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A Godless Public Square: Do ‘Private’ Christian Beliefs Have a Place in Public Life? Part I Matthew Flannagan – Theology

August 22nd, 2011 by MandM

A Godless Public Square: Do ‘Private’ Christian Beliefs Have a Place in Public Life? A few weeks ago, as part of Jesus Week at the University of Auckland, Thinking Matters and Evangelical Union hosted an event entitled A Godless Public Square: Do ‘Private’ Christian Beliefs Have a Place in Public Life? This event was a conversation between Theology, Philosophy and Law and featured Matthew Flannagan – Analytic Theologian, Glenn Peoples – Philosopher and Madeleine Flannagan – Legal Scholar. The video is still being edited and will be available soon but for now, this 3-part series comprises the written speeches of each speaker.

Matthew Flannagan – Analytic Theology

Recently, many Christian ethicists have defended the central place of God’s commands in Theological ethics. In this talk I want to discuss one important objection to appeals to God’s commands; this is the claim that, while it is perfectly appropriate for believers to appeal to purported divine commands when regulating their private conduct or the conduct of voluntary religious communities who believe in such commands, it is morally wrong to appeal to theological beliefs of this sort in any discussion of social ethics. When doing Ethics as a public enterprise i.e. engaging in debates over social policy or offering criticism of cultural and social practices, Christian Ethicists are morally bound to only appeal to secular considerations. I will argue that this position, though widely accepted inside and outside of the church, is mistaken.

The Objection
So what is the problem with appealing to divine commands in social ethics? Christian theological convictions ought to impact the whole of life both in the private and public spheres; this is what is meant by the idea of an “undivided life”, where Jesus is Lord of all aspects of our lives.

Yet this consequence of Christian faith conflicts with a pervasive contemporary attitude: the view that that religion is fundamentally a private matter. It is accepted that a Christian is free to utilise theological convictions when they make decisions about their own life but in a pluralistic society it is increasingly deemed inappropriate to bring such convictions into public discussions about morality, law, politics, economics, education, scholarship and so on. The desire to influence society with Christian ideals or to convert others to the faith is viewed by many as an intolerant desire to impose one’s private views onto others.

It is widely accepted that theological convictions can govern churches and the private lives of believers yet we are told that the public square – government, public policy, the courts, the academy, education, business, arts, media, etc – should be secular only.The problem is nicely summarised by Stephen Carter Christian theological convictions ought to impact the whole of life both in the private and public spheres; this is what is meant by the idea of an “undivided life”, where Jesus is Lord of all aspects of our lives.

Yet this consequence of Christian faith conflicts with a pervasive contemporary attitude: the view that that religion is fundamentally a private matter. It is accepted that a Christian is free to utilise theological convictions when they make decisions about their own life but in a pluralistic society it is increasingly deemed inappropriate to bring such convictions into public discussions about morality, law, politics, economics, education, scholarship and so on. The desire to influence society with Christian ideals or to convert others to the faith is viewed by many as an intolerant desire to impose one’s private views onto others.

It is widely accepted that theological convictions can govern churches and the private lives of believers yet we are told that the public square – government, public policy, the courts, the academy, education, business, arts, media, etc – should be secular only.

This event looks at this issue. The conversation will span Theology, Philosophy and Law led by a panel made up of Christian representatives from each discipline along with you the audience:

“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.”[1]

Carter cites the objection that appealing to God’s commands in public moral debate involves imposing one’s religious beliefs onto other people, and points out that such impositions are morally wrong. Note that the objection is not that such divine commands do not exist or that it is irrational to believe that they do. The objection is a specifically moral one. It is morally wrong to appeal to such beliefs; doing so violates a moral obligation people have to not impose their religious beliefs onto others. Something like this moral objection is widely held, both inside and outside the church. In response to this I will make four points.

I

First, unqualified, the claim it is wrong to impose your moral beliefs onto others is problematic. Consider acts such as rape, assault or infanticide. I personally believe each of these practices is wrong for me to engage in and I support the commission of these acts being considered a crime punishable by the state. However, if it were wrong to impose moral beliefs onto others then my position on rape, assault or infanticide would be unacceptable. I would have to leave others free to choose whether they wished to rape, assault or kill children – to do otherwise would be to impose my moral beliefs onto others.

II

So there cannot be an unqualified obligation to not impose one’s beliefs onto other people. This brings me to my second point. Carter’s example is not unqualified. It explicitly mentions religious beliefs about what God wills. Carter alludes to what Richard Rorty dubbed as:

“The happy, Jeffersonian compromise that the Enlightenment reached with the religious. This compromise consists in privatizing religion — keeping it out of … ‘the public square,’ making it seem bad taste to bring religion into discussions of public policy.”[2]

A particularly rigorous elaboration of this stance comes from Robert Audi. Audi argues that one should not advocate any “[policy] restrictions on human conduct unless one has, and is willing to offer an adequate secular reason for this advocacy or support”.[3]  By ‘secular reason’ he meant a reason that “does not depend on the existence of God (such as through a divine command) or on theological considerations (such as a sacred text)”.[4] So qualified, the objection is that religious believers have a moral obligation to not advocate policies or positions that restrict others on the basis of beliefs about God’s commands. In discussions in public they are to appeal to secular premises that do not invoke God, scripture or specific theological authorities.

III

This brings me to my third point; why single religious out beliefs in this way? If there is no general obligation to refrain from imposing one’s beliefs onto others then why are religious beliefs different in this respect? By limiting the moral restriction to religious beliefs and allowing non-theological secular beliefs to play a role in public discourse that religious beliefs do not, Audi’s position shows that “There is an important asymmetry between religious and secular reasons in the following respect: some secular reasons can themselves justify state coercion but no religious reason can.”[5] Audi’s position appears to privilege secular ideologies and doctrines in public debate whilst relegating religious or theological perspectives to the private sphere. But why are theological beliefs singled out in this way? Three lines of argument seem to be common.

1. Wars and Conflict

The first is an appeal to religious wars and violence. It is contended that the only way to keep social peace and prevent the kind of violence that Europe witnessed in the 17th century is to adopt a moral rule requiring that all political discussions take place on secular terms and that religious reasons be bracketed from such discussions.

However, this assumes that appeals to theological moral beliefs cause wars and appeals to secular reasons protect us against such wars. This is dubious. Christopher Eberle and Terence Cuneo note that the religious wars of the 17th century were caused not by the appeal to religious reasons per sé but rather by the violation of religious freedom. Moreover, even in the 17th century, religious persecution was typically justified on secular grounds. In addition, they note that some of the most important defences of religious persecution and defences of religious tolerance, such as those proposed by John Locke and Pierre Bayle, appealed to explicitly theological grounds.[6]

Nicholas Wolterstorff makes a similar point, he notes that much of “the slaughter, torture, and generalised brutality of our century has mainly been conducted in the name of one or another secular cause–nationalism of many sorts, communism, fascism, patriotisms of various kinds, economic hegemony.”[7] He also stated that “many of the social movements in the modern world that have moved societies in the direction of liberal democracy have been deeply and explicitly religious in their orientation.”[8] He cites examples such as the abolitionist and civil rights movements and various other resistance movements as examples.

The point is that secular and theological reasons are on par in this respect. Particular types of religious reasons in particular political contexts can lead to wars and abuse, whereas appealing to other types of religious reasons in other contexts can be beneficent. Similarly, certain types of secular reasons can be dangerous in particular contexts and other types of secular reasons are not. To single religious reasons out as being ‘too dangerous to be aired in public’ and insisting on a default to secular reasons seems ad hoc and unjustified.

2. Division

Similar things can be said about the objection that appeal to theological premises will be divisive. Robert Adam’s notes  “nothing in the history of modern secular moral theory gives us reason to expect that general agreement on a single comprehensive moral theory will ever be achieved or that, if achieved, it would long endure in a climate of free inquiry. His conclusion is that “the development and advocacy of a religious ethical theory, therefore, does not destroy a realistic possibility of agreement that would otherwise exist”.[9]

3. Pluralism

The main reason offered for excluding theological premises from public debate is that not everyone accepts the truth of such premises. Any policy decisions based on a purported divine law would be binding upon these people in spite of the fact they do not accept theological doctrines or that they do not accept these theological doctrines.

