Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Stanley Fish reviews Habermas on religion

On New York Times' "Opinionator blog":

Stanley Fish reviews Jürgen Habermas et.al. (eds.) - "An Awareness of What is Missing: Faith and Reason in a Post-secular Age" (Polity Press, 2010):

Review: "Does Reason Know What It Is Missing?"


"Habermas does not want to embrace religion wholesale for he does not want to give up the “cognitive achievements of modernity” — which include tolerance, equality, individual freedom, freedom of thought, cosmopolitanism and scientific advancement — and risk surrendering to the fundamentalisms that, he says, willfully “cut themselves off” from everything that is good about the Enlightenment project. (......) As Norbert Brieskorn, one of Habermas’s interlocutors, points out, in Habermas’s bargain “reason addresses demands to the religious communities” but “there is no mention of demands from the opposite direction.” Religion must give up the spheres of law, government, morality and knowledge; reason is asked only to be nice and not dismiss religion as irrational, retrograde and irrelevant. (.....)

The result, as Michael Reder, another of Habermas’s interlocutors, observes, is a religion that has been “instrumentalized,” made into something useful for a secular reason that still has no use for its teleological and eschatological underpinnings. Religions, explains Reder, are brought in only “to help to prevent or overcome social disruptions.” Once they have performed this service they go back in their box and don’t trouble us with uncomfortable cosmic demands. At best (and at most), according to Habermas, “the encounter with theology,” like an encounter at a cocktail party, “can remind a self-forgetful secular reason of its origins” in the same “revolutions in worldviews” that gave us monotheism. (One God and one reason stem from the same historical source.)

Stanley Fish is Professor of Law at Florida International University.

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