why oh why can’t we have better religions? (take 2)

Prolonging my musings from the previous post. Now the solution to teddy bear naming and state-sponsored creationism is not trying to rid ourselves of organized religion as kevmoore suggests in the comments. For one, i don’t see organized religion vanishing anytime soon (it fulfills too many human sociable needs); second, there is nothing wrong with organized religion per se. The Dalai Lama is a representant of as organized and political a religion as exists, and yet he’s a very good person, doing plenty of good in the world. The problem is not organized religion, but certain religious beliefs.

The problem is here (as always) with people and how those people interpret their religion, beliefs, etc.

I am not as pessimistic though as Daniel who says that “people will always want to prevent religious views they cannot accept”. There are many people (even in the USA!) who are very deferential to other religious beliefs, though they have their own. We call them liberals. And i think there are many many more now than there were a few hundred years ago. That means there’s hope. Of course, some will always remain to go out pushing their beliefs, but they can be excluded from all political positions (as we see in Europe), they can be marginalized for the greater good of society.

The problem with the two examples that have recently made the news is perhaps indeed that people are trying “to prevent religious views they cannot accept”. The solution is not, however, to give up (on religion) but rather to understand why these people are behaving the way they do (i suggested fear as a motive) and to work at solving that.

If fear is involved, then the solution is internal to the religions and i am right in lamenting (channeling DeLong): why oh why can’t we have better religions?!


3 Comments to “why oh why can’t we have better religions? (take 2)”

  1. My comment was quite pessimistic and I should have been more careful. However, clearly you are using the word liberal in a vague sense. There are many kinds of liberals. Take for instance, political liberalism of the 1970 and 80s of Rawls, Larmore, Audi, etc. This type of liberal specifically wants to prohibit religious discourse unless it is mediated by secular reasons. Then take the liberalism of say José Casanova or Jeffrey Stout. They would suggests that the former liberalism is illiberal towards freedom of speech rights. Then there are secular liberals that just want religion to go away.

    As such many liberals would be anything but deferential to religious beliefs. Many would and many would simply not.

    For me, though, I really do not think the issue turns on the quality of religion. I could just as easily ask why we do not have better secular humanisms. I mean, if I voiced certain political opinions at many universities in the US I would simply be doomed towards getting tenture or could be alienated from my department. Once again, I think the issue is that certain public spheres are no longer liberal and many liberals are reactive to this. In many ways roles of discrimination have been reversed. Of course I am talking about a US context.

  2. Daniel – in good christian manner i’ll try to reconcile our positions here 🙂 i’m saying the religious aren’t liberal (i.e. granting freedom to everyone) enough and you’re pointing out that the so-called liberals of today aren’t quite liberal enough either.

    I think you are right that the problem can be viewed as a change in the nature of the public sphere – or at least in our expectations of what the public sphere should be like (i’m not so sure the problem is much _worse_ than it ever was). However, i would still maintain that the only possible solution is for the actors in these spheres to improve (better christians and better liberals) – though even that might well be a pipe dream. i hope not.
    I don’t see much in the nature/structure of the public sphere that can be changed to avoid people abusing of their political power for ideological reasons.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly with your statement that the actors in these spheres need to improve. I suppose this is why I resonate the most with works by such political theorist as Chantal Mouffe, William Connelly, Jeffrey Stout and Nicholas Wolterstorff. All of them in one way or another tolerate unmediated discourse as well as the necessary civic virtues to insure that such discourse is civil. So perhaps I am a bit more optimistic regarding the possibilities of the public sphere. However, I would take this one step back from the public sphere and focus on the kind of culture that could make such civic discourse possible. I think Habermas´s book “On the Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere” illustrates that such a culture existed in the 18th century. I do not have the book handy but I believe chapter three of Taylor´s “A Secular Age” entitled something like `The Disciplinary Society´ talks about this in great detail.

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