Michael Tooley states, “For it is surely true that it is inappropriate, at least in a pluralistic society, to appeal to specific theological beliefs … in support of legislation that will be binding upon everyone.”[10] Audi argues, “as advocates for laws and public policies, then, and especially for those that are coercive, virtuous citizens will seek grounds of a kind that any rational adult citizen can endorse as sufficient for the purpose.”[11] [Emphasis added]

One obvious problem with this line of argument is that exactly the same thing can be said about many secular, non-theological, beliefs. Phillip Quinn articulates this point,

“…If the fact that religious reasons cannot be shared by all in a religiously pluralistic society suffices to warrant any exclusion of religious reasons for advocating or supporting restrictive laws or policies, then much else ought in fairness also to be excluded on the same grounds.”[12]

Quinn notes correctly that secular moral theories such as Utilitarianism or Kantianism, Intuitionism, Socialism, Libertarianism, can all be reasonably rejected in a philosophically-pluralistic society.

“Indeed, it would seem that the appeal to any comprehensive ethical theory, including all known secular ethical theories, should be disallowed on the grounds that every such theory can be reasonably rejected by some citizens in a pluralistic democracy. And if justification of restrictive laws or policies can be conducted only in terms of moral considerations no citizen of a pluralistic democracy can reasonably reject, then in a pluralistic democracy such as ours very few restrictive laws or policies would be morally justified, a conclusion that would, I suspect, be welcome only to anarchists.”[13]

If we are to exclude appeals to theological beliefs because not all reasonable people accept such beliefs then we should be consistent and exclude from public discussion appeals to all secular moral, political, philosophical, beliefs about which reasonable people do not agree. This would gut public discussion of any substantive content.

IV

My final point is that suppose a religious person does, as Carter mentions, take a “controversial political position … because it is required by their understanding of God’s will”? The objection Carter mentions is a specifically moral one, the objection is not that such divine commands do not exist, or that it is irrational to believe that they do.

On the face of it, this seems very odd. The objection entails that a person can be morally obligated to act contrary to what he rationally and correctly believes God’s will requires of him. A person who believes that a rational, all knowing, perfectly just and loving person requires a certain action of him is morally obligated to not take that action in public.

Normally when one assesses a moral question one should take into account all the relevant information – not just some of it. If it is true that God has issued certain commands, and this is relevant to the question, then it would be prima facie irrational to not take these factors into account.

The Christian believes her theological beliefs are true, and the objector does not contest this. Further the objection is not that her belief in such commands is irrational or subject to philosophical difficulties. The objector contends that, even if the Christian’s beliefs are true, and rationally believed, she is morally obligated to ignore them in such discussions.

This entails that when doing social ethics believers are morally required to act in accord with beliefs they rationally believe to be false. The objector appears to suggest that, in a pluralistic society, believers can hold certain beliefs as true in private but in public they must deny these beliefs; even though these beliefs may be both true and rationally held. This would seem to force believers to live a divided life where their intellectual and religious commitments are incoherently compromised. I contend that there is no good reason for thinking believers are under any moral obligation to do this.

If God truly is sovereign then his commands govern the whole of life, both private and public; believers should strive to live an undivided life of loyalty to him. The fact that other people do not share this commitment does not entail that it is wrong for them to follow it.

Part II of A Godless Public Square: Do ‘Private’ Christian Beliefs Have a Place in Public Life? features Glenn Peoples’ talk from the perspective of Philosophy.


[1] Stephen Carter The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialise Religious Devotion (Basic Books, New York, 1993) 23-24.
[2] Richard Rorty “Religion as a Conversation-Stopper” (1994) 3:1 Common Knowledge 1, 2.
[3] Robert Audi “The Separation of Church and State and the Obligations of Citizenship” Philosophy and Public Affairs 18 (1989) 279.
[4] Ibid, 278.
[5] Christopher J Eberle and Terence Cuneo “Religion and Political Theory” (2008) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (at 9 August 2009).
[6] Ibid.
[7] Nicholas Wolterstorff “The Role of Religion in Decision and Discussion of Political Issues” in Nicholas Wolterstorff & Robert Audi (eds) Religion in the Public Square: The Place of Religious Convictions in Political Debate (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc, Lanham Md, 1997) 80.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Robert Adams “Religious Ethics in a Pluralistic Society” in Gene H Outka, John P Reeder (eds) Prospects for a Common Morality (Princeton University Press, 1993) 91.
[10] Michael Tooley “A Defense of Abortion and Infanticide” in Francis J Beckwith and Louis Pojman (eds) The Abortion Controversy: 25 Years after Roe v Wader: A Reader (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1998) 220.
[11] Robert Audi “Liberal Democracy and the Place of Religion in Politics” in Nicholas Wolterstorff & Robert Audi (eds) Religion in the Public Square: The Place of Religious Convictions in Political Debate (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc, Lanham Md, 1997) 17. 
[12] Phillip Quinn “Political Liberalisms and Their Exclusions of the Religious” (1995) 69:2 Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 39-40.
[13] Phillip Quinn “Political Liberalism and their Exclusion of the Religious” in Paul Weithman (ed) Religion and Contemporary Liberalism (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997) 144.

RELATED POSTS:
A Godless Public Square: Do ‘Private’ Christian Beliefs Have a Place in Public Life? Part II Glenn Peoples – Philosophy
A Godless Public Square: Do ‘Private’ Christian Beliefs Have a Place in Public Life? Part III Madeleine Flannagan – Law

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  • If Allah truly is sovereign then his commands govern the whole of life, both private and public; believers should strive to live an undivided life of loyalty to him. The fact that other people do not share this commitment does not entail that it is wrong for them to follow it.

    No more needs to be said.

  • That is not really an argument at all. What are the premises? What is the conclusion?

  • Doesn’t this mean that all religions would be on par? Christianity has done more for the poor and the rest of society than Hindu & some factions of Islam want to kill people. Isn’t it better to appeal to socilogical studies to point out why Christian values should be adopted by the government?

  • TAM and Trey have correctly highlighted the fact that this line of argument entails respect for all rationally held, honest viewpoints present in society. This line of argument does not serve one viewpoint alone but neither does it open things up to just anything, for instance, any viewpoint that threatened the freedom or physical safety of others would not deserve respect on those grounds alone.

    De-privileging secularism could level the playing field so that the marketplace of ideas can exist unfettered. In such an environment one could mount sociological arguments – any argument – to persuade or make the case for the policy one supports or thinks is best. There would be no default position that viewpoint x is best.

  • But the church has grown weak and people are sinful and attracted to me-ism and worldly things. I don’t think this is the right way to combat secularism.

  • The problem of the condition and effectiveness of the church and the problem of the State privileging secularism over other viewpoints in society are two different things. The Church has to fix the former itself and the State should fix only the latter.

    This line of argument is not being offered as a solution for both problems – just the latter one. (Elsewhere on this blog we have piles of material aimed at assisting the former!)

  • TAM, I am not sure what the absurdity you are pointing to is supposed to be. You wrote:

    “If Allah truly is sovereign then his commands govern the whole of life, both private and public; believers should strive to live an undivided life of loyalty to him. The fact that other people do not share this commitment does not entail that it is wrong for them to follow it.”

    I actually agree that if Allah truly is sovereign then his commands govern the whole of life, both private and public. Do you disagree with this? Do you think that if Allah were sovereign then his commands would not govern us? The claim they would seems to be an implication of saying someone is sovereign. That’s what being sovereign means.

    Moreover, I also agree that if Allah was sovereign the fact other people did not think he was would not entail that those who realised he was were required to not follow his commands. That again seems to be an implication of saying someone is sovereign.

    Is it perhaps your contention that if an argument mentions a deity it is obviously absurd regardless of the content?

    (A further note, you are aware that the substituting of an argument’s premises for different ones and then showing that what follows is absurd does not actually refute the original argument. All sound arguments are such that if you substitute true premises for false ones the conclusion will not necessarily be true. So this kind of response proves nothing at all.)

  • Coming at the issue from a slightly different perspective – isn’t there a case to be made for some epistemic humility when approaching the public sphere – ie acknowledging that what we believe is taken on faith, not certainty, and thus we are hesitant to be seen to be imposing our views on people who don’t agree via the democratic process… it seems to me that Christianity is not designed (Biblically speaking) to be the dominant political power, and most of the time when it is it becomes problematic for the mission of the church because moralistic nominalism replaces gospel living (most people start to think they’re Christians because they live “good” lives and call themselves Christian). I think, on the whole, it’s bad for Christian mission to do much beyond speaking and acting to protect the poor and oppressed in the political process…

    This could be my first comment here, I think. Long time reader, first time commenter, love your work…

  • Matt, I think the emphasis should be on the IF.

