undue influence of upbringing and custom.
Religion and politics in the United States
A related argument holds that this critical distance will allow children to develop a sufficient sense of respect for different social groups, a respect that is necessary for the practice of democratic citizenship. However, this critical distance is antithetical to authentic religious commitment, at least on some accounts see the following section. Also, religious parents typically wish to pass on their faith to their children, and doing so involves cultivating religious devotion through practices and rituals, rather than presenting their faith as just one among many equally good or true ones.
For such parents, passing on their religious faith is central to good parenting, and in this respect it does not differ from passing on good moral values, for instance.
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Thus, politically mandated education that is aimed at developing autonomy runs up against the right of some parents to practice their religion and the right to raise their children as they choose. Many, though not all, liberals argue that autonomy is such an important good that its promotion justifies using techniques that make it harder for such parents to pass on their faith—such a result is an unfortunate side-effect of a desirable or necessary policy.
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Yet a different source of political conflict for religious students in recent years concerns the teaching of evolution in science classes. Some religious parents of children in public schools see the teaching of evolution as a direct threat to their faith, insofar as it implies the falsity of their biblical-literalist understanding of the origins of life. They argue that it is unfair to expect them to expose their children to teaching that directly challenges their religion and to fund it with their taxes. Among these parents, some want schools to include discussions of intelligent design and creationism some who write on this issue see intelligent design and creationism as conceptually distinct positions; others see no significant difference between them , while others would be content if schools skirted the issue altogether, refusing to teach anything at all about the origin of life or the evolution of species.
Their opponents see the former proposal as an attempt to introduce an explicitly religious worldview into the classroom, hence one that runs afoul of the separation of church and state. Nor would they be satisfied with ignoring the issue altogether, for evolution is an integral part of the framework of modern biology and a well-established scientific theory.
Conflicts concerning religion and politics arise outside of curricular contexts, as well. For example, in France, a law was recently passed that made it illegal for students to wear clothing and adornments that are explicitly associated with a religion. This law was especially opposed by students whose religion explicitly requires them to wear particular clothing, such as a hijab or a turban. The justification given by the French government was that such a measure was necessary to honor the separation of church and state, and useful for ensuring that the French citizenry is united into a whole, rather than divided by religion.
However, it is also possible to see this law as an unwarranted interference of the state in religious practice. If liberty of conscience includes not simply a right to believe what one chooses, but also to give public expression to that belief, then it seems that people should be free to wear clothing consistent with their religious beliefs.
The Future of Faith
Crucial to this discussion of the effect of public policy on religious groups is an important distinction regarding neutrality. The liberal state is supposed to remain neutral with regard to religion as well as race, sexual orientation, physical status, age, etc. However, as Charles Larmore points out in Patterns of Moral Complexity 42ff , there are different senses of neutrality, and some policies may fare well with respect to one sense and poorly with respect to another. In one sense, neutrality can be understood in terms of a procedure that is justified without appeal to any conception of the human good.
In this sense, it is wrong for the state to intend to disadvantage one group of citizens, at least for its own sake and with respect to practices that are not otherwise unjust or politically undesirable. Thus it would be a violation of neutrality in this sense and therefore wrong for the state simply to outlaw the worship of Allah.
Alternatively, neutrality can be understood in terms of effect. The state abides by this sense of neutrality by not taking actions whose consequences are such that some individuals or groups in society are disadvantaged in their pursuit of the good. For a state committed to neutrality thus understood, even if it were not explicitly intending to disadvantage a particular group, any such disadvantage that may result is a prima facie reason to revoke the policy that causes it.
The attendance requirement may nevertheless be unavoidable, but as it stands, it is less than optimal. Obviously, this is a more demanding standard, for it requires the state to consider possible consequences—both short term and long term—on a wide range of social groups and then choose from those policies that do not have bad consequences or the one that has the fewest and least bad.
For most, and arguably all, societies, it is a standard that cannot feasibly be met. Consequently, most liberals argue that the state should be neutral in the first sense, but it need not be neutral in the second sense. Thus, if the institutions and practices of a basically just society make it more challenging for some religious people to preserve their ways of life, it is perhaps regrettable, but not unjust, so long as these institutions and practices are justified impartially.
In addition to examining issues of toleration and accommodation on the level of praxis , there has also been much recent work about the extent to which particular political theories themselves are acceptable or unacceptable from religious perspectives. Rather than requiring citizens to accept any particular comprehensive doctrine of liberalism, a theory of justice should aim at deriving principles that each citizen may reasonably accept from his or her own comprehensive doctrine. The aim, then, for a political conception of justice is for all reasonable citizens to be able to affirm principles of justice without having to weaken their hold on their own private comprehensive views.
