The Naked Public Square Revisited, Part III
After pulling together the two previous postings of The Naked Public Square Revisited, Parts I & II, I returned home this weekend to find the December 27 issue of National Review with its cover article entitled “Secularism & Its Discontents.” In the article, Ramesh Ponnuru offers some further insights into the debate about the public square.
Ponnuru reiterates how inappropriate name-calling has become the norm:
…most liberals, including religious ones, do find Christian conservatism dangerous in a way that makes it similar in principle, if not in virulence, to the Taliban…The idea that Christian conservatives and Islamofascists can be reasonably or fairly compared in this fashion is such a common-place that people who propound it often do not seem to think that they are saying anything provocative…
Putting things into perspective, Ponnuru notes:
My point…is to note that introducing nearly every one of these policies [of the religious Right] would merely turn the clock back to the late 1950’s. That may be a very bad idea, but the America of the 1950’s was not a theocracy.
America at the time of its Founding was, by contemporary standards, including contemporary conservative standards, shockingly illiberal…
At the same time, Ponnuru offers the following appropriate suggestion to religious conservatives:
To the extent that religious conservatives are jumping from policy disagreements to accusations of bigotry against some persons – and this does happen – they ought to stop. And while there is no constitutional requirement that people make political arguments in terms that can be understood by fellow citizens with different religious views, it is a reasonable request.
He then turns his attention to how liberals often twist the relationship between faith and reason in this debate:
The way liberals typically deploy the distinction between faith and reason in public-policy argument could also stand some interrogation. There are good reasons to think that it involves real unfairness to religious conservatives, or at least to their views.
Liberals tend to assume, without reflection, that the rational view of an issue is the one that most non-religious people take. The idea that a religious tradition could strengthen people’s reason – could help them reach rationally sound conclusions they might not otherwise reach – rarely occurs to them…liberalism’s general tendency is to identify reason with irreligion.
When you have read the likes of Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, it is hard not to find this reaction just plain annoying – not to mention just plain ignorant.
Ponnuru states the core problem in a way complementary to how Neuhaus did in the previous posting:
Liberalism’s hymns to reason always end up truncating reason. They are pleas for open debate designed to rule things out of debate…Let us imagine a conservative who says that abortion should be illegal because it kills human beings. His liberal friend responds that this sort of theological talk is inadmissable in a democracy because it violates the rules of open debate. We can see that this liberal has misrepresented his friend’s views and shut down the discussion – all in the name of reasoned argument. Yet that conversation happens all the time in our politics, and somehow we don’t see it.
If I’m right about liberalism’s instinctive reflexes, then contemporary liberalism has forfeited the creed’s ancient claim to promote civil peace…But if liberal secularism amounts to the unwitting imposition of the views of an irreligious minority on a religious majority, then it hardly seems likely to foster social harmony. Nor has it.
Finally, Ponnuru offers a sobering thought on what this all means during a time when Americans face a dedicated and evil external foe:
Liberalism’s confusions about church and state matter more now that we are in a war with actual theocrats, murderous ones. It is one thing to fight a war for religious freedom, pluralism, and modernity. It is another to fight a war for those things as liberals understand them…