    If there are gods and One is sovereign over another then it follows that the laws the One commands will govern the whole of life. But, the issue is that this sovereignty is not something that is able to be proven to the satisfaction of the other claimants. Practically, we find ourselves in a position where there are many competing claims and no way of definitively knowing which is correct.

    The only approach I see is to then agree on a set of values that strive to make as many people as happy as possible. If Christian values are in-fact fundamental to happiness then surely they will come out on top even in a secular society.

    If there are values and laws in place that cause people unhappiness, it may be wiser and engender more support to promote change on a platform of evidenced garnered from sociological studies. Campaigning for change on a Christian platform is not outlawed but is unlikely to garner much support among other minorities and may even cause people to feel threatened.

    If we truly believe that the Christian god is sovereign then we shouldn’t campaign to de-privilege secularism, we should promote it as it will show, in the end, that, in practice, Christian values produce results.

  • Matt, you must be so used to me using the word “absurd” and ridiculing belief in deities that you neglected to notice I have done neither on this thread.

    The problem with your view is that you and (to use your example) the islamic fundamentalist will never be able to agree on whose religious beliefs are the correct one. So you can go two ways: (1) exclude religiously motivated policy iniatives that fail the Rawlsian public reason test from the public square; or (2) include them and let the majority rule.

    You’re happy with #2 as long as you feel your beliefs have a good chance of surmounting those you disagree with. You would be whistling a different tune if you were a woman living in Saudi Arabia. If you adopt the Rawlsian original position, the preferred option is obvious.

    [A mild earthquake occurred as I was typing this - rare for southwestern Ontario. Yahweh must be pissed]

  • “[A mild earthquake occurred as I was typing this - rare for southwestern Ontario. Yahweh must be pissed]”

    What a silly thing to say. I guess you just couldn’t resist.

  • John wrote: “If we truly believe that the Christian god is sovereign then we shouldn’t campaign to de-privilege secularism, we should promote it as it will show, in the end, that, in practice, Christian values produce results.”

    The problem with this approach is that while secularism remains privileged, we are under a moral obligation to keep our Christian values private.

  • I think that instead we all have a responsibility to campaign for what ever values we think are right. It’s just that bringing god into the argument when one doesn’t share the same god makes it an argument about which god is true, not about which values are.
    Most people in the public square don’t hide there religion anyway. It’s just no use in the debate within a diverse society.

  • While “divine commands” may seem a plausible way to explain ethics at the level of abstract or basic theism, it’s a different matter when the “God” in question is attached to a specific religious tradition and history.

    I’d like to see a lot more philosophical justification provided for that particular step (or leap!) in the argument.

  • It’s been a while since I have read such rubbish. Matt, you are really out of touch with reality.
    1: “A godless public square?” FFS Matt. I have been to Aotea Square, in Auckland, Civic Square in Wellington, Garden Place in Hamilton, The Octagon in Dunedin, etc. You know what? Nowhere is there a sign saying people cannot talk about their god, or other obsessions, in those squares!
    You are inventing a non-existent problem.
    What really concerns you is that you can talk as much as you like – but no one is obliged to listen to you!

    2: You wish to “impose” your moral beliefs on others. Well wish away. You don’t get to do this except with your children – and that is a form of cruelty as children should develop their own moral systems.
    Grow up Matt. No matter how much you wish to impose your beliefs on others, grown-ups have this strange ability – they can think for themselves.

    3: Singling out religion! Crap!. Adults don’t have to single out anything. They can choose who to listen to and who to ignore. I am just as happy to ignore the mad communist rambling on about US Imperialism as I am to ignore god botherers.

    4: Excluding “appeals to theological beliefs.” Come off it Matt. You can’t force people to listen to you. Rant as much as you like. People choose not to listen to you (and the mad communist) because they decide your arguments don’t have “any substantive content.”

    Matt – we live in a pluralist society. Adults can think for themselves. Democracy allows all opinions to be represented, including yours.

    Stop pretending you are being discriminated against – you aren’t.
    If people won’t listen to you, have a look inwards. Perhaps it’s because you are spouting rubbish. Like the mad communist (who may also claim discrimination).

    Don’t blame democracy for the failings of your own beliefs.

  • John wrote: “we all have a responsibility to campaign for what ever values we think are right. It’s just that bringing god into the argument when one doesn’t share the same god makes it an argument about which god is true, not about which values are…”

    How can I campaign for whatever values I think are right if I have to leave God out of the argument?!? I am a Christian. Therefore, God is in the argument. My values are tied with His.

    Further, I am a citizen who is entitled to be in and participate in the Public Square. Why do I have to argue for thing and justify my support for things on the basis of secularism, a viewpoint that I do not hold to? (Which version of secularism anyway?) Why do I have to shear off part of myself to participate in public life? It is like suggesting that because of my views I am some how inferior?

    If I have to be tolerant of and bend myself towards the other viewpoints that I do not hold in society why is that same respect not reciprocated towards me?

    I don’t want an argument about which God is true when I am discussing values, I am not seeking that argument and have no desire to go off topic. Why is someone else’s problem with what I believe and someone else’s inability to argue on point my problem?

    As for your other comment, which is similar to something Ken touched on, “Most people in the public square don’t hide there religion anyway. It’s just no use in the debate within a diverse society”, this raises a different issue.

    What people do in practice is not the same thing as what society thinks they are obligated to do. What Matt, Glenn and I are getting at here is the obligation that people like Rawls and Audi and Gaus and those who subscribe to their views expect Christians and other religious believers to adhere to. This idea is underpinned in some of our laws and public policy and it is certainly uttered as if it is a given routinely in comments like “we live in a secular society” and in things like what you just said that show you believe that the norm or the public sphere is better secular.

    I agree with the latter part of your comment that hiding your religion is just no use in the debate within a diverse society but that seems to fly in the face of what you said at the beginning when you gave reasons why you think that it is better to leave God out of it.

    I cannot leave God out of it because I believe that what God teaches is true and that he requires me to not divide my life in this way.

  • Ken, as for your assertion that we “are inventing a non-existent problem” please try reading something on the topic; try this piece that covers the issues fairly concisely which is published in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

  • Ken,

    The fact that you believe it is cruel to teach children what is and is not moral is, in and of itself, an irresponsibly cruel action. In such reasoning children then foster the potentiality to actualise immoral behaviour with no understanding of the consequences that will follow or the moral basis which dictates the behaviour as unethical. To advocate such a principle is undeniably absurd and psychologically troubling. Are you seriously suggesting that a child should sustain his own moral framework based on an immature understanding of the world? I hope you remember what you have said when your children unwittingly kill the family pet. Though if you already have children may God have mercy on your soul.

  • Ken oh Ken oh Ken!

    *Facepalm*

    Word up:

      – the public square is not the town square
      – the doctrine of religious restraint is not a council bylaw sign

    RTA FFS!

    Stick to writing about crop fertiliser.

  • “Nowhere is there a sign saying people cannot talk about their god, or other obsessions, in those squares!”

    That was freakin’ hilarious. And not in a good way.

  • Next thing you know Ken will be ripping on Einstein on relativity – on the grounds that “I’ve been to a few science labs, old man, and I haven’t seen ANY of my relatives there!”

  • Madeleine, your divorcement from reality (or possibly your inability to see past Christian privilege) is underlined by the farce of organizing a public meeting to argue religiously that you aren’t allowed to hold a meeting to discuss religion. Bloody hell – what an arrogance.

    When has anyone stopped you from talking about your god?. And I don’t mean when has someone refused to listen. That happens all the time with boors.

    Madeleine I guess I will just have to place my own interpretation on your unwillingness to discuss any io the issues I raised in my comment. And instead you attempt to divert attention by a complete misrepresentation of my comment about imposing ideas. As a father of 4 and a grandfather if 4 I am all for teaching children about morality/ethics. I certainly found this successful in our experience – and because our kids were taught rather than imposed on (Matt’s recommendation) they internalized the lessons. They became autonomous moral agents.

    Get with it Madeleine – engage with my real comments.

