Thursday, December 22, 2011

Review of Habermas on Religion

In "The New Republic" (December 29, 2011), Peter Gordon reviews:

* Jürgen Habermas - "An Awareness of What is Missing: Faith and Reason in a Post-Secular Age" (Polity Press, 2010)

* Eduardo Mendieta and Jonathan VanAntwerpen (eds.) - "The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere" (Columbia University Press, 2011)

See the review here.

"The broader point, for Habermas, is that the modern commitment to justice seems to draw nourishment from non-rational sources, and many of these sources are religious (though perhaps not all of them). In reference to Kant, Habermas observes that in our ethical reasoning we provide justification in the language of universalistic concepts that presuppose the freedom of the individual. But when we are actually moved to act on our insight into the solidarity of the human collective, we may need more than “good reasons.” For Kant, this apparent weakness in our ethical reasoning could be supplemented by his philosophy of religion. Similarly, Habermas claims, when profane reason is set free to act on its own, it “loses its grip on the images, preserved by religion, of the moral whole - of the Kingdom of God on earth - as collectively binding ideals.” Simply put, profane reason may not retain the requisite strength of motive or aspiration to fulfill its own mission: “practical reason fails to fulfill its own vocation when it no longer has sufficient strength to awaken, and to keep awake, in the minds of secular subjects, an awareness of the violations of solidarity throughout the world, an awareness of what is missing, of what cries out to heaven.”

Peter E. Gordon is Professor of History at Harvard University.

(Thanks to Reza Javaheri for the link).

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