Thursday, October 20, 2016

Why Tolerate Religion?

10/20/2016—-This is the title of Brian Leiter’s 2012 book. Leiter is asking why religion receives preferred treatment in most Western democracies in matters like religious exemptions—-he uses zoning laws that allow religious institutions to expand but not other institutions and an instance in which a Sikh boy is permitted to carry a ceremonial knife as examples.

Leiter concludes that we should treat all claims of conscience the same—-something that many people would agree with—-and that we should generally not permit any exemptions from laws that promote the general welfare—-something many people might disagree with. It is interesting how indifference to religion morphs into indifference toward all claims of conscience.

The book is informed overall by Leiter’s disdain for religious belief. Such beliefs are irrational at best and harmful to society at worst. This attitude is never itself examined. It is taken for granted.

That attitude of entitled secular or liberal judgment about religion is what is most noticeable in the emails hacked from the Presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton. It is not the details of who said what about whom. It is the lack of respect for religion itself. What is missing is any sense of the otherness of religion—-that the religious life is not primarily about policies or dogmas at all. In the view of those exchanging the emails, their political opponents are attracted to something like the Catholic Church out of a desire for social reassurance of their place in society. The possibility that religion might radically challenge someone does not occur to them. (This is of course also true of their own religion).

The religious life is a spiritual adventure that those outside it do not know. The Christian ideal of a relationship with the absolutely accessible and yet impossibly noble and holy figure of Jesus Christ is a striking instance of this quest. As someone who is no longer a part of this organized quest, you have to wonder about people willing to judge religion—-how can they judge when they know so little about it?

Anyway, this disdain is the current dominant secular attitude toward religion and it is displayed in the emails. President Obama exhibited something like in 2008 with his comment about clinging to guns and the Bible. The notion of religion as liberation and freedom, which is how its followers once experienced it, is now culturally foreign.

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