Subject: frontline: the jesus factor: readings: against liberal monism; on secularism & religion | PBS

An Excerpt of the PBS Frontline Article:

These facts suggest a logic for religious engagement in the = civic realm=20 that clashes with a dominant strand of argument in academic = philosophy=20 that, although prominent in scholarly debates, has very little to = do with=20 how people actually talk and act. The academic philosophers insist = that=20 the convictions of the religious need to be translated into a = purely=20 secular idiom if the faithful are to join in political = deliberation. If=20 the religiously minded are not comfortable translating their = convictions=20 into such a secular idiom, they had best remain silent.

Some versions of this argument--for example, that associated = with the=20 late John Rawls--are subtle and complex. Others are much simpler. = They=20 assume that there is a single vocabulary for political discussion; = if your=20 speech lies out side the purview of a secular language of 'public=20 deliberation,' it isn't legitimately public speech at all.

The draconian requirement that a purely secular mode of speech = supplant=20 all other ways of making public argument cuts against the grain of = American political history and civic culture. In the real world of = religion and politics as they actually coexist in America, = citizens resort=20 to 'god talk' at least as much as they use 'rights talk.' Faith = informs=20 the way America speaks and has always spoken. The U.S. = Constitution never=20 required that people give up the communal dimensions of their = faith as the=20 price for civic admission. Catholics, Lutherans, Jews--all built = networks=20 of schools and charitable institutions. Jews, in particular, = distinguished=20 themselves publicly through visible markers of their identity in = dress and=20 in dietary regulations. Even a cursory glance at our history shows = the=20 manner in which confessional pluralism and social pluralism have = been=20 linked in the American polity as religious differences were marked = publicly through a variety of modes of communal identification. = One reason=20 that America's religious institutions are such an indispensable = part of=20 American civil society is that religion in America has never been=20 compelled to privatize itself along the lines suggested by = Rawls.

For the first 150 years of the American republic, primary=20 responsibility for religious rights and liberties was lodged in = the=20 states. No federal law governing religious institutions in their = relation=20 to the government was ever passed. The federal government got into = the act=20 where religion is concerned--at least in a big way--only during = the last=20 half century.

In recent years, a constitutional position has emerged that = might be=20 called strong separationism. This position seeks to do on the = level of law=20 what a strict version of Rawlsian philosophy aims to do in the = realm of=20 discourse-namely, to strip public life of religious markers, = emblems, and=20 ceremony.

I have called this position liberal monism, for its origins lie = in=20 certain strands of classical liberal political philosophy. This = position=20 holds that all institutions within a democratic society must = conform to a=20 single authority principle; a single standard of what counts as = reason and=20 deliberation; a single vocabulary of political discussion. Within = this=20 position, religion is routinely discounted-as the secularization=20 hypothesis would have it--as irrationalism, or as a search for=20 epistemological privilege.

According to liberals like Rawls, citizens who are believers = are=20 obliged to translate every view supported by their beliefs into a=20 purportedly 'neutral' secular language. Only in this way, so the = argument=20 goes, can Americans achieve some kind of workable civic = consensus.

From the standpoint of religious belief, however, 'the problem' = looks=20 quite different: for what Rawls proposes would dramatically narrow = the=20 purview of religion as it actually exists within American civil=20 society.

Rather than asking how much religion can, or should, the polity = tolerate, we might pose a different question instead: What sort of = political arrangements "enable religion to play the constructive = public=20 role that religious commitments themselves demand?" (1)

One enters political life as a citizen. But if one also has = religious=20 convictions, these convictions naturally will inform one's = judgments as a=20 citizen. My religious views help to determine who I am, how I = think, and=20 what I care about. This is as it should be. In America it makes no = sense=20 to ask people to bracket what they care about most deeply when = they debate=20 issues that are properly political.

This is the = provocative=20 suggestion of the theologian Robin Lovin.

Copyright 2003 American Academy of Arts and = Sciences

[The "totalitarinism of relativism" has been phrased to describe the dominance of a single, absolutist viewpoint masquerading as the philosophy of relativism, whatever that is. That totalitarianism seeks to exercise mind and speech control by outlawing all other forms of absolutist thought and religious expression. It then is comparable to liberal monism, which is allowing only One Kind of Speech in This Nation's political Life, by defining what is and what is not Politically Correct?--Ed]