Monday, September 7, 2020
Dr. Joel Harrison, of the University of Sydney, has a new book with Cambridge University Press, called Post-Liberal Religious Liberty: Forming Communities of Charity. (Get yours here.) I'm honored that he engages -- critically, but fairly and carefully -- my own church-state writing. I asked him to supply MOJ with an "extended blurb", to give readers a sense of the argument. Here it is:
Post-Liberal Religious Liberty: Forming Communities of Charity (Cambridge University Press, 2020)
Why should we care about religious liberty? What is religious liberty meant to protect? In Post-Liberal Religious Liberty: Forming Communities of Charity (Cambridge University Press, 2020), Joel Harrison argues that religious liberty protects the quest for true religion. It facilitates the free creation of communities of solidarity, fraternity, and charity.
This argument challenges the increasingly popular liberal egalitarian account of religious liberty. According to this account, found in the writing of scholars like Ronald Dworkin and Cécile Laborde, as well as case law, religious liberty is a subset of or signifier for a broader category of liberty, protecting personal autonomy or authenticity. Harrison traces how this has two consequences: it treats as suspect any claim to consider religion, traditionally understood, as especially important; and it leads to the claim that religious groups and persons should increasingly be subject to state law, where the law reflects the claimed autonomy interests of individuals.
Harrison argues that challenging this account requires challenging how liberalism fundamentally understands religion, the ends of a political community, and the role of civil authority. Religion on this understanding is cast as private, and increasingly associated with individual self-definition or even consumption. Political order is cast as secular, with civil authority defined by a logic claimed to be autonomous of religion: negotiating and furthering individual rights-claims. However, this differentiation between religion and the secular rests on a narrative of secularisation that, Harrison argues, is in reality a half-concealed theology.
In contrast, Post-Liberal Religious Liberty recovers a different theological and political vision. It draws especially from Augustine of Hippo, a subsequent tradition of associational thinking, and contemporary post-liberal thinkers like John Milbank. Harrison argues that civil authority should be understood as an arm for pursuing human flourishing, right relationship, or the virtuous life, one complementary with and responsive to the Church. This requires a commitment to religion – the love of God and neighbour – as central to the ends of a political community. Such claims are challenged, in whole or in part, even within Christian thought. Harrison contrasts this argument with the writing of three prominent modern Christian scholars: John Finnis, Richard Garnett, and Nicholas Wolterstorff. However, he argues that only such a commitment makes sense of the liberty of plural religious groups. It points to a good – our common good – that religious liberty serves.