Thursday, July 29, 2010
In the New York Times, Feisal Mohamed offers a "third way" between Varro and Augustine in matters of religious liberty. Varro distinguished "natural theology" from "civil theology" -- the latter referring to the theology acceptable in public observance -- while Augustine wondered why, if natural theology is truly natural, it should be excluded from the city. Mohamed explains:
Political and religious positions must be measured against the purity of truths, rightly conceived as those principles enabling the richest possible lives for our fellow human beings.
I'm all in favor of pure truths and rich lives, so maybe Mohamed is on to something. Wait a second, though -- how would this work in practice?
The kind of women’s fashion favored by the Taliban might legitimately be outlawed as an instrument of gender apartheid — though one must have strong reservations about the enforcement of such a law, which could create more divisiveness than it cures. The standard of human harmony provides strong resistance to anti-gay prejudice, stripping it of its wonted mask of righteousness. It objects in disgust to Pope Benedict XVI when he complains about Belgian authorities seizing church records in the course of investigating sexual abuse; it also praises the Catholic Church for the humanitarian and spiritual services it provides on this country’s southern border, which set the needs of the human family above arbitrary distinctions of citizenship. The last example shows that some belief provides a deeply humane resistance to state power run amok. To belief of this kind there is no legitimate barrier.
What a solution! I'm not sure how this "third way" is different than Varro's "civil theology," except that the definitional content built into the "civil" requirement amounts to the World As Your Humble Author Thinks It Should Be.