  • Sorry, Madeleine. I have unfairly blamed you for Dimmittri’s silly comment. (iPods are not yhe easiest device for following blogs).

    Dimmittri – consider that part of my comment your refutation. I am proud of my children ( and grandchildren) Their moral upbringing was very successful.

    Madeleine, I am still interested in your considered responsetop my comments.

  • Law is about imposing stuff. Sorry Ken, it just is.

    If you didn’t realise that law and public policy is the issue here, you shouldn’t have jumped in.

  • @ madeleine:

    you say “How can I campaign for whatever values I think are right if I have to leave God out of the argument?!? I am a Christian. Therefore, God is in the argument. My values are tied with His.”

    you then say:

    “I don’t want an argument about which God is true when I am discussing values”

    if your values are tied to your god, you can understand that other peoples values will be tied to their god(s). if there is any conflict when deciding which value system should be use in our society, the only way forward is to show which god is true.

    again, if you want me to abide by have a value which is based solely on your god, you first need to show me that your god is the true one, or true at all.

    but then, once you had shown me that your god was true, you wouldn’t need the public square anyway, because i would understand and choose to follow your value system of my own free will. and if i strayed at all, you could use the church and our shared faith to correct me.

    even if that doesn’t work, and you cannot convince me that your god is true, what use is it to either of us if i adhere to your value system? i am going to hell regardless, so using the public square to guide my behaviour doesn’t actually achieve anything, does it?

  • “Madeleine, your divorcement from reality (or possibly your inability to see past Christian privilege) is underlined by the farce of organizing a public meeting to argue religiously that you aren’t allowed to hold a meeting to discuss religion. Bloody hell – what an arrogance.”

    Ken, word:

    In the same way that “the public square” is not synonymous with “the town square” it is also not synonymous with the concept “public place.”

    The issue being highlighted in discussions around the secular public square is not the matter of whether Christians should be able to hold meetings in public.

  • Glenn, if you wish to “jump in” do so. But please engage with my comment. Enough of these diversion attempts. I only interpret them as a sign of your inability to confront the reasoned argument. As sign if weakness.

  • Yes, Murph, I understand. You don’t have any examples to support your claim that you are denied a role in public discussion. So you will purposely misunderstand and misinterpret ( and avoid the irony).

    Again, some actual evidence and reasoning is what I normally expect in rational discussion. Or is that “priveliging secularism?”

  • Perhaps Glenn is not taking a ‘dip’ with you Ken because he is swimming in a different pool.

    You are wanting to talk about town squares, council signs, bylaws, public meetings.

    I imagine Glenn is more interested in the actual topic: the religion in public life debate. That and his objections to the dominant view in the literature (the one you said Matt invented because not enough people were listening to him).

  • john i love your work, good stuff.

  • Read the blog posts carefully. Look up the footnotes. Read the link Madeleine provided to Stanford University’s encyclopedia article on it.

    Why do you want this lay person to argue the case with you instead of instead dealing with these resources written by professionals, nay experts in the field?

    I’m just enjoying the view.

  • “Glenn, if you wish to “jump in” do so. But please engage with my comment.”

    I did, ken. I pointed out that the issue is law and public policy, so your reaction against the idea of “imposing” is a mistake. The subject is the imposition of standards. It just is, and if you want to talk about the issue, that’s it. Comparing this to the moral instruction of children is wrong headed, and you really haven’t appreciated what the subject of religion in the public square is all about. Perhaps some humble questions for clarification would have been a wiser idea than barging in and complaining about “rubbish.”

  • No, Glenn, still nothing of substance there.

    Bloody hell, I would have thought you guys would actually start with some evidence to give your complaint substance.

    Sorry, I realize evidence is a dirty word amongst the theology inclined. Perhaps that’s what you mean by “priveliging secularism?”

    You think you can get by using vague claims of references and authority. (avoidance).

    Perhaps that’s why no one listens?

  • Ah well, never mind Ken.

  • Ken, May I respectfully suggest you take another careful look at these two comments…

    “…you really haven’t appreciated what the subject of religion in the public square is all about. Perhaps some humble questions for clarification would have been a wiser idea than barging in and complaining about “rubbish.””

    “Read the blog posts carefully. Look up the footnotes. Read the link Madeleine provided to Stanford University’s encyclopedia article on it.”

  • Janne you have added exactly nothing by repeating those paras. They are irrelevant. If the writers had anything of substance to say they would have said it instead of avoiding responding to my criticisms.

    No one seems to feel that provision of evidence for the claim being made is a normal requirement of reasoned discussion. But I guess that’s the theological mind.

  • Ken you clearly have no clue what this debate is about.
    (You also do not understand what evidence is)

  • Apparently it’s really important that we all stop talking about religion in the public square and start talking about what Ken is talking about instead. Does it add tot he subject of religion in the public square? No. But apparently that’s the new topic, and in order to avoid being off topic, in order to address the issues, we’ve all got to jump over to Ken’s topic instead.

  • Ken the topic of this blog post is the moral obligation advanced by John Rawls, Robert Audi, Richard Rorty, et al in support of the standard position for the case of the doctrine of religious restraint.

    Matt has set out the position, very accurately (check his sources if you disagree) and has raised some problems with the arguments being offered by these writers.

    I think you think something else is going on here. I am not sure why you think there is any irony – it is not about renting rooms or holding meetings or talking about your faith in public. It has nothing to do with how many people are listening to you or not.

    It seems you have misunderstood what “the Public Square” is even though Matt did explain it in his article. It is not a place and it is not doing things in public. The Public Square is a term of reference that refers to the acts of policy formation, the discharge of policy by agents of the state and the enforcement of policy breaches – that sort of thing. The debate is over whether it should be secular (i.e. privilege one viewpoint over all others) or whether it should be open to all rationally held views that do not encompass affronts to freedom, safety, liberty etc (i.e. give equal opportunity to all viewpoints, thus qualified).

    I am not sure what additional evidence we could offer for the case advanced thus far given that no fact specific situations have been discussed or claimed by us thus far. I am not sure why you are asking for us to provide them.

    Clearly you support the dominant view, the status quo of restricting the public square to secular views only. Why not focus on your case for this and your response to the objections offered – why you think Matt’s (and Glenn’s in the other post in this series) do not work?

    Demanding we move off topic and answer your when did you stop beating your wife type questions, based on your misconstrual of the subject, is kind of strange.

    Perhaps you should make sure you are clear on the topic and brush up on the arguments typically advanced to support your view. That Stanford article is an encyclopaedia; that means it documents all positions and tries to do so fairly and concisely. It has a very good reputation for achieving this which is why I recommend it to anyone who has not studied this debate but wants to understand it better. It is very well written.

  • @ Madeleine

    “God is in the argument. My values are tied with His. Why do I have to shear off part of myself to participate in public life?”

    Madeline, I don’t think you do and I don’t think you or I are asked to. I think people that follow this debate (like yourself and I) are more exposed to the extremities of the secular movement and the view that would like to sterilise the public square from any mention of religion, but that’s not how it is in practice.

    “If I have to be tolerant of and bend myself towards the other viewpoints that I do not hold in society why is that same respect not reciprocated towards me?”

    Again, I think the same respect IS reciprocated toward the religious. Our churches enjoy tax free status, religious people openly do a world of good in charity work and are not excluded from public grants, religious opinion pieces often appear in the papers etc etc.

    “I don’t want an argument about which God is true when I am discussing values… Why is someone else’s problem with what I believe and someone else’s inability to argue on point my problem?”

    Because I think it’s a contradiction with what you said earlier. You started by saying that God IS in the argument and that your values are tied with His but now say that you don’t want an argument about which god is true when discussing values. That works when you’re discussing with a Christian but if you’re discussing with anyone else you both have to find common ground. I would suggest something of this sort: “As a Christian I believe that xyz is wrong. This is supported by abc evidence” There is nothing stopping us giving our statement of faith but this has to be followed with the facts if we want to be heard.

    “…what you just said that show you believe that the norm or the public sphere is better secular.”

    In a diverse society I do think that the public sphere is better secular, even necessarily secular, but this doesn’t exclude Christians from engaging with it. There are allot of people here who seem to think there is a campaign to exclude them which I don’t see (maybe I’m blind?). What I do see is a desire to not privilege one religious belief over another. I’m not saying that people should hide the fact that they practice a particular religion at all.

