Thursday, February 22, 2007

"Narrowing the Religion Gap?"

The Left, including some on the Religious Left, have, in recent years, - the years since the "Religious Right" appeared - objected to religion and religiously-inspired values in the public square. What follows below is a saner view. Gary Rosen in the New York Times Magazine:
...Whatever their private views, most of today's big-time social conservatives speak in public as faith-based policy wonks, not as preachers of fire and brimstone. Consider James C. Dobson, the controversial founder of Focus on the Family. In a recent article titled "Two Mommies Is One Too Many," he objected to the impending parenthood of Mary Cheney and her partner. The core of his argument? What he trumpets as "more than 30 years of social-science evidence" showing that children do best with a married mother and father.

Is Dobson persuasive about the supposed evils of gay parenthood? Not to me. But the case he makes is based on an asserted set of facts - facts that are open to challenge and dependent on neither revelation nor church writ. Yes, he also avers in passing that traditional marriage is "God's design for the family and is rooted in biblical truth," and this is probably what motivates him. But is there anything wrong with so frankly religious a premise? Does it somehow disqualify his arguments?

Here is where the dogmatists of the secular left come in. Looking to fend off Bible-toting conservatives, the philosopher Richard Rorty argued more than a decade ago that in a modern democracy, faith should be a strictly private matter and has no place in public discussion. Traditional religion, he wrote, is a "conversation stopper," a source of values before which nonbelievers can be only mum. The same rigid divide informs a recent manifesto "in defense of science and secularism" signed by such academic luminaries as Daniel C. Dennett, Steven Pinker, Peter Singer and Edward O. Wilson. They urge the country's political leaders "not to permit legislation or executive action to be influenced by religious beliefs."

So categorical a rejection of faith in the public square is impossible to reconcile with our political traditions, of course. It sweeps away not just today's social conservatives but also abolitionism, women's suffrage and the civil rights movement. Dr. King without the almighty? Unthinkable. Conceding the extremism of his earlier view, Rorty himself has backtracked. Citizens should feel free to speak as believers, he now suggests, so long as they don't simply "cite authority, scriptural or otherwise."

It's a reasonable standard. After all, very few of us, whether religious or secular, can easily articulate our views about fundamental things. On questions of human dignity and human ends, we tend to sputter and assert, setting out propositions that are difficult to justify to those who don't share them. Invoking secular values like "autonomy" or "self-realization" can be just as much of a "conversation stopper" as appealing to the Bible. What we owe one another are concrete explanations, grounded in terms we might hope to share.
Source: The Way We Live Now - Narrowing the Religion Gap? - Gary Rosen - New York Times

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