Monday, October 31, 2005
All right, Rick! Let's have a good old fashioned Protestant-Catholic brawl on Reformation Day.
I don't know exactly what the argument underlying your thesis is, and I might actually agree with it. But here are two thoughts that should at least call it into question. One is that the Reformation emphasized the importance of individual conscience, which certainly plays an important role in arguments for political freedom. (I know, I know, unmitigated individualism leads to (a) the need for a Hobbesian Leviathan to control things and (b) unrestrained wants for which people demand big government to make provision and (c) the destruction of intermediate institutions; and the Reformation brought all that on. We'd have to have a long conversation about whether Protestantism meant unmitigated conscience, and what the status of conscience was in medieval Catholicism, and probably some other things as well.)
Second, just the very fact of fundamental disagreement leads ultimately to government having to provide greater freedom. This I take to be one of the theses of John Courtney Murray in his argument in the late 1940s that the religion clauses were "articles of peace, not articles of faith." And it was picked up by Gerry Bradley in his 1987 article on the "no religious tests" clause, arguing that the religion clauses stemmed from the practical fact of pluralism rather than from a theory of individual conscience (for which Protestants have tended to claim credit). (Is there a difference between political and religious freedom on this score?) But even if the rationale for freedom was the fact of disagreement rather than the idea of individualism, isn't the Reformation also responsible for the fact of disagreement?