    “I cannot leave God out of it because I believe that what God teaches is true and that he requires me to not divide my life in this way.”

    I don’t think anyone is asking you to divide your life in this way. Certainly not me. What I think people are asking of you is that you speak the common language when communicating. Unfortunately, the word God is not a word most people have in common.

  • sorry all, i’m worried my previous comment has been drowned out by ken et al, and i’m not really saying anything that john hasn’t already said much more eloquently, but i’d like to post it again anyway if that is ok:

    @ madeleine:

    you say “How can I campaign for whatever values I think are right if I have to leave God out of the argument?!? I am a Christian. Therefore, God is in the argument. My values are tied with His.”

    you then say:

    “I don’t want an argument about which God is true when I am discussing values”

    if your values are tied to your god, you can understand that other peoples values will be tied to their god(s). if there is any conflict when deciding which value system should be use in our society, the only way forward is to show which god is true.

    again, if you want me to abide by have a value which is based solely on your god, you first need to show me that your god is the true one, or true at all.

    but then, once you had shown me that your god was true, you wouldn’t need the public square anyway, because i would understand and choose to follow your value system of my own free will. and if i strayed at all, you could use the church and our shared faith to correct me.

    even if that doesn’t work, and you cannot convince me that your god is true, what use is it to either of us if i adhere to your value system? i am going to hell regardless, so using the public square to guide my behaviour doesn’t actually achieve anything, does it?

    like john, i don’t see the secularisation of the public square as being intentionally anti-religious, it is just that we must all share the public square together so need to try and find common ground that we can all agree on. if this means asking you to not use your religion as a rational for legislation that will be binding on us all, then that is an unintended and unfortunate consequence.

  • Thanks for your reply Madeleine. A bit more respectful than the others and you are dealing with some substantive aspects. That is helpful.
    I will just comment on two aspects (I already did this in my original comment but some people around here seem incapable of comprehension (or maybe refuse to read anything written by a sinner like me).
    1: You often refer to “privileging secularism” or define secular as “privilege one viewpoint over all others.” Now you can see that I clearly disagree – the cartoon I used in my post gives a description of secular as neutral as far as religious beliefs (and non-beliefs) are concerned. And I think that is how we use the word when we describe our society.
    I asserted that non-one is preventing religious people contributing to policy discussion and formation. No one is prevented from using “god” arguments. Just as no one is prevented from using pastafarian, Marxist, or whatever arguments.
    But that does not mean others must accept your arguments. WE live in a democracy where all points of view can be present but in the end we hope the most effective and representative views are adopted.
    Your use of “privilege” here seems to indicate that any fair-minded open discussion privileges the non-religious. In other words you are acknowledging the ineffectiveness of your own beliefs and arguments.
    The real problem is that Christian privilege in our society is no longer necessary assumed and you feel threatened by this. You see your loss of privileging as somehow privileging others.
    Why privileging democracy should be seen as a threat says more about problems in your beliefs than in society.
    2: If you want to talk about “privileging secularism” you are morally obliged to provide examples – that’s an invitation. I will assume a lack of response to be an admission that y6our actually don’t believe what you say.
    3: Perhaps you could comment how a society (where the last census showed 49.5% Christians) which provides religious and Christian privilege through tax and rate exemptions (purely for promoting a supernatural religious belief), has parliamentary Christian prayers and a religious anthem can be described as “privileging secularism”. I would think that “privileging Christianity” is still a fairly accurate description.
    4: Thanks for specifically pointing out that your arguments are really about “the doctrine of religious restraint.” In other words your bitch is not with people like me (who do nothing to restrain you) but with your colleagues who are arguing that more effective arguments should be found because the religious god-bothering arguments are just not working. Because your colleagues recognise that god arguments cannot be effective in a democratic pluralist society.
    That is in a way an “internal argument” of tacticsOK – you are welcome to it. Just be clear your problem is not external. People like me are not preventing you from participating in public discussion with whatever arguments you can muster. It’s just that when we find you arguments silly and irrational we might actually poiunt that out and then go ahead with more fruitful discussions.
    You see that as “privileging secularism”. I see it as common sense and democracy in action.
    5: You are completely incorrect to claim I “support the dominant view, the status quo of restricting the public square to secular views only.” It is not a dominant view, nor one I present (read my comments) It is a result of your own pain at finding no one else accepts your arguments.

  • TAM Matt, you must be so used to me using the word “absurd” and ridiculing belief in deities that you neglected to notice I have done neither on this thread.

    Your comment “nothing more needs to be said” suggested yopu had discovered some kind of problem.

    “The problem with your view is that you and (to use your example) the islamic fundamentalist will never be able to agree on whose religious beliefs are the correct one. “:

    I addressed exactly this argument in my article, the same thing you say here about religious views can be said about every substantive secular moral theory as well.

    The secular Kantian, utilitarian, virtue ethicist, liberatarian, socialist, marxist and social democract will never be able to agree on whose moral beliefs are the correct ones.

    So TAM I ask you should we exclude all secular ethical theories from public life? They after all have the very same feature you point to in with regards to religious beliefs. So why the special pleading here?

    You’re happy with #2 as long as you feel your beliefs have a good chance of surmounting those you disagree with. You would be whistling a different tune if you were a woman living in Saudi Arabia. .

    This does not follow, the claim that people are not under a moral obligation to refrain from appealing to religious reasons in public life, does not mean that all appeals to religious beliefs are unobjectionable. All that follows is they are not objectionable in virtue of being religious.

    So for example one could object to certain beliefs on the grounds that they were sexist in there content, and that people have an obligation to not be sexist. This however has nothing to do with the fact the beliefs are religious. A secular ideology which was sexist would be equally objectionable, and a religious based argument for womens suffarage would not be.

    If you adopt the Rawlsian original position, the preferred option is obvious.

    I don’t think a Rawlsian approach would be much help in Saudia arabia. Rawls says one should bracket all comprehensive doctrines, wether religious or secular and appeal only to the overlapping consensus accepted by all in the society. This means one can’t appeal to fundamentalist Islam, but it also means one can’t appeal to moderate Islam, or to feminisit views, or to liberal views, or to any substantive views on the role of women which are not accepted by all. Good luck in getting any compelling commitment to womens rights under those conditions.

    If you want a commitment to womens rights in Saudi arabia its far more likely to be achieved if moderate Muslims are allowed a voice to develop a theological basis for it from the Quran and Hadith and other religious commitments which are widely shared in that community.

  • John and Sam, the problem with the argument you raise is that its essentially the argument I noted and rebutted in section III above, see the heading “pluralism”.

    Sorry but repeating an argument which I have already responded to is not really a response.

  • Ken

    1: “A godless public square?” FFS Matt. I have been to Aotea Square, in Auckland, Civic Square in Wellington, Garden Place in Hamilton, The Octagon in Dunedin, etc. You know what? Nowhere is there a sign saying people cannot talk about their god, or other obsessions, in those squares!

    This would be a sensible response, if the word public sqaure refered to a town square, and that I was saying that there was a council by law against it. However, I wasn’t.

    You are inventing a non-existent problem.
    What really concerns you is that you can talk as much as you like – but no one is obliged to listen to you!

    Well I actually provided examples of people who do argue this, Tooley, Audi, and so on. Glenn mentioned Rawls, and Gaus two of the most influential political philosophers today. Madeleine provided a link to an article which documents and discusses a whole body of theorists who do consider this a problem and have argued that religion should not be allowed in public discourse. So your claim I invented it is pretty clearly false.

    2: You wish to “impose” your moral beliefs on others. Well wish away. You don’t get to do this except with your children – and that is a form of cruelty as children should develop their own moral systems.

    As Glenn pointed out public policy involves imposing beliefs, thats what laws do. So this is addresed and refuted

    Grow up Matt. No matter how much you wish to impose your beliefs on others, grown-ups have this strange ability – they can think for themselves.

    Here is a string of insults, not an arguement

    3: Singling out religion! Crap!. Adults don’t have to single out anything. They can choose who to listen to and who to ignore. I am just as happy to ignore the mad communist rambling on about US Imperialism as I am to ignore god botherers.

    Well if you read in context you’ll se I documented that theorist like Audi do single out religion, see the citation in my article.

    4: Excluding “appeals to theological beliefs.” Come off it Matt. You can’t force people to listen to you. Rant as much as you like. People choose not to listen to you (and the mad communist) because they decide your arguments don’t have “any substantive content.”

