Monday, November 15, 2010

Waldron on Religion and Public Deliberation

Professor Jeremy Waldron has posted a new paper on SSRN:

Two-Way Translation: The Ethics of Engaging with Religious Contributions in Public Deliberation

Using as an exemplar, the 2007 "Evangelical Declaration against Torture," this paper examines the role of religious argument in public life. The Declaration was drawn up by David Gushee, University Professor at Mercer University, and others. It argues for an absolute ban on the use of torture deploying unashamedly Christian rhetoric, some of it quite powerful and challenging. For example, it says: " [T]he Holy Spirit participates in human pathos with groans and sighs too deep for words. The cries of the tortured are in a very real sense, … the cries of the Spirit." The present paper considers whether there is any affront to the duties of political civility in arguing in these terms. There is a line of argument, associated with John Rawls's book, "Political Liberalism," suggesting that citizens should refrain from discussing issues of public policy in religious or deep-philosophical terms that are not accessible to other citizens. The present paper challenges the conception of inaccessibility on which this Rawlsian position is based. It argues, with Jurgen Habermas, that all sides in a modern pluralist society have a right to state their views as firmly and as deeply as they can, and all sides have the duty to engage with others, and to strain as well as they can to grasp others' meanings. It is not enough to simply announce that one can not understand religious reasons, especially if no good faith effort has been made, using the ample resources available in our culture, to try. Of course, many peoeple will not be convinced by the reasons that are offered in religious discourse; but to argue for their rejection - which is always what may happen in respectable political deliberation - is not to say that the presentation of those reasons was offensive or inappropriate.

(Thanks to Lawrence Solum for the pointer).

Jeremy Waldron is University Professor at New York University School of Law.

Jürgen Habermas's article on "Religion in the Public Sphere" is available here [pdf]. It is published in "European Journal of Philosophy" vol. 14, no. 1 (2006), pp. 1-25.

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