One such argument comes from Eomann Callan, in his book Creating Citizens. If Rawlsian liberalism requires acceptance of the burdens of judgment, then the overlapping consensus will not include some kinds of religious citizens. Thus, a religious citizen could feel an acute conflict between her identity qua citizen and qua religious adherent. One way of resolving the conflict is to argue that one aspect of her identity should take priority over the other. For many religious citizens, political authority is subservient to—and perhaps even derived from—divine authority, and therefore they see their religious commitments as taking precedence over their civic ones.
But this tendency makes it more challenging for liberals to adjudicate conflicts between religion and politics. One possibility is for the liberal to argue that the demands of justice are prior to the pursuit of the good which would include religious practice. If so, and if the demands of justice require one to honor duties of citizenship, then one might argue that people should not allow their religious beliefs and practices to restrict or interfere with their roles as citizens.
One recent trend in democratic theory is an emphasis on the need for democratic decisions to emerge from processes that are informed by deliberation on the part of the citizenry, rather than from a mere aggregation of preferences. As a result, there has been much attention devoted to the kinds of reasons that may or may not be appropriate for public deliberation in a pluralistic society.
While responses to this issue have made reference to all kinds of beliefs, much of the discussion has centered on religious beliefs. One reason for this emphasis is that, both historically and in contemporary societies, religion has played a central role in political life, and often it has done so for the worse witness the wars of religion in Europe that came in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, for example. As such, it is a powerful political force, and it strikes many who write about this issue as a source of social instability and repression.
Another reason is that, due to the nature of religious belief itself, if any kind of belief is inappropriate for public deliberation, then religious beliefs will be the prime candidate, either because they are irrational, or immune to critique, or unverifiable, etc. In other words, religion provides a useful test case in evaluating theories of public deliberation.
Since citizens have sharp disagreements on comprehensive doctrines, any law or policy that necessarily depends on such a doctrine could not be reasonably accepted by those who reject the doctrine. A prime example of a justification for a law that is publicly inaccessible in this way is one that is explicitly religious. For example, if the rationale for a law that outlawed working on Sunday was simply that it displeases the Christian God, non-Christians could not reasonably accept it.
Since only secular reasons are publicly accessible in this way, civic virtue requires offering secular reasons and being sufficiently motivated by them to support or oppose the law or policy under debate. Religious reasons are not suitable for public deliberation since they are not shared by the non-religious or people of differing religions and people who reject these reasons would justifiably resent being coerced on the basis of them. Others try to show that religious justifications can contribute positively to democratic polities; the two most common examples in support of this position are the nineteenth-century abolitionist movement and the twentieth-century civil rights movement, both of which achieved desirable political change in large part by appealing directly to the Christian beliefs prevalent in Great Britain and the United States.
A third inclusivist argument is that it is unfair to hamstring certain groups in their attempts to effect change that they believe is required by justice.
This is why they are so hard to reach or to persuade and why nothing that Trump does or could do changes their minds. You cannot argue logically with a religion — which is why you cannot really argue with social-justice activists either. It has merely led to religious impulses being expressed by political cults.
Like almost all new cultish impulses, they see no boundary between politics and their religion. And both cults really do minimize the importance of the individual in favor of either the oppressed group or the leader.
And this is how they threaten liberal democracy. They do not believe in the primacy of the individual, they believe the ends justify the means, they do not allow for doubt or reason, and their religious politics can brook no compromise.
Religion and Politics | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
They demonstrate, to my mind, how profoundly liberal democracy has actually depended on the complement of a tolerant Christianity to sustain itself — as many earlier liberals Tocqueville, for example understood. It is Christianity that came to champion the individual conscience against the collective, which paved the way for individual rights. It is in Christianity that the seeds of Western religious toleration were first sown. Christianity is the only monotheism that seeks no sway over Caesar, that is content with the ultimate truth over the immediate satisfaction of power.
It was Christianity that gave us successive social movements, which enabled more people to be included in the liberal project, thus renewing it. It was on these foundations that liberalism was built, and it is by these foundations it has endured. The question we face in contemporary times is whether a political system built upon such a religion can endure when belief in that religion has become a shadow of its future self. Will the house still stand when its ramparts are taken away?
And why is there so much discontent on the left with Elizabeth Warren? Powered by our belief in one another. But why express this as if men are also not part of the future?
She once campaigned in defense of gun rights, was in favor of cracking down on illegal immigration, voted against the bank bailout, and opposed marriage equality. Fast-forward a decade and look at the change. She first reversed her previous anti-gay positions, and was even instrumental in ending the gay ban in the military.
Gillibrand, who once opposed allowing illegal immigrants to get driving licenses, is also now a supporter of abolishing ICE. I do not begrudge Gillibrand for her transformation, but it is hard to believe that political calculation was absent. But no! The reason many Democrats have turned on her is that she used a DNA test at all to prove her family lore.