    Again no substative argument just a string of insults. Its been documented that numerous theorists do propose the position I expounded. In the article above I actually cited some and responded to a position they had raised.

    Matt – we live in a pluralist society. Adults can think for themselves. Democracy allows all opinions to be represented, including yours.

    Again see the citations provided you which show many leading political philosophers do not think this.

    Stop pretending you are being discriminated against – you aren’t.

    Again see the citations I provided which shows I did not make this up.

    If people won’t listen to you, have a look inwards. Perhaps it’s because you are spouting rubbish. Like the mad communist (who may also claim discrimination).

    Again an insult no substantive argument.

    Don’t blame democracy for the failings of your own beliefs.

    Don’t blame others for your ignorance of a topic.

  • Thanks for your reply Madeleine. A bit more respectful than the others and you are dealing with some substantive aspects. That is helpful.
    I will just comment on two aspects (I already did this in my original comment but some people around here seem incapable of comprehension (or maybe refuse to read anything written by a sinner like me).

    Paragraph one complains about others being disrespectful and states this is not a helpful way to reason.

    Paragraph two contians a series of attacks on others views and fairly deliberately misrepresents them.

    Whose pretending here?

  • @ matt. i assume you’re referring to:

    “Quinn notes correctly that secular moral theories such as Utilitarianism or Kantianism, Intuitionism, Socialism, Libertarianism, can all be reasonably rejected in a philosophically-pluralistic society.” and

    “If we are to exclude appeals to theological beliefs because not all reasonable people accept such beliefs then we should be consistent and exclude from public discussion appeals to all secular moral, political, philosophical, beliefs about which reasonable people do not agree.”

    you’ve rebutted nothing, because i agree.

    i agree that if there is an aspect of a certain moral theory with which not all reasonable members of our society accept, it should be left out. that’s actually my point, and i think ken has already mention marxism in the same sentence as christianity and pastafarianism. lets say that i’m a strict utilitarianist. unless i can somehow show once and for all that utilitarianism is the ‘true’ or ‘best’ moral theory, i can’t depend on it to justify legislation which will be binding on non-utilitarianist.

    i’m worried you’ll be tempted to attack a straw man here. lets say most people don’t agree with most aspects of intuitionism: that isn’t to say that we must reject everything which it could feasibly justify. if we can agree on something, fact that it may also be consistent with intuitionism or socialism or libertarianism or christianity or anything else is just coincidental and essentially meaningless. no policy should carry any more or less weight because of it’s relationship to an abstract moral theory that someone once thought up, we should consider its relevance for ourselves. the fact is, most people in the public square don’t really care about all the different ‘isims’ that may exist out there in abstract theory-land anyway. try saying ‘”the moral theory of intuitionism says we should have this policy” and see how far you get.

    i am a pastafarian and am convinced that no member of our collective society should be allowed to eat meatballs because it is immoral (at the very least they should not be recognised as a food; restaurants/butchers should not be allowed to serve/sell them, they should not be included in recipe books, and school children should not be taught that they are a viable source of protein). at the end of the day there is no argument that you can use against me which cannot also be applied to christianity. a booming voice or a great noodle-like appendage from heaven would end the discussion, but in the meantime lets agree that you can eat meatballs and i can marry my boyfriend. christianity has had it’s turn in the public square but that time is over and the best it can now hope to achieve is to retire with dignity. you’re a dinosaur matt, and the future is with christians like john who will try to save my soul before dictating how i live.

  • Matt, my response to your points.

    1: Obviously you also have a problem with humour and irony. Or are you just using the feigned misunderstanding to avoid a sensible response?

    Yes Matt – you did provide “examples of people who do argue this, Tooley, Audi, and so on. Glenn mentioned Rawls, and Gaus.”
    You provided opinions but you provided no real-world evidence or examples of what that argument is based on. The idea that secularism is “priveliged” or that god arguments cannot be used. You are purely dealing with a tactical disagreement in your ranks which may well be based on a misguided version of reality.

    2: Matt you reject the idea that imposition of beliefs is wrong. I quote “if it were wrong to impose moral beliefs onto others then my position on rape, assault or infanticide would be unacceptable. I would have to leave others free to choose whether they wished to rape, assault or kill children – to do otherwise would be to impose my moral beliefs onto others.”

    The fact is that as adults we all make these decisions, and yes as adults we involve ourselves in law making and policy making on these issues. But no adult takes up these positions because you impose your own particular moral beliefs on us. We arrive at these decisions because of our human nature and the nature of the problems considered. There is an objective basis for the fact we can reach agreement on these issues. It doesn’t require anyone imposing their own moral beliefs on us – least of all yours.
    It is not adult to wish to impose your beliefs on others. I was not being abusive I was just pointing out how childish such a wish is.

    3: Matt, you are dishonest to avoid my charge by referring to the opinion of others. You in fact claim that religion is singled out. You say: “why single religious out beliefs in this way? If there is no general obligation to refrain from imposing one’s beliefs onto others then why are religious beliefs different in this respect?” And “Audi’s position appears to privilege secular ideologies and doctrines in public debate whilst relegating religious or theological perspectives to the private sphere. But why are theological beliefs singled out in this way?”

    “If we are to exclude appeals to theological beliefs because not all reasonable people accept such beliefs then we should be consistent and exclude from public discussion appeals to all secular moral, political, philosophical, beliefs about which reasonable people do not agree. This would gut public discussion of any substantive content.”

    The flavour of your article is to imply that religion is not getting a fair go. That “secularism is priveliged.” Yet you have done nothing to show that, produced no examples or evidence. Your discussion is based purely on sources which suggest that religion should perhaps hold back on the god argument. Your problem is with the tactics of your “numerous theorists” not the real world.

    But, you should not try to avoid reality because unfortunately that attitude bleeds into the real world as, for example, where Madeleine says of me: “Clearly you support the dominant view, the status quo of restricting the public square to secular views only.”

    Yet I had and have made absolutely clear neither I or anyone else propose restricting the public square to secular views only (with Madeleine’s specific restricted definition of secular as being atheist). Far from it. This is not a matter of consulting your “leading philosophers”. It’s a matter of Madeleine being completely incorrect in describing another person.

    Matt, I do think it is childish for you to base your arguments on “leading political philosophers” who don’t believe we live in a democratic pluralist society. Any educated idiot can whine about their views not being accepted – but they should face up to their own responsibility in how they present their views and what they are. No one is obliged to accept the views of a “leading political philosopher” – unfortunately academics often expect the unrealistic in these sort of matters.

    There is a huge problem with your approach, Matt. Rather than looking for your evidence in the real world you rely on quoting other’s opinions. Hardly reliable (but good for confirmation bias).

    By the way Matt, my comment that some of the people here “seem incapable of comprehension (or maybe refuse to read anything written by a sinner like me)” was not meant to be abusive – purely stating a fact. Madeleine was the first person to engage with my comments, and now you have to some extent.

    Glenn, Murph and Janne didn’t appear to have even read my comments, let alone understood them.

    They shouldn’t be so bloody sensitive. Relax and enjoy the cut and thrust of debate.

  • and one key difference between religious and secular moral theories that i forgot to point out:

    secular moral theories say ‘i think we should live like this because…’ and can never move past the realm of opinion. religious moral theories say “i think we should live like this because there is a god(s), and he/she/they say we should live like this’, which is a fact claim.

    i can try to show you why you should share my opinion by explaining the ‘because…’ part, and i may or may not be successful, but the only option you have is to prove to me the factual truth of your god(s). ironically if you could do that successfully then there would be no need to discuss the public square because we would all be in agreement on how we should live anyway.

  • “You are purely dealing with a tactical disagreement in your ranks which may well be based on a misguided version of reality.”

    Since when were Rawls and Gaus and co within our “ranks” (whatever those ranks are)? These scholars are not religious at all, and they claim that a modern, pluralistic liberal democracy is incompatible with people supporting policies for their own religious reasons.

    As for your quip about Matt being childish for referring to ” “leading political philosophers” who don’t believe we live in a democratic pluralist society.” I can only shake my head in wonder. You seriously are not reading carefully. These leading political philosophers do think that we live in a pluralistic democratic society, and they claim that because of this, people shouldn’t support policies/laws because of their religious beliefs. That is the very central issue here. That’s what it’s all about.

