4/9/2011—Those who still think you can separate church and state in a fundamental way—that is, in anything more than an institutional way in which government does not pay clergy—should look at the essay by Ronald Dworkin in the New York Review of Books in the February 10, 2011 issue (What Is a Good Life?) based on his new book, Justice for Hedgehogs, and on the review of that book in the April 28, 2011 issue (Birth of a Classic) by A.C. Grayling.
Now I don’t think very much of the book from what I can tell without reading it. But that is because of a problem I have with Dworkin. He always seems to me to define his way to his conclusions rather than thinking his way there. Thus, although he is too smart for me ever to spot it, I have the feeling that rabbits are being stuffed in hats. When did Dworkin ever come to a conclusion he did not already hold?
Nevertheless, both the essay and the review show that the fundamental human questions don’t change that much whether we are religious or not. Here is Dworkin, a secularist, on the responsibility to live an ethical life, which for Dworkin is the ground of all morality:
“You might ask: responsibility to whom? It is misleading to answer: responsibility to ourselves. People to whom responsibilities are owed can normally release those who are responsible, but we cannot release ourselves from our responsibility to live well. We must instead acknowledge an idea that I believe we almost all accept in the way we live but that is rarely explicitly formulated or acknowledged. We are charged to live well by the bare fact of our existence as self-conscious creatures with lives to lead. We are charged in the way we are charged by the value of anything entrusted to our care. It is important that we live well; not important just to us or to anyone else, but just important.”
Now if you say it is important to live rightly because the universe has created self-consciousness in us and, as far as we know yet, nowhere else, how is your answer much different from saying God created us in His image? Isn’t Dworkin right in saying the conclusion is the point?
Now listen to this description by Grayling on Dworkin and the objectivity of values—the very point at issue in Church, State, and the Crisis in American Secularism, which as you all know will be published next month by Indiana Press:
“Dworkin is an ‘objectivist’ about value: he thinks there really are better and worse ways for people to live, better and worse political institutions, better and worse theories of the value of art and the nature of democracy. In this he goes against the majority trend of thinking about value in contemporary debate. ‘We cannot defend a theory of justice,’ he writes, ‘without also defending, as part of the same enterprise, a theory of moral objectivity. It is irresponsible to try to do without such a theory.’”
But, as C.S. Lewis says, objective values is the essence of all religion. It is based on the claim that we are a certain way and the universe is a certain way and therefore certain ways to live are objectively right and others objectively wrong. (Dworkin denies this mix of fact and value by the way but I’m not sure that would matter to Lewis. These are in-house debates and that house contains religion and secular philosophy.)