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October 10th, 2009 by Madeleine

It is that time of the year for those of us engaged in study; deadlines are imminent, exams loom, stress abounds and tunnel vision sets in.

For us here are MandM this directly affects 3 members of our family, Matt, Sheridan and myself, all engaged in tertiary study and to a lesser degree, Christian in his first year of NCEA.

Regular readers will recall that I undertook a somewhat pivotal supervised research paper this semester that has the potential to make or break me. I have refined my research topic to attacking the notion that neutrality, within the context of pluralistic liberal democracies must always = secularity.

While most who write in this area look at the role of the citizen, I am examining the jurisprudence. My thesis is that the doctrine of religious restraint is present in the dominant tests for religious freedom (Coercion, Endorsement and Lemon) and that this unjustly places a burden on a religious citizen, regardless of his or her role within society, that is not placed on a secular citizen. This asymmetry undercuts the notions of freedom, equality and state neutrality central to standard conceptions of liberal democracy.

Anyway, feel free to offer your thought on my topic, the deadline is less than two weeks away 23 Oct at 4pm 12pm Fri 30 Oct (extension) and Matt, starting Monday, has to do a 5 day stint in Tauranga in the midst of it leaving me, injured and living with chronic pain remember, to run things at home and blogwise whilst completing my 10,000 word paper that could open doors or slam them forever, so if your clever comment piques my interest enough they may make it to a footnote in my research which I do intend to seek publication, within New Zealand, for. I am this stage up to 5656 words.

To pique your interest I will quote from Stephen Carter, Professor of Law at Yale University,

One good way to end a conversation – or start an argument – is to tell a group of well educated professionals that you hold a political position (preferably a controversial one such as being against abortion or pornography) because it is required by your understanding of God’s will. In the unlikely event that anyone hangs around to talk with you about it, chances are that you will be challenged on the ground that you are intent on imposing your religious beliefs on other people. And in contemporary political and legal culture, nothing is worse.

That awful phrase – “imposing religious belief” – conjures up images of the religious right, the reverend Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, the Reverand Pat Robertson’s Presidential campaign, the 1992 Repubulican Convention, and the rest comes out in a jumble of post-enlightenment angst: we live in a secular culture, devoted to sweet reason. We separate church and state. We believe in tolerance. We aren’t superstitious. Taking religion seriously is something only those wild-eyed zealots do: Operation Rescue, blocking the entrances to abortion clinics… you know who we mean, those Christian fundamentalists… the evangelicals… the folks who want classroom prayer in public schools, but think that God doesn’t hear the prayers of Jews… you know, those television preachers… those snake charming faith healers… and John Cardinal O’Connor… and the “scientific” creationists… Southern Baptists, for goodness sake! The labels often seem to run together this way with no particular logic to them, and, to be sure,  without any context either. (Trying to explain, for example, that Christian fundamentalists and Christian evangelicals are not the same usually just confuses matters more) But there is a message in this miasma, and the message is that people who take their religioun seriously, who rely on their understanding of God for motive force in their public and political personalities – well, they are scary people. [1]

Also if anyone wants to submit a guest post for the Sunday Study, Matt, who is preaching tomorrow at Riverhead Presbyterian Church, on top of everything else, would greatly appreciate it.

The point of this post is to explain our somewhat distracted attention from blogging.

 

[1] Stephen Carter The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialise Religious Devotion (Basic Books, New York, 1993) 23-24.

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9 responses so far ↓

  • Oh my, nothing like more intense pressure at the worst possible time! No help from this end – I’m sending this message from my phone and have no access to my normal bookmarks.
    .-= My last blog-post ..Greens Buy Back Integrity =-.

  • Isn’t the answer ultimately derived from Kant? I can only call something a good reason, if it’s a good reason for everyone. Similarly, fundamental rights and freedoms are supposed to be things that all rational persons could come to an agreement about if they removed all their personal inclinations and only accepted what every other individual could accept. The point being that it isn’t a condition of being rational to accept religious reasons (this is probably controversial, but in a practical sense it is true).

    Of course Kant thought that you must accept the Categorical Imperative as a rational being.

  • Yes some derive this from Kant, though I think the view has problems with it some of which I spelt out in my post on Rawls.

    What is interesting is wether Kant actually would agree. Kant believed that God was the head of the kingdom of ends and that humans needed to identify thier duties with divine commands.