    Come on Ken, stop spouting without even taking the time to get to learn what people are talking about first.

  • [...] Transcripts for each speaker’s presentation can also be found on Matt and Madeleine’s blog. [...]

  • No Glenn, you should take your own advice.

    My criticism is of Matt and the way he is using people he quotes. Not of the people themselves.

    Sounds like you and Matt have some disagreements as you come to different conclusions.

    Meanwhile no one bothers to produce any evidence from the real world – despite their clumsy attempt to misrepresent my position.

    Madeleine feels free to provide a completely wrong description of our secular society and my position – without evidence or apology.

    As I said – the theological position does not respect reality.

  • [...] For a definition of secular in this context see Matt’s citation of Robert Audi in Part I. [2] Steven D Smith “Separation and the Secular: Reconstructing the Disestablishment Decision” [...]

  • Sam g
    Actually if you look at the citation in context you’ll see Quinn’s argument was

    “Indeed, it would seem that the appeal to any comprehensive ethical theory, including all known secular ethical theories, should be disallowed on the grounds that every such theory can be reasonably rejected by some citizens in a pluralistic democracy. And if justification of restrictive laws or policies can be conducted only in terms of moral considerations no citizen of a pluralistic democracy can reasonably reject, then in a pluralistic democracy such as ours very few restrictive laws or policies would be morally justified, a conclusion that would, I suspect, be welcome only to anarchists.”[emphasis mine]
    This argument makes two claims, first that “secular moral theories such as Utilitarianism or Kantianism, Intuitionism, Socialism, Libertarianism, can all be reasonably rejected in a philosophically-pluralistic society” and Second that if we exclude all philosophical and moral premises which are reasonably rejected by some, then we will have nothing to go on and be unable to justify almost any law or public policy.

    You agree with the first claim stating “i agree that if there is an aspect of a certain moral theory with which not all reasonable members of our society accept, it should be left out. that’s actually my point,” You however fail to address the second. You state

    ”i’m worried you’ll be tempted to attack a straw man here. lets say most people don’t agree with most aspects of intuitionism: that isn’t to say that we must reject everything which it could feasibly justify. if we can agree on something, fact that it may also be consistent with intuitionism or socialism or libertarianism or christianity or anything else is just coincidental and essentially meaningless.”

    This under estimates the diversity and disagreement that exists in contemporary secular thought. Consider not just intuitionism or socialism or libertarianism, but also say nihilism which rejects as false all moral judgements. Or moral scepticism which rejects we have any justified moral beliefs. Or emotivism which claims no moral claims are meaningful. If one is to rely on what everyone agrees on we will have to exclude any moral claim. We cannot appeal to premises which assume a moral statement is true, rationally believed, or even meaningful, we would have to be agnostic about moral judgements per se. It would be impossible to esthablish the moral propriety of any law from that stand point.

    If the existence of athiests means its wrong to appeal to theological claims and the difference of opinion over Gods nature rules out appeals to God. The existence of nihilists and moral skeptics rules out appeals to moral claims and the disagreement over the nature of moral obligations rights and values rules out appeals to such values.

  • Sam gsecular moral theories say ‘i think we should live like this because…’ and can never move past the realm of opinion. religious moral theories say “i think we should live like this because there is a god(s), and he/she/they say we should live like this’, which is a fact claim.

    Actually thats false, many secular theories purport to make factual claims. Utilitarian’s claim its a fact that an act maximises happiness, ethical naturalists claim that moral facts are scientific facts about human flourishing. Kantians say moral claims are facts about human reason and so on.

    “i can try to show you why you should share my opinion by explaining the ‘because…’ part, and i may or may not be successful, but the only option you have is to prove to me the factual truth of your god(s).”

    The same thing can be said about secular theories. The only option Utilitarian have is to prove to Kantians there view is correct. The only option those who believe in moral obligations have is to prove to moral sceptics and moral nihilist that moral obligations and rights exist and so on.

    ironically if you could do that successfully then there would be no need to discuss the public square because we would all be in agreement on how we should live anyway.

    And the same is true of secular ethics, if secular ethicists had demonstrated successfully that there theories were correct we would not need to discuss this because we would all be in agreement that such theories are correct anyway.

  • Ken – You say that you have no issue with the people Matt is quoting, and yet just earlier you were saying that they ” don’t believe we live in a democratic pluralist society.” So you have no problem with this?

    And then you complain that people misrepresent you. Just incredible Ken.

    As for these “different conclusions” that you evasively allude to but don’t identify, you’re on your own there. If you’re going to be coy about what you’re referring to, have fun!

    The fact is – if you were knowledgeable of the literature on the subject, you would know very well that the position frequently referred to as “political liberalism” is also associated with a specific type of approach to religious convictions. That position is that people in a modern democratic liberal society ought not to advocate or support policies because of their religious convictions.

    This concern is made quite explicit for example in Robert Audi’s exchange with Nicholas Wolterstorff, it is directly stated by Gerald Gaus, and it is directly replied to by the likes of Terence Cuneo and Christopher Eberle.

    That this is the case is extremely well known and understood by all parties to the debate over the role of religious beliefs in public life within political and social philosophy. You are free to not share this view, but it is simply ignorance on your part that stamps its feet and insists that this view isn’t even real.

  • .

    Glenn, your bitch is with Matt not me. He disagreed with my point:

    “we live in a pluralist society. Adults can think for themselves. Democracy allows all opinions to be represented, including yours.</i£

    Matt said:
    Again see the citations provided you which show many leading political philosophers do not think this.

    Now I think Matt is childish to use quotes (citations) to support his claim rather than deal with the real world. But I can’t see him changing such bad habits in the near future.

    However, my criticism is of Matt, not the people he selectively quotes. I am well aware of how these citations work and don’t judge the quoted person without reading them myself.

    So please get off my case and take it up with Matt if you disagree with his presentation of their views.

  • Ken, I agree with Matt, so you’re mistaken. Those philosophers, as Matt said, don’t think that a pluralistic democracy allows all opinions to be used as equals in the promotion of policies etc.

    So I have no bitch with matt. Matt is correct in saying this. You, however, are mistaken in saying that these philosophers “don’t believe we live in a democratic pluralist society.” My bet is that you’ve never even read them, so why make up a claim like this? They emphatically DO believe that we live in a pluralistic democracy. They just don’t think that in such a society, our religious beliefs should serve as our rationale for supporting policies.

    So I have no disagreement with what Matt said – only with your claim.

  • @ matt

    “then in a pluralistic democracy such as ours very few restrictive laws or policies would be morally justified, a conclusion that would, I suspect, be welcome only to anarchists.”

    this reminds me of the argument you quoted against mill’s consenting adults and the harm principle, which was that if i like being tortured and there are enough people who would like to watch then i could conceivably be tortured in front of a large audience. despite the fact that no one would have been treated or affected in a way they did not choose to be, it was somehow supposed to be self-evident to everyone (presumably excluding any willing masochists) that this scenario in and of itself, even with no impact on the rest of society was morally wrong so mills failed. i thought a worse scenario would be a government that felt justified in banning people from doing something they enjoyed even if they weren’t having a negative impact on the rest of society.

    it seems like once again you’re trying to conjure up an apocalyptic image of an anarchistic disintegrating society, and again i’m not convinced that that is a logical consequence, so what’s an example? what restrictive laws do we currently have that are based solely on a version of morality (any version, take your pick), and which would logically need to be scrapped if it were shown that that particular morality theory could no longer be used as justification? how exactly would my current new zealand democracy be any different?

    you say “if we exclude all philosophical and moral premises which are reasonably rejected by some, then we will have nothing to go on and be unable to justify almost any law or public policy.”

    politicians base laws and policies on a wide range of reasons, including mutual benefits, economic principles, and so on. on occasions when they use ‘morality’ it is vague and ambiguous because they are specifically trying to not appeal to any particular theory, but are just planning on the majority of people agreeing with them. and then whatever their reasoning, if too many people disagree with them then the law is not passed, and vice versa, so ultimately laws and policies are justified on the basis that we chose to live under them. this is both the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’, which is why we are lucky to live in a secular society. if we all choose a policy that is or is not consistent with an external moral theory, it says more about that theory than the legitimacy of our policy. and i think we have already managed to establish our country on the basis of what most people want, not esoteric discussions of abstract theories.

