Saturday, July 7, 2018
In light of its pertinence again--it's an issue that never seems to go out of style--and what I believe to be a prototypically "Response One" form of engagement in the column Rick links to below, I'm reposting this from seven years ago (I'm old now) on the unavoidable shallowness of inquiries about religion for political ends.
Jacques Lacan’s famous discussion of Freudian psychoanalysis as a form of talking cure, in which the analyst is able to shape the meanings of the subject’s hangups and mental infirmities, came to my mind during the recent exchange between Rick Garnett, Paul Horwitz, Rob Vischer, and others (see here) on the issue of quizzing political candidates about how their religious beliefs will affect their decisions. Yesterday, as my colleague Mark notes, Ross Douthat had a column on the issue, with a number of interesting recommendations for journalists.
But I had a thought that may strike some as perhaps a little heterodox. I want to make a point in (partial, limited) defense of the Rortian “religion as conversation-stopper” view (which Rorty only really very partially revised after an elegant intervention by Jeffrey Stout a few years ago). When candidate X claims that she is informed in her thinking about political issue Y by her religious beliefs and traditions, this is sometimes (not always, but often enough) not the sort of claim that can be understood thoroughly by the public through thorough public discussion, stimulated by extensive question and answer sessions devised by journalists otherwise hostile to the candidate’s political position. What is more likely to happen is that religion — whether the candidate’s or not — will be used as a kind of instrument through which the journalist’s political orientation can be reaffirmed and re-cemented.
Two points are often heard against this view, which I’ll call Response One and Response Two. Response One is that this is the candidate’s own fault. She, after all, is using religion for political advancement of one kind or another. Why is it not then fair to use religion to knock her down — to erase the political advantage that she has gained, and to strike political blows against her to boot? The candidate did not have to mention religion; but now that she has, religion is “fair game.” Response Two is that engaging with the candidate’s religious views takes religion and the candidate herself seriously — it engages in discursive good faith with the candidate. We do not say to the candidate, “You have improperly introduced a forbidden subject into the political exchange.” We say instead, ‘We want to understand you, and since your religious tradition seems to be important enough to you that you raise it to explain, or ground, or at least situate your position, we would like to probe your religious views by the medium of public discourse. We’d like to understand your view, which you’ve informed us is religiously grounded, by talking through it to see if we find it persuasive. Talking will help.”
I want to examine the responses in turn. Response One is motivated by an adversarially political aim, and it seems to me that it is a true reflection of the way in which political discourse is conducted. That is because political discourse is, fundamentally (though of course not universally), shallow.
Monday, July 2, 2018
Kevin Walsh and I have an op ed today in the New York Times about the Supreme Court, the culture, and what to hope for from whoever replaces Justice Anthony Kennedy. A bit:
[W]ith Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement last week, many of our fellow conservatives are suddenly buoyant. They believe everything is about to change. It is a perennial temptation. If only one or two justices had been different — a Robert Bork rather than an Anthony Kennedy, an “anybody else” rather than a David Souter — then, it is imagined, we would inhabit a different constitutional universe. The problem is simply a matter of personnel. Now at last we will get our chance to fix the country, they think.
Let us not get our hopes too high. Even if Justice Kennedy is replaced with an actual conservative, as we hope and expect, the Supreme Court cannot save a degraded culture, nor can it degrade a virtuous one — not too much in either direction, at least. Conservatives seeking lasting change are better advised to attend to our failures in the broader culture than to prepare the way for our Supreme Court savior. Otherwise, we are likely to be sorely disappointed.
Why? Because law, like politics, generally conforms to the culture. The Supreme Court is shaped by the culture that surrounds it; its instinct is to follow, not to lead. Consider the sexual autonomy cases of the 1960s and ’70s, or the cases involving civic displays of religion in the 1980s and ’90s, or the gay rights cases of this century. In each instance, the court channeled the views of a preferred emerging cultural constituency — about the sexual revolution, about secularization, about same-sex relationships — in recognizing the corresponding rights. The Psalmist was right to warn against trust in princes…
To be sure, law is important. It forms the culture around us, just as much as it is informed by it. Indeed, the Supreme Court has made itself a powerful symbol of an American yearning to resolve profound cultural conflict once and for all. It has come to exercise a potent didactic function over the past several decades. It instructs us, scolds us and exhorts us to follow it. It has become a relentless smasher and refashioner of rights.
