Monday, September 03, 2007

Religion Under Liberalism Does Not Quite Equal Secularism

Stanley Fish has a piece in the New York Times entitled "Liberalism and Secularism: One and the Same." He argues that liberalism

"is a form of political organization that is militantly secular and incapable, by definition, of seeing the strong claim of religion – the claim to be in possession of a truth all should acknowledge – as anything but an expression of unreasonableness and irrationality."

Fish says that the liberal state will tolerate all religions -- all religions, that is, that are themselves tolerant. He is right about this. From this Fish concludes that

"The liberal order does not extinguish religions; it just eviscerates them, unless they are the religions that display the same respect for the public-private distinction that liberalism depends on and enforces."

Here I think he makes a mistake. Most American faiths have made their peace with the liberal state, but they also have a wing, at least, that believes that their own faith is, indeed, true. Such democratic faiths refrain from triumphalism and intolerance not because they don't believe their creeds to be true, but because they believe that intolerance is an ineffective way to spread the faith. In a market society, good market competitors win, while crusading warriors lose. Most versions of Christianity, in particular, have been chastened by the disasters of the religious wars and their own experiences of intolerance, both on the giving and the receiving end. I believe that Calvinism has the best-developed theory of why a chastened, self-critical, fair-competition faith is the most insightful basis for evangelism in a fallen world.

Faith within liberal society need not be eviscerated, just because it is humble.


amba said...

I haven't been here for a while -- my blog reading has become constricted by time pressures and rather stereotyped -- but I found that this exhausting discussion was making me miss your sanity. Wish you would come see and comment. I don't know why orthodox Catholics are attracted to me, and I to them -- we are, well, not quite diametrical opposites, but a good 120 degrees apart.

amba said...

That is, in the comments to that post. It was triggered by the mention that Richard Rodriguez is ... yeah, you guessed it, gay.

Gruntled said...

Ah, Amba, who could resist an invitation like that? I have read through the "exhausting discussion," and offered my two cents to turn the discussion back to Richard Rodriguez' main point.