    “many secular theories purport to make factual claims.”

    huh? well they shouldn’t, and if they do they fail miserably. like you say yourself, there can’t be an external objective morality without the supernatural, and i’ve explained elsewhere why i agree with this. you say “The only option Utilitarian have is to prove to Kantians there view is correct.” but they haven’t and can’t ever empirically prove this. if they do try to claim that it is an absolute fact, then they face the same problem you do: ‘how do you know? prove it.’ they are not arguing why their theory is ‘true’, but why it is ‘best’, and can only ever be subjective. when you are asked ‘why?’ your premise is the existence of god, which is either true or false.

    “If one is to rely on what everyone agrees on we will have to exclude any moral claim. We cannot appeal to premises which assume a moral statement is true, rationally believed, or even meaningful, we would have to be agnostic about moral judgements per se. It would be impossible to esthablish the moral propriety of any law from that stand point.”

    yes. the flip side is imposing a law on people on the basis of a moral view that they do not share. to a certain extent this will probably happen to the minorities in a democracy anyway, but like churchill said, ‘democracy is the worst form of governance there is, except for all the rest’. or something like that. the best we can do is try base our society on collectively held opinions, keep the rest private, and not bother the minorities provided they don’t try to impose their views on the majority.

    you still haven’t explained why you should be allowed to eat meatballs.

    “if secular ethicists had demonstrated successfully that there theories were correct we would not need to discuss this because we would all be in agreement that such theories are correct anyway.”

    yes.

    random question: i don’t think i should murder people, care to guess why?

  • So Glenn you disagree with me in my claim :

    “we live in a pluralist society. Adults can think for themselves. Democracy allows all opinions to be represented, including yours.?

    If so , what alternative social arrangements do you prefer?

    If not, well the fusccussion is pointells as you adhere to the same position I and most people do. This is only a diversion.

  • Well Ken that’s not a claim. That’s three separate claims.

    “we live in a pluralist society.”

    Agree

    “Adults can think for themselves.”

    Mostly agree. In your case your passions and prejudices are making it a bit hard for you.

    “Democracy allows all opinions to be represented, including yours.”

    In an ideal world perhaps. If you go back and read a bit more closely, you’ll see that the issue is not what in fact democracy makes possible. The issue is the way that people ought to conduct themselves in a democracy.

    According to a number of thinkers (the ones you incorrectly claimed did not believe that we live in a pluralistic democracy), while we do have the ability to advocate policies for religious reasons, in fact we ought not do so. This is what people are talking about when they refer to the doctrine of religious restraint.

    Matt (and Mads and I) reject this claim. How about you, Ken? Do you agree that people should refrain from supporting policies for religious reasons? Or do you think it’s morally acceptable for them to do so?

  • Glenn, I am old enough and ugly enough to think for myself. Somehow I expected you to be the same (perhaps I am wrong).

    In my time I have often come across people who think I should STFU. Feminists who think that a man cannot comment on some things. Religionists who think that an atheist or scientist cannot comment on science, Galileo, religion, evolution or whatever. Politically motivated people who think I should STFU because my politics is different to theirs. The list goes on.

    Of course the world is not ideal. Plenty of people wish to shut me up, especially when I speak against their privileges. But somehow I am mature enough to accept that this society guarantees me certain rights and I don’t conform to those peoples wishes. I expect others to be the same.

    So I can take your claim “while we do have the ability to advocate policies for religious reasons, in fact we ought not to do so. This is what people are talking about when they refer to the doctrine of religious restraint,” and apply it to any belief system. I can point out how “a number of thinkers(?)” around here have advised me to STFU. Such advisors only deserve to be ignored.

    I think it is childish to actually pretend that you are somehow being held back from expressing opinions because of what “a number of thinkers” have argued (or you think they have argued). So if that is your real motive I say grow up!

    However, I don’t really think that is your motive at all. The examples Matt and Madeleine have pulled out relate to religious privilege. They claim that an inclusive parliamentary opening ceremony amounts to “eradication of religion from public life.” Similarly secular education, any reversal of current religious privileges with respect to tax exemption,, etc.

    On the surface this also appears childish. But it is also dishonest.

    The privileged often are dishonest when they try to defend their privileges. Especially where money is involved.

  • Sorry, Glenn. Missed your specific questions:

    “Do you agree that people should refrain from supporting policies for religious reasons? Or do you think it’s morally acceptable for them to do so?”

    I thought it was clear both from my original article Secular democracy and its critics
    and from my comments here that my answers are clear.

    No – people should not refrain from supporting policies for religious or belief reasons. ( I actually don’t see any evidence they do).

    Is it morally acceptable for people to refrain from support for religous or belief reasons? _ Can’t quite see what you mean here. If you are claiming people should not use religion or belief reasons to advocate for a policy – no I don’t agree. However, in the poilitical sphere it is normal for people to use what they think is their best argument. And the argument capable of uniting the majority. That is a tactical question.

    For example I believe that parliamentary prayers are divisive and priveliged. That we should have ceremonies which represent all of us, not just a minority.

    I have said as much in my advocacy of the replacement of Christian prayers. But I have also said that the exisitng situation actually decrades a Christian ceremony (parlimentarians basically ignore the prayer and get on with their business) and that Christians should therefore want to change it. That is a tactical approach (I couldn’t give a stuff about degrading a prayer) – but there is also no doubt about my beliefs.

    But the other side of the question (which possibly concernes you) – should the rest of us accept your arguments based on belief or religion. That is clearly up to the individual.

    Most people these days do not accept extreme policies justified by a god or a political god (eg Mao, Stalin). Consequently one cannot blame them for ignoring such advocacy.

  • “No – people should not refrain from supporting policies for religious or belief reasons. ( I actually don’t see any evidence they do).”

    So in spite of your spouting, when you’re pressed for a simple, direct answer, you fully agree with both Matthew and me. So not only (contrary to your earlier comment) do I not disagree with Matt, you agree with both of us.

  • And Ken, it should by now be very clear that nobody – not Matt, not Madeleine, and not I – are complaining that people are holding us back and actually preventing us from advocating policies for our own religious reasons.

    The concern is with the arguments of those who believe that we should not engage in such advocacy. Of course , you don’t have to be interested in those arguments or what we think of them. But that’s the issue nonetheless.

  • Glenn you say:

    “it should by now be very clear that nobody – not Matt, not Madeleine, and not I – are complaining that people are holding us back and actually preventing us from advocating policies for our own religious reasons.”

    and also you say:

    “The concern is with the arguments of those who believe that we should not engage in such advocacy.”

    So Glenn doesn’t believe he or anyone else is being held back from advocating for religion, or for policies religiously, in the public square, but rather that the arguments for keeping religion out of the public square that he is aware of are poor.

    Hmmm….

  • You seem to be exposing the luxuries of the academic, concerned about arguments you claim don’t affect you (or, in your words, anybody else) from accomplishing what you are advocating.

  • enenennx, I’m doubtful that such arguments have literally no effect on the way people think. I think they do, and that they are worth addressing.

    Madeleine’s presentation was more on the actual legal application of arguments like these ones, where it’s clear that they do have an impact on society.

  • Glenn – for some reason you keep misisng the words “christian privelige.”

    This is what the discussion is about. Madeleine and Matt see any attempt at inclusiveness and democracy (such as a representative parliamentary opening ceremony) as “eradication of religion from public life.”

    Mental gymnastics of the theological kind of course. But there’s none so blind. . .

  • Ken, nobody is advocating Christian privilege that I can see, so how is that the issue?

  • Glenn, Christian parliamentary prayer, national anthem, council christian prayers, non-consensual prayer in many social situations, religious tax exemption purely on the basis of supernatural beleif. And one could go on.

    The priveliged are often (intentionally or sadly unintentionally) blind to privelige. And to the inequality of the denial of rights to others

  • “And one could go on.”

    And you certainly do, Ken. But the presentations here that you are railing against are not about prayer in parliament etc.

    They are about whether or not it’s morally acceptable to support or advocate policies because of one’s religious beliefs. You have said that you agree with my view (and that of M and M) on that question. Great! But that has absolutely nothing to do with privileging anyone’s religious stance now does it?

    So why the filler and anger? Just say you agree and leave it at that!

  • matt or glenn, any chance of some feedback on my attempt to show that matts rebuttal of pluralism fails?