As some feverishly speculate about which 5-to-4 decisions of the recent past will soon vanish, we counsel patience. Conservatives have rightly criticized the judicial manufacture of rights; let us not make the mirror-image mistake of urging immediate doctrinal demolition. The legal landscape may change for the better through erosion and accretion, rather than avulsion and ill-considered construction.
Chief Justice John Marshall once wrote that “a constitution is framed for ages to come, and is designed to approach immortality as nearly as human institutions can approach it.” But today, new constitutional law is born and killed off in waves in response to the felt imperatives of cultural change. This is the Supreme Court we have now, borne of the culture we have now. No bright, shiny, new justice can change it alone.
Wednesday, June 27, 2018
When the big Obamacare case came down in 2012, one of the most interesting features of the resulting ferment was Larry Solum's insight that the disagreement between the sides could be understood as a fundamental divergence as to overarching conceptions of the scope of the Commerce Clause and the validity of the "New Deal Settlement." A "gestalt" is an organizing framework for understanding a particular legal issue--a jurisprudential weltanschauung. A gestalt is "the big picture that integrates a high-level description of doctrine with vindicating narratives and justifying normative theories." The gestalt does not mandate a particular outcome. But it situates and shapes the general perception of a case in such a way as to orient the interpreter in a very particular direction.
Larry's insight was that there are competing gestalts when it comes to the Commerce Clause. One gestalt--informed heavily by the New Deal--has it that "Congress had plenary and virtually unlimited legislative power—subject, of course, to the limits imposed by the individual rights provisions of the Constitution." "Imagine," wrote Larry,
a sea of federal power that spans the globe. The New Federalism decisions of the Rehnquist Court created islands of state power, including the anticommandeering principle of Printz v. United States and New York v. United States, the expanded Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity doctrine of Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, and the Lopez and Morrison limits on the Commerce Clause. Thus, the prevailing gestalt underwent modification—the ocean of federal power was dotted with isolated islands of state sovereignty—but the basic pattern (the sea of federal power) remained intact.
The alternative gestalt, in Solum's telling, accepts the New Deal Settlement but adopts a "this far and no further" attitude toward it. The New Federalism cases (Lopez, Morrison, and now possibly NFIB, etc.) correct the errors of the most extreme of the New Deal gestalt cases (e.g., Wickard) and invert the oceanic metaphor. It is state, not federal, power that controls the gestalt. Or at least it should and it will.
I want to suggest that recent cases involving religious freedom, and many future cases, reflect a working out of a parallel set of gestalts as to religious freedom. And the competing gestalts are likely to become more fixed in the coming years--more distinct and therefore less capable of reconciliation. They are fundamentally different ways of seeing things.
In what one could call the "dominant" or perhaps "establishment" gestalt--the Everson dispensation, let's call it--the Court vigorously polices any suggestion that what has been the historically dominant religion in this country--Christianity--appears to receive any preferential treatment, recognition, or even historical acknowledgment by the government. That has been, as I discuss here, the primary way in which "separation of church and state" has been worked out as informing the Establishment Clause since 1947. The working out of the Everson dispensation was a project undertaken over decades by its champions, ostensibly under the banner of "religious neutrality" but in reality with a very distinctive effect (if not an intent) that was not neutral whether or not so perceived. Free exercise, for the Everson dispensation, existed in the majority of the 20th century primarily as a gesture of noblesse oblige to the unthreateningly strange and exotic. It was never intended to extend a set of legal defenses for traditional forms of Christianity, since Christianity held a dominant historical and socio-cultural position that needed to be destabilized. The effect of this dual action of the dominant gestalt was systematically to shrink the public political presence of Christianity in the national civic ethos and at the same time to increase the importance of "religion" as an individual right of spiritual self seeking. This was "religious freedom" in the dominant gestalt, and it was an enormously successful jurisprudential project from the early 20th century through the early 21st. For this project, the objective was continuing progress along the lines mentioned. To continue to shrink the civic and political influence of Christianity while at the same time rendering the idea of "religion" as an individual good more powerful. But a vital part of this project involves the monitoring of Christian civic influence and efforts towards its continuing diminution. For adherents of the dominant gestalt, cases like Hobby Lobby, Masterpiece Cakeshop, and Town of Greece, are evidence of dangerous stalling. Cases like Trump v. Hawaii in combination with Masterpiece are deeply threatening because they are evidence that Christianity (or, in even more strongly held versions of the claim, "white" Christianity) continues to be preferred over other religions despite the best efforts of the Everson dispensation's champions. It is no consolation at all to hear the Trump v. Hawaii majority's reassurance that the Everson dispensation still controls for holiday displays and high school graduations. Failure to progress is regression.
