habermas on religion

There is, believe it or not, an article online by the immeasurable Jürgen Habermas on Religion in the Public Sphere.

I will just raise the following point:

Habermas believes that religion conform to the democratic idea of will formation, under the proviso that this will of the people be rational and justified (ie explained). In effect, he accepts the role of the State as a monolithic institution that embodies the will of the people, in an almost Rousseauvian fashion. I am not so sure this is anymore the right way of going at this. Religion, and for that mater culture and identity in general, do not fit well within nation states. The only reason that they seemed to, or did in the european past, is that the states in questions were culturally and to a great extent religiously homogeneous. It is only recently that states have become much more multicultural and diverse. Old political ideas no longer work as they used to. As better solution than asking minorities to bow to the will of the majority would be to limit the role of states as much as possible and to supplement them with another type of state-like institution that is not geographically but rather culturally or religiously defined. These later institutions would help to alleviate some of the alienation that many immigrants feel in western european countries.It is perhaps time for a separation of state and culture.

The idea of the state as a monolithic entity over and against the individual seems hopelessly ingrained into political thought. The only solution to our multicultural and religious problems seems to be to get everyone to somehow agree on some compromise that everyone will have to live with. This cannot be the best solution. Why does the state have to make such decisions, anyway? Why can we not imagine different kinds of social organization that would be more flexible than our old and arthritic nation-states?

Habermas wants religious people to, as much as possible, translate their religious talk into secular arguments, so that everyone can understand (does this remind anyone else of 1 Corinthians 14?) and decide for one solution or anther that all will accept. Why does a state controlling anywhere from a few million to (soon) a few billion citizens have to make a law about, say abortion or gay marriages or retirement insurance, that will necessarily apply to everyone? Could we not come up with organizations that would create and enforce laws on a more limited basis so that only those who are really concerned both vote on and follow the regulations? I can very well envision nation states ‘delegating’ a very sizable chunk of their current responsibilities to dispersed but legally structured communities of like-minded people that would legislate their own problems. Thus conservative christians could ban abortion and gay marriages among all members of their community without anyone else having to comply; muslims could enforce their own laws; and bleeding-heart liberals could belong to communities with a 50% income tax that was redistributed among themselves and to any one else they decided to help. The good old nation state would take care of infrastructure (anything geographically fixed) and would legally oversee all these other organizations.

That to me seems like a better solution than simply asking religious people to try and translate their ideas into liberalese. For what it’s worth.


5 Comments to “habermas on religion”

  1. You may want to look to states such as Malaysia, and to some extent India, who have done this and consider their successes and failings in the area.

    But it really depends on the beliefs held within those sub-communities. For many this idea of religious liberalism is counter to the logic of their own beliefs. You will get varying degrees of success depending on the communities which make up your mix.

    Additionally you always have to look at the ability to move from one group to another, as this will affect the success of each group–and is handled differently even within states in Malaysia.

    Since the economic success of a state is not independent of it’s neighbors, you will also breed discontent between groups as finances shift from one to another. Tax level X is normally only successful if it is not easy to invest in a neighboring country or state (which is roughly what you are creating here). So the overal economic structure cannot really be separated from the independent parts.

    I’m not saying this doesn’t occassionally work in fairly desparate situations, but I don’t think it has always led to the greatest contentment and peace.

  2. What laws would the state “legally” oversee, and who would make these laws?

    In practice, wouldn’t the “communities” eventually be geographically as well as ideologically organized?

  3. @ Blue Athena
    I must admit that i hadn’t thought about those asian attempts when writing that post. I will try to defend my proposal by explaining how it could differ from these attempts.

    The main problem with the Indian/Malaysian solutions (as far as the little i know goes) is that they’ve sticked to closely to religious/cultural fault lines. Those are, of course, lines that i am also trying to maintain, though i am also trying to break them into smaller pieces. I think the main feature of a new division of powers in the state must be not so much along religious lines but along types of administration. These new entities would have to be a mix between corporations, cooperatives and governments: that is, they would obey the market:
    (1) they would have to compete among one another for ‘clients’ or ‘members’;
    (2) there would never be one and only one, say, muslim entity recognized by the state, but any number could pop up and compete;
    (3) the nation state would ensure that you could easily switch;
    (4) the nation state could legislate any amount of money transfers between them to assuge inequality;
    (5) they would be suable entities.
    (6) they would be trans-national: you could remain a member of the same entity even when you changed countries.

    I think some such requirements would turn these entities more into corporations/insurance companies and turn them away from being political extensions of religious ‘churches’. The goal is to take existing forms of more or less amorphous religious control and pressure and institutionalize them – so that we can monitor what is happening and legislate it, while helping people maintain a sense of identity and continuity no matter where they live.

  4. @ senor snore

    i envision entities that cross national lines just as multinational corporations do and that are regulated by national and international law just as multinationals are. They would not be geographically based as any one would probably serve, say 5%-95% of the population of any number of states. Keeping them from ideologically organizing would be more difficult – and perhaps counter productive. The point is to create a sense of identity that transcends national borders, while remaining subjected to national states through legislation.

  5. An interesting survey of a response by Cardinal Ruini to Habermas’ argument:

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