Tuesday, March 28, 2023

"The political benefits of religion..."

Burke on the proper place of politics:
During his first few years in England, Edmund Burke compiled essay sketches and fragments in a notebook published only in the mid-twentieth century. One of the entries in that notebook, possibly co-written with his distant cousin William Burke, is entitled “Religion of No Efficacy Considered as a State Engine.” ....

The premise is simple: Religion has salutary benefits for social and political life. But once it is seen primarily in a political context—when it becomes merely a “state engine”—it fails to provide those benefits.
If you attempt to make the end of Religion to be its Utility to human Society, to make it only a sort of supplement to the Law, and insist principally upon this topic, as is very common to do, you then change its principle of Operation, which consists on Views beyond this Life, to a consideration of another kind, and of an inferior kind.
.... In his later life...Burke would identify the social benefit of religion as its ability to overawe all other social calculations and considerations. It reminds us that all we say and do has cosmic significance. Placing all human endeavors next to the sublimity of God, as he noted in his Philosophical Enquiry, has the effect of diminishing our opinion of ourselves and our capabilities: “Whilst we contemplate so vast an object, under the arm, as it were, of almighty power, and invested upon every side with omnipresence, we shrink into the minuteness of our own nature, and are, in a manner, annihilated before him.” ....

The political benefits of religion, then, rely on the humility that true religion ought to produce. And, as the young Burke suggested, it could only come as a side effect of a religion that was not focused primarily on political and social affairs. ....

As Burke would eloquently argue throughout his life, unity around a genuine religious tradition can have great social benefits insofar as it places politics in a context that reveals its own insufficiency and limits. But his observations are a reminder that the question of public religion is much more complicated than a matter of whether, abstractly, religion is good for social life. Also at stake are the substantive teachings of the religion itself, the public perception of it, and its effects on the souls of those wielding it.

Minds shaped by the pulpit may, depending on what is taught there, lead to better citizens and better statesmen. But pulpits focused mostly on political matters are necessarily degraded from their true purpose and therefore self-defeating. .... (more)
John G. Grove, "A 'Religion of No Efficacy'," Law & Liberty, March 24, 2023.

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