The other gestalt (I don't have a catchy name for it--let's go with gestalt #2) accepts certain basic understandings of church-state separation. Just as in the Commerce Clause division, there is not a wholesale rejection by gestalt #2 of gestalt #1. But whatever gestalt #2's "this far and no further" stance might look like, it was bypassed years ago. Gestalt #2 holds that the Everson dispensation largely has done its work: to diminish the public influence of Christianity and replace it with "religion"--always ill-defined or intentionally non-defined--as an individual experience. There are divisions within this gestalt. Some of its proponents feel that Christianity merits a special place in the national culture; some take the weaker view that it is at least not unconstitutional to recognize such a place, whether it actually exists or not; and some believe that Christianity merits at least similar (or even equal) favorable treatment to other religious traditions, generally through application of free exercise principles. These divisions have not been fully plumbed because gestalt #2 has never achieved any real salience in 20th-21st century religion clause law. Where it generally attempts to hold the line as to Christianity today is in issues of compelling Christian believers to act in ways that violate their own convictions (Hobby Lobby, Zubik, Masterpiece, Becerra in its way). And this is precisely where, today, it comes into some conflict with the Everson dispensation, whose imperative is to continue to diminish Christianity--or at least conservative Christianity--as a force in American public life. This is gestalt #2's "this far and no further" stand, having been soundly defeated over decades in making its stand at previous possible way stations (just follow the path of Establishment Clause jurisprudence since 1947 for the grand tour). When those who favor the alternative gestalt hear proponents of the dominant gestalt cry out that Masterpiece plus Trump v. Hawaii represents a retrogression--Christianity beating back and beating out other religions--most do not share that view. It is a view that does not account for the massive losses sustained by Christianity at the Court's hands for the last near-century, and the massive reconception of the nature of "religion" undertaken by the Court's jurisprudence in that period. Of course, those losses and reconceptions were not occasioned by the Court alone. But the Court was much more than sympathetic to them; it did what it could to push them along, and successfully too. And the losses have not been limited to religious freedom cases proper. Just have a look, say the proponents of gestalt #2, at the havoc wrought by the Court's substantive due process cases. Those, in combination with the religious freedom canon of the dominant gestalt, have been devastating. Telling a Christian baker that he doesn't have to bake a cake for a ceremony he finds immoral, or a Christian company that it doesn't have to pay for contraceptive products for its employees, or a Christian pregnancy center that it doesn't have to advertise the availability and desirability of abortion...these are tiny and rather pathetic victories (most of them achieved by a bare 5-4 vote) in a wasteland of failure, to be followed in future by more failures. They are hardly signs that gestalt #2 is suddenly ascendant. They are not even signs of, as Larry puts it, a "gestalt shift."
Here's a final prediction. The divisions are likely to increase, in part because of gestalt #1's imperative of progress and gestalt #2's imperative of stasis (at best). If the prediction is correct, and if the Court's members break fairly evenly as between the two gestalts, we can reliably expect more spasms of outrage and disappointment with each new case in this area. These are not disputes over doctrine or even principle. They are deep disagreements over worldview, and over the kind of society we wish to be and become.
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Sam Bray has an extremely interesting reflection on a change in the language of a central prayer in the Book of Common Prayer, the General Confession in Morning and Evening Prayer. The prayer contains the line "And there is no health in us," whose meaning is either that there is no spiritual health in us or that we are not the authors of our own salvation. Either way, the phrase suggests, as Sam puts it, that "we are prone to curve inward away from God, we need his forgiveness."
But the phrase has proved troublesome and has been touched up in several revisions. The cause of the trouble is that it is felt to sound a little rough to modern speakers and hearers. It needed some kind of toning down. Really, no health at all in us? Not even a little bit of health?
The Anglican Church in North America, in a recent update, changed the language to: "And apart from your grace, there is no health in us." That keeps Cranmer's original phrase, but softens it a little bit to reassure people that God does not think us totally irredeemable just the way we are. And the added phrase is surely not wrong; it's true that God's grace is necessary for spiritual health as well as salvation.
And yet, as Sam notes, "truth does not quite settle the question," since many things that are true do not make it into the prayer. Sam shows how the absolute language and sentiment of the original is in keeping with many other Biblical passages (Isaiah, Psalms, Daniel, and even in Luke). This is language without qualification, a pattern of speaking that may be seen even in the Beatitudes ("Blessed are the poor in spirit," not Blessed are those who are often, even if not 100% of the time, spiritually impoverished) and elsewhere. As Sam says, "Even where a qualification is denotatively true, its destruction of the proper attitude can make it connotatively false."
