Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Emphasizing Religion's Societal Contributions is Not "Capitulation" (or Even Bad "Conciliation" )

Marc places a passage from political philosopher Ryszard Legutko in "conversation" with my assertion (in this post) that "[i]n an increasingly secular-oriented public square, it seems to me, arguments for religious freedom will increasingly be unable to take the value of religion as an accepted premise: they will have to appeal explicitly to, and then demonstrate, the distinctive contributions that religious organizations make." That sentence introduces the post, which in turn links to my article exploring how exactly the societal contributions that religious organizations make are relevant to the case for religious freedom. In that article I assert that the societal contributions are part of the case for religious freedom: "an important strain in America’s religious freedom tradition" is that "we protect voluntary religious organizations is that they are important means by which individuals develop and exercise 'civic virtue.'” I then acknowledge some objections to this argument and briefly develop some corresponding answers.

The Legutko passage describes, critically, two of the strategies Christians might adopt toward liberal democracy: "conciliation" and "capitulation." (I should make clear that can react only to this passage, because I don't know the book's broader arguments.)

The aim of the conciliatory Christians has been to avoid conflicts with the liberal democrats and to adapt themselves to the existing system, which they thought sufficiently spacious and friendly to include Christianity together with other religions; the aim of the Christians who have capitulated is to be admitted to the liberal-democratic club, and in order to do it they are willing to accept any terms and concessions, convinced that remaining outside this club or being refused entrance would bring infamy on them.

I'm not sure whether Marc's suggestion is that arguing for religious freedom based on religion's societal contributions reflects "conciliation" or that it reflects "capitulation." (From the quoted description, capitulation sounds worse, but "conciliation" sounds naive). I don't think it reflects either, really. I'm talking about arguments in the legal and political arena that religious organizations should be legally free to follow their tenets and identity, even in the face of conflicting laws, when they serve and employ others in society. (The provision of service and employment to others outside the immediate religious community is what's triggering the most serious threats to religious freedom; the legal position of churches as such still remains pretty strong, although not impregnable.)

If an organization advocates for the ability to follow its tenets in the face of the law, it certainly is not capitulating: it's not showing a "willing[ness] to accept any [and all] terms and concessions." It's not like, for example, Catholic colleges dropping major religious elements in order to be eligible for government funding. Here the organization advocates to preserve its differences, not to shed them. (Elsewhere I've argued that these organizations are "partly unacculturated" in that they adhere to certain counter-cultural norms, and that they may be effective because they are willing to be counter-cultural.)

The "societal contributions" argument is "conciliatory," but only in the sense that making any argument in the legal or political system seeks to work within that system and holds out some hope for doing so. Perhaps the hope is misplaced and no arguments will succeed--but we don't know that, and the project still seems worth pursuing, among other things because I don't see that it involves any compromise of principle, i.e. "capitulation." This kind of "conciliation" does not seem to fit Legutko's analysis, later in the paragraph, that conciliation rests on the premise

that an enormous part of the activities of churches and an enormous area of religion have nothing to do with politics, socialism, liberal democracy, or anything related. Religion and churches are about God, souls, and salvation. Therefore, because we live in a civil society governed by the rule of law, waging big political battles against it is not only meaningless from the perspective of religion but pulls the churches away from their primary mission, which is that of evangelization.

To the contrary, the "societal contributions" argument asserts that religious organizations are not simply "about God, souls, and salvation": they have service work in society at their religious core, as a matter of loving their neighbors. (Service to others is in fact part of "evangelization," but the Legutko passage seems to use that term in the narrow sense of saving souls--which sounds more fundamentalist-Protestant than Catholic.) So while the "societal contributions" argument may defend religious freedom in secular terms, it does not adopt secularism in the sense of privatizing religion and conceding its irrelevance to society. To contrary, it argues for religious freedom precisely because religion is relevant to society. 

I would describe arguing for religious freedom based on religion's societal contributions not as conciliation or capitulation, but as a kind of political/civil "apologetics." All apologetics assumes some receptivity in the hearer; in that (limited) sense it's conciliatory, but it seems to me in that limited sense, the Catholic tradition itself is conciliatory.

I also think that the "societal contributions" argument fits with a Catholic (and more broadly Christian) understanding of civil society, where moral and "political" claims are is not limited to claims about what moral projects government itself should pursue. The argument is that religious organizations also serve moral/political/social goods: they  are mediating institutions that make distinctive contributions to a flourishing society.

This is one among several arguments for religious freedom--aimed at people in the ideological/political/jurisprudential middle. Those are the arguments that I generally choose to pursue and refine, in my current work, because I think they have a chance of succeeding.


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