Saturday, May 24, 2008

David A. Hollinger on alliance with liberal religion

By David A. Hollinger

Recently I reviewed on this blog Hollinger's essay collection Science, Jews and Secular Culture. The essay cited above can be found on a site rich in resources:

Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture (ISSSC).

I haven't kept up with the development of Hollinger's intellectual career, so I don't have a full picture yet as to what he is all about. In this essay, Hollinger advocates an alliance with liberal religionists, adding the proviso that instead of proscribing debates over religion in favor of cooperative efforts on other social issues, religion itself should be debated in the public sphere in hopes of winning over religionists to the more benign, liberal side of religion.

I have some reservations about Hollinger's formulation. America's civic religion has deteriorated badly ever since Jimmy Carter announced he was born again, something I had never heard of before he showed up on the national scene to destroy the Democratic Party from within. American civic religion was already excessively pumped up since the onset of the Cold War, albeit slightly moderated by the invocation of a fictitious Judaeo-Christian tradition on the part of Eisenhower and others which covered up the inherent anti-Semitism of a Christian nation. But from the moment JFK declared the absolute separation of church and state in 1960, secularism was on the upswing. Then, any specific discussion of religious issues was safely kept out of sight so that public business, including popular culture via television (with the exception of Billy Graham's noxious crusades), could be conducted with minimal turbulence. But as what Americans call liberalism broke down in the late '70s, so the secular bourgeois democratic consensus was dealt a serious blow with the rise of the New Right and the election of Reagan. And with the dumbed-down millennium and Baby Bush's coup d'etat, the Constitution as well as secular democracy has been converted to toilet paper. Now the Democratic Party is a party of faith. The religious left has now become dangerously theocratic.

So what to say about Hollinger's proposal? I think religion should be excluded from policy discourse if not from public discourse, unless we plan to reinstitute the Middle Ages, withcraft trials, and similar intrusions into public business on a supernaturalist basis. Democracy cannot live where any other than rationally discussable and accountable propositions are the objects of public policy debate under the tacit assumption of a naturalistic universe, whatevcer private beliefs are held. This question was seemingly settled a long time ago, but ever since the New Right got a foothold in the media, secular debate becomes tied up with Biblical interpretation. If you remember, for example, Phil Donahue's engagement with the likes of Jerry Falwell, you will have an apt reference point. Religious discourse should be militantly excluded from the political sphere, and if it the issue comes up, the justification for excluding it should be the inherent authoritarian and theocratic nature of injecting religious belief into the political/legal system. Religious issues should be publicly debated in fora specficially tailored to such discussions, but religion should be persona non grata in the political sphere.

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