There is much more in Sam's rich reflection, which considers the rhetorical power of the original and the changed versions (matters of style are not only matters of style, and, as Sam says, "the form can be an integral part of the message") as well as the genuine difficulties facing would-be revisers who wish not to damage the true sense of the original. You should read it.
Thursday, June 14, 2018
Like Rick, I have been enjoying the ongoing ferment about liberalism and the American founding/experiment/project. It's a fun time to listen to what people have to say on the question and hear different points of view. I don't have fixed views on the genealogical doubts that Rick raises (curious to hear from others on that front), though I am in agreement that the diagnostic program--still in its infancy--is an exciting one that offers a lot for the scholar of law or politics who is interested in it.
In the spirit of fostering that program, I wanted to note a point of contact between Phillip and his targets. Phillip says this in his piece:
One might accept this defense of our Founding principles yet still press an aspect of the “radical” Catholics’ third criticism — that American liberalism, whatever its original character, has produced a decadent and deplorable legal and moral culture. One might contend that even if the Founders accepted natural law, moral duties, and limits on rights, their account of freedom has proved to be too thin. It provides too much freedom for bourgeois, comfortable self-preservation, what moral theologian Servais Pinckaers calls “freedom for indifference,” and insufficient cultivation of “freedom for excellence.”
An honest assessment of America and our history must acknowledge that there is something to this criticism. The Founders held that the primary purpose of government is to secure natural rights. They believed that a just political order would preserve freedom for its citizens but that it would not command its citizens to use their freedom well.
I'd put the point perhaps slightly differently. It isn't so much that government "would not command its citizens to use their freedom well." It is that government, in at least ostensibly abjuring any interest in the substantive uses of freedom, would neglect this feature of freedom--its affective side--and would in consequence foster, never quite expressly but nevertheless relentlessly, a particular and quite non-neutral understanding of the point of the freedoms it protects. An understanding that would be internalized and entrenched over centuries, whatever the natural rights view defended by Phillip and the likes of Thomas West (whose book is very interesting) may have once looked like.
One might derive from this point of contact (if such it is) between Phillip and the "radicals" a specific research program focusing on different streams of intellectual history during the founding period (e.g., in the church-state context, but certainly not only there) with an eye specifically on the development of the idea of freedom in the subsequent decades and centuries. It may turn out both that the founding generation's ideas about the uses of freedom were quite varied (just as varied as ours are) and that there are reasons for the dominance of certain of these ideas and the recessiveness of others over the centuries.
Wednesday, June 13, 2018
Tuesday, June 5, 2018
Another slightly longer thought on the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision. Many were interested to see how the role of "animus" might affect the outcome in the case, and specifically the free exercise leg of the case. Animus played a starring role. Animus mattered in two ways: (1) the favorable treatment given by the Commission to claims against other bakers who "objected to a requested cake on the basis of conscience" (this was said by the Court to be an "indication of hostility" to Phillips); and (2) the comments of certain commissioners felt by the Court to evince hostility to Phillips' religious views, comments which were never subsequently disavowed (more evidence of animus).
I confess that as to the second category, the Court makes some comments that are genuinely puzzling to me. For example, the Court says that the following statement by one Commissioner was susceptible either of a neutral reading or of a reading suggesting "animus": “[I]f a businessman wants to do business in the state and he’s got an issue with the— the law’s impacting his personal belief system, he needs to look at being able to compromise.” In light of the later comments of a different Commissioner, the Court decided that the animus reading "seems more likely." I really don't understand this. The Commissioner here was offering the view that when somebody goes into business, the ambit of their religious exercise rights may be different than when one does not go into business, such that the person may have to "compromise." Like it or not, the antidiscrimination law seems to suggest as much. And why should the comments of a second Commissioner, offered later, suggest that the first Commissioner's comments were hateful? I wonder if the Court's approach has the effect of inducing the members of adjudicatory bodies not to say a word, and perhaps even to keep their written dispositions as short and inscrutable as possible. If even predictive evaluations of the strength of the claims suggest animus, that seems to be quite an expansion of an already sweeping concept.
And speaking of "adjudicatory bodies." In describing the state of jurisprudential play with respect to "animus" evidence, the Court said this:
Members of the Court have disagreed on the question whether statements made by lawmakers may properly be taken into account in determining whether a law intentionally discriminates on the basis of religion. See Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah, 508 U. S. 520, 540– 542 (1993); id., at 558 (Scalia, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment). In this case, however, the remarks were made in a very different context—by an adjudicatory body deciding a particular case.
