Friday, July 02, 2004

Underminding the Foundation Myths of Liberalism

Jim Kalb links to an intriguing piece attacking the standard "the secular state arose as an alternative to wars of religion" thesis. A quotation:

Now the first problem with the attempt to make religion public is that it is still religion. Neuhaus, the Himeses, and McBrien all abide by McBrien's "working assumption" that "religion is a universal category (genus) and that Christianity is one of its particular forms (species)."71 Talal Asad's critique of Geertz' work provides us with a useful antidote to these universalist constructions of religion. Asad shows how the attempt to identify a distinctive essence of religion, and thus protect it from charges that it is nothing more than an epiphenomenon of "politics" or "economics," is in fact linked with the modem removal of religion from the spheres of reason and power.72 Religion is a universal essence detachable from particular ecclesial practices, and as such can provide the motivation necessary for all citizens of whatever creed to regard the nation?state as their primary community, and thus produce peaceful consensus. As we have seen, religion as a transhistorical phenomenon separate from "politics" is a creation of Western modernity designed to tame the Church. Religion may take different cultural and symbolic expressions, but it remains a universal essence generically distinct from political power which then must be translated into publicly acceptable "values" in order to become public currency. Religion is detached from its specific locus in disciplined ecclesial practices so that it may be compatible with the modem Christian's subjection to the discipline of the State.

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