20 November 2010

Liberalism - PS 101

Lately I've been tempted to research the religious leanings of the founding fathers and how much the founding of our nation was influenced by religion. There seems to be so much rhetoric floating around that I can't quite get a straightforward answer. I've started this journey with the preconception that some of the founding fathers were religious (Christian) but that their beliefs are slightly different from mainstream Christianity today due to cultural context; also that much of what they incorporated into the founding of this nation is influenced by their knowledge of history, philosophy, and culture (mostly greek). As it happens Stanley Fish wrote an article on religion and the state and the role of liberalism - a great starting place and foundation to my inquisition. And then I came across a comment that I had to re-post. And yes, I am now that type of person that wastes time reading through a thread. There were a few things that irked me in the article and this comment addresses it perfectly.

A little Poli-Sci 101 from John Quinn in Detroit:

"May I suggest that the key distinction underlying classical liberalism, at least as practiced in the USA, is not between the public and the private but between the governmental and the non-governmental? Limited government is essential to our form of liberalism, and it means that there is a large public sphere that the government may not control.

This means, among other things, that religious persons and organizations are free to advance their religious beliefs, including beliefs about how society should be organized, in public discussions and even in how they vote, but they are not permitted to use the power of the state to impose their beliefs or the norms derived from those beliefs on others when they conflict with the tenets of liberalism. If they seek to do so the effort will be thwarted, even if they constitute a majority, by the prohibition of establishment of religion. This, it seems to me, is the source of the tension between the free-exercise and non-establishment provisions of the First Amendment.

Liberalism must acknowledge that its fundamental precepts (the primacy of the individual, the notion of inherent rights, etc.) are no more provable than any religious dogma. That is to say, liberalism is itself a faith system that seeks to organize society in a manner consistent with its fundamental beliefs. In a liberal state, liberalism is, in a sense, the established church. But, to remain faithful to its own fundamental beliefs, it must grant the broadest possible freedom to other faiths in both the public and the private spheres. A necessary limit on the breadth of the freedom granted other faiths is that liberalism remain the only faith that can use the power of the state to assure its continuing control of the state. However, limiting religious belief and practice to the personal, private sphere is not necessary and is therefore inconsistent with liberalism."

To read the article click here.


Michemily said...

You know, there was just an article in the Deseret News about how young liberals are having a hard time with religion because of its ties with very conservative thought. Interesting.