The Court seems to be acknowledging that not everybody that agreed on the disposition in Lukumi signed on to the "animus" discussion. Indeed, the "animus" discussion in Lukumi did not get a majority of the Court. But here it does: it gets 7 votes. Why the difference?
The explanation offered here seems to be that Lukumi dealt with "lawmakers" while this case deals with the "very different context" of "adjudicatory bod[ies] deciding a particular case." It is true that in the following section of the opinion, the language about "adjudicatory bodies" does not reappear as a limitation. When the Court again cites to Lukumi for the proposition that "the government's" "neutrality" may be evaluated by looking to “the historical background of the decision under challenge, the specific series of events leading to the enactment or official policy in question, and the legislative or administrative history, including contemporaneous statements made by members of the decisionmaking body,” we do not see more language about adjudicatory bodies.
But the application of these factors in this case to an adjudicatory body which ruled on this particular case--the Commission--does appear just after the enumeration of these factors, and there is no suggestion that the scope of animus analysis goes further than that. Indeed, taken together, the statements may suggest that there is a new majority for the sort of "animus" analysis that did not get a majority in Lukumi, but only when one is dealing with "adjudicatory bodies deciding a particular case."
If that reading is right (and it of course may not be), what could explain a new, special animus rule for "adjudicatory bodies"? Admittedly this is speculation, and I don't have a firm answer in the least. But perhaps it is the particularism of adjudication. When a court expresses hostility to the litigants in front of it, and those comments directly influence the outcome of the litigation, there is a closer nexus between the animus and the specific result than is the case when a legislative body makes a general law affecting persons that are neither before it nor even specifically identified (incidentally, how this works out in the Executive context is entirely unclear to me). So that to the extent that one has qualms about the vagueness of animus analysis--its susceptibility to manipulation, for example--those qualms may be relieved to some extent by the particularized focus on a specific litigant, in a specific litigation, whose outcome is determined by the adjudicator right in front of that litigant.
Again, just a speculation. We'll see how, if at all, the "adjudicatory bodies" language is picked up by future cases, and whether we now have a special animus rule for a particular set of government actors.
Monday, June 4, 2018
Lots will be written about the decision today in Masterpiece Cakeshop (congratulations to Tom Berg for...pretty much nailing it). Here is something small. I was struck by another 7-2 decision in a religious freedom case. The individual justices' voting patterns in those cases are fairly uniform too. Hobby Lobby was 7-2 on the question of corporate personhood under RFRA (JJ. Sotomayor/Ginsburg in dissent). Trinity Lutheran was 7-2 (JJ. Sotomayor/Ginsburg in dissent). And now Masterpiece Cakeshop is 7-2 (JJ. Sotomayor/Ginsburg in dissent). Many, but not all, of these decisions feature concurrences by JJ. Kagan and/or Breyer. In addition, both Holt v. Hobbs and Zubik v. Burwell, though unanimous as to outcome, featured pointed concurrences in a 7-2 pattern (JJ. Sotomayor/Ginsburg in concurrence).
The asterisk above is for Establishment Clause cases, the last of which was Town of Greece v. Galloway in 2014. Those always tend to return us to the more familiar 5-4 configuration (the asterisk to the asterisk is Hosanna-Tabor, if one is inclined to think of that case as [principally] an Establishment Clause case).
Friday, May 25, 2018
My colleague, Mark Movsesian, has a thoughtful piece over at First Things, in which he argues that the association of religion in America with particular political parties is becoming more pronounced. Mark makes the point that, increasingly, "a new sort of divide appears to be opening up in American politics: Republicans are the religious party, and Democrats are the non-religious party." He cites Tocqueville for the view that while in Europe, everyone understood that religion and republicanism were enemies, that was not the case in America where, notwithstanding religious differences, Americans have never had religious and non-religious parties in the same way. But that is now changing, Mark claims, citing a Pew Center survey indicating that there is increasingly a correlation between belief in God and party affiliation (Rs believe much more than Ds).
