Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Religion and "values"

In this Times (London) op-ed, the editors contend that "the real strength of religion today rests in its values":

The truths of Christianity, Islam, Judaism and the other world faiths that command the respect of millions do not lie in items of clothing or the display of insignia. They lie in the eternal verities of human relations, the selfless practice of morality and in Man’s relationship with God. But in our materialistic age, two trends have become apparent: a growing intolerance towards the faithful by an increasingly secular society; and a retreat into symbolism by those who are firm in their faith and increasingly contemptuous of that secular society.

It is the nature and claims of secular society that have largely provoked both these tends. As society has become increasingly atomised, with the frequent break-up of families, greater mobility and a more frenetic pace of life, so we lay ever more responsibility on our nanny state to legislate for happiness, opportun-ity and personal “rights”.

So far, so good.  Next:

True faith should not be a source of conflict. Faith should instead be a force for cohesion — social, spiritual and ethical. Religion that is perverted to become akin to a totalitarian philosophy is no true religion, but a politicisation and distortion of faith. That is what is wrong with extremism and intolerance, whether it be al-Qaeda killers who murder in the name of Islam or the Ku Klux Klan that trumpets its “Christian” values.

The essence of belief is in valuing all life and acknowledging individual differences. That necessarily makes tolerance a fundamental principle in Western societies that are multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. And if and where this principle conflicts with religious claims to a monopoly of righteousness and spiritual guidance, those claims must be questioned by adherents as well as by opponents.

The force of this assertion depends, I suppose, a lot on what the writer means by "religious claims to a monopoly of righteousness and spiritual guidance."  If the argument is "non-judgmentalism is a fundamental principle of free society and so religious truth claims are inherently suspect and, indeed, inadmissible in such a society," then, well, I'm unmoved.  If it is just that "religious believers who imagine that only those who share their beliefs are decent people, worthy of respect and just treatment," then the claim is unassailable, though somewhat trivial. 

Religion is about much more than values; the Faith is about more than "ethics"; and insisting on "cohesion" is, to me, far more troubling than recognizing the disagreements and divisions that always come (unless they are suppressed) with pluralism.


Garnett, Rick | Permalink

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