    Kant also argued that God was a necessary postulate of morality, one needed to assume that God and an afterlife exists and that athiesm makes the moral life rationally unstable. John Hare at Yale has done some good work on this.
    .-= My last blog-post ..News, Weather and Sports at MandM =-.

  • I’m not sure I read the Rawls post, although I do tend to forget.

    “What is interesting is wether Kant actually would agree. Kant believed that God was the head of the kingdom of ends and that humans needed to identify thier duties with divine commands.”

    Well, he can’t say that such necessity is heteronomously imposed, so whether they are divine commands or the commands of one’s own reason makes no difference (that they are divine commands ought to add nothing, or the principle of autonomy will be violated).

    In any case, the idea that religious values qua religious values ought not to be part of law is just the flip side of the right to freedom of religion. Some sort of neutral ground needs to be found between members of distinct religions (with the proviso that it be agreeable to any future community member who may be of a yet different religion), and it just so happens that this tends to dovetail exactly with the values of the secularists, who have no religion. I’d be willing to argue that this is an accidental feature of a political system based on hypothesized agreement, rather than a deliberate attempt to discriminate against religious people.

    I guess you’d need to conduct a thought experiment to work out whether the imposition of secular standards of public reason was discriminatory in a community with radically plural religions but no secularist members. It might also be the case that some members of this community found the standards of public reason to be in less conflict with their religious beliefs than others did. But again, this could be explained as an accidental feature of the system rather than a deliberate attempt to discriminate in the favour of one group against another.

    All this being said, there are powerful consequentialist reasons for having a secular pluralist society, one being the extremes of interfaith violence that characterized earlier centuries. That one could make exactly the same case for the promotion of a contractarian democracy as a means of preventing communists and fascists from killing each other would indicate that the point of public reason is to prevent deep differences in beliefs from becoming politically and socially toxic.

  • Well, he can’t say that such necessity is heteronomously imposed, so whether they are divine commands or the commands of one’s own reason makes no difference (that they are divine commands ought to add nothing, or the principle of autonomy will be violated).

    This assumes that divine commands must be heteronomously imposed in a way Kant would reject, John Hare has made the argument that Kant probably had in mind by autonomy the idea of appropriation of Gods commands. A rational person took the commands of a perfectly rational being (God) and made them his or her own. I cant recapulate the textual argument in a small com box like this. But the line of argument you suggest is addressed in his exposition.

    regardkess Kant’s argument in the second critique is that belief in God is necessary if one is to coherently adopt a moral perspective.

    In any case, the idea that religious values qua religious values ought not to be part of law is just the flip side of the right to freedom of religion.

    Ok here you seem to think that the basing a law on a particular religious reason violates freedom of religion. That seems to me false for two reasons.

    First I don’t think this follows, If for example I was required by law to refrain from holding slaves on the basis of certain quaker religious views it would not follow I was being required by law to convert to Quakerism . Basing a law on a particular religious value is not the same thing nor does it entail that people are not free to adopt a different religion.

    Second an analogous line of reasoning would prove too much. Freedom to not adopt any secular perspective would mean that no laws should be based on secular views. Similarly freedom to join political parties and adopt whatever political one views one thinks are correct would mean that laws should not be based on any political views and so on.

    Some sort of neutral ground needs to be found between members of distinct religions (with the proviso that it be agreeable to any future community member who may be of a yet different religion), and it just so happens that this tends to dovetail exactly with the values of the secularists, who have no religion. I’d be willing to argue that this is an accidental feature of a political system based on hypothesized agreement, rather than a deliberate attempt to discriminate against religious people.

    Well this is false, those who defend this view such as Audi for example actually insist that the values be secular.

    But anyway like I argued in the Rawls piece this argument involves special pleading. Just as there are a diversity of religious views so there is a diversity of secular views, hence if one were consistent one would insist that the laws not be based on a perspective which was “neutral” with regard to all views wether religious or secular and this would mean that almost no substantive laws could be justified as almost every current normative secular ethical theory would be ruled out.

    All this being said, there are powerful consequentialist reasons for having a secular pluralist society, one being the extremes of interfaith violence that characterized earlier centuries.

    Yes there are arguments of this sort but they are not powerful as people like Quinn, Wolterstorff, Eberle etc have argued. It’s simply false to suggest that most religious beliefs are so dangerous and likely to lead to war if allowed in public discourse but secular beliefs are not.
    In fact a large number of wars and atrocities have been justified by secular reasons including religious persecution ( which was frequently justified on secular not religious grounds.

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