The piece may be read profitably alongside this article about the introduction of the new "Do No Harm Act" by various Senate Democrats, whose object is to narrow the protections of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, especially as a defense against the operation of "others' civil rights." It appears that the civil right of religious liberty would take second place to any other civil right under the proposed statute. Rick Garnett offers the view in the piece that the Act "reflects a mistaken view that religious freedom should only be granted when it is costless." The story goes on to say that "since the bill is highly unlikely to pass, without Republican support, its purpose is in large part simply to announce Democrats’ priorities to voters before the midterm elections in the fall." (this opinion is attributed to Charles Haynes of the Newseum)
The story seems to support Mark's view that religion is becoming politicized along party lines. RFRA, after all, passed with very strong bipartisan support in 1993. Its aim was to protect religious freedom for all. But, so the argument might go, today the breakdown of support for RFRA, and the efforts to shrink it (and, eventually, perhaps to repeal it), demonstrate the fragmentation of support for religious freedom along party lines. Rs support religious civil liberties. Ds support other civil liberties.
I'm not sure this account is accurate. At the very least, it does not account for the way in which many progressives have thrown their support against, for example, the Trump Immigration order and in favor of Muslim immigrants. It does not account for at least some progressive support for the expansion of religious freedom to include non-traditional "religious" groups such as the Nones and other conscientious believers. It does not account for progressive support for at least some of the Court's recent religious liberty cases, such as Holt v. Hobbs.
My own view is that we are witnessing the end of the period in which "religion" is seen to be a general good, and therefore in which "religious" freedom ought to be protected for that reason. I have written before about the vacuity and ultimate unsustainability of the category of "religion" in contemporary American law, and so I do not think it is particularly surprising to see this development. But that does not mean that one party is the party of "religion" while the other is the party against "religion." It means that "religion" as a conceptual category thought, in general, to be worthwhile, and "religious freedom" as a right generally worth supporting, is moribund (there are reasons it is dying off, which I discuss in the piece).
Instead, what is emerging in the partisan fragmentation is that the Rs and Ds are becoming the parties of particular religions and religious traditions. Rs are in general more sympathetic to traditional Christian religious beliefs (in general, of course...there are prominent exceptions at the highest levels of government), while Ds are in general hostile to them--believing that Christians in particular "impose" their views (particularly their views about sexuality) on others in the name of Christianity. Ds are in general more sympathetic to religious views that are not traditionally Christian (indeed, one might even say that the Nones represent a distinctively modern Christian heresy, but that's a subject for a different post) or that they associate with minority groups that they believe warrant special protection, while Rs are in general hostile to them. The reason that Senate Ds sponsor the No Harm Act is that they oppose the right of traditional Christians to use their views about sexuality to discriminate against LGBT people (I am putting it polemically, of course). The reason that Senate Rs oppose the Act is that they disagree. None of this has much at all to do with "religion" as an abstract category.
Perhaps if we had more parties in this country than the usual dreary duo (something to be fervently wished for, but that is also for another post), we would see even more fragmentation. But the growing divisions between our existing political parties along these lines reflect preferences for certain kinds of religion over others, not religion as such. They are both religious parties. The place of the specific religious tradition (or, in the case of the Nones, view) in American public life, its substantive positions (particularly as respects sexuality), its market strength, its "other-ness"--all of these and more are true markers of partisan support or opposition. What has changed politically is the notion that religion qua religion is worth protecting as an American good. And, in light of the incoherence of the category in American law and politics, small wonder that it has.
Friday, April 13, 2018
Here's a Friday booknote. I first read John Gray about 10 years ago, and was struck by his description of the “agonistic liberalism” of Isaiah Berlin. Gray’s Two Liberalisms picked up on and developed the themes in the book on Berlin in ways which influenced the way I thought about “tragedy” in law. I enjoyed Straw Dogs as well, but by this point there was an acidic quality in Gray’s writing that differed from the earlier books (I am not criticizing, just observing).
And Gray's essays are always a great read–whether on secular eschatology, Machiavelli and the weakness of law, or (my own favorite) the ubiquity of evil. He is iconoclastic, brilliant, bracingly skeptical, and deeply learned. Now comes a new book: Seven Types of Atheism (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Here is an early review (h/t Paul Horwitz) by Terry Eagleton in “The Guardian” (more positive, I think, than Eagleton’s very critical review of Straw Dogs). And here is the publisher’s description.
For a generation now, public debate has been corroded by a shrill, narrow derision of religion in the name of an often very vaguely understood ‘science’. John Gray’s stimulating and extremely enjoyable new book describes the rich, complex world of the atheist tradition, a tradition which he sees as in many ways as rich as that of religion itself, as well as being deeply intertwined with what is so often crudely viewed as its ‘opposite’.
The result is a book that sheds an extraordinary and varied light on what it is to be human and on the thinkers who have, at different times and places, battled to understand this issue.