Monday, July 25, 2005

Religion in public life   posted by Razib @ 7/25/2005 11:29:00 PM

Randall has a long post up where he highlights a book titled The Impossibility of Religious Freedom, which addresses the legal implications of religious pluralism. There are many complicated issues here, and I simply ask readers to check out the facts for themselves, but not get too caught up in the details. From the introduction:

This book is about the impossibility of religious freedom. Many laws, constitutions, and international treaties today grant legally enforceable rights to those whose religious freedom is infringed. Stories of the conflict between the demands of religion and the demands of law are daily news items all over the world, and take a familiar patterned form. Schoolgirls in France seek permission to wear the hijab to school. Sikhs in Britain seek exemption from motorcycle helmet laws. Muslim women seek civil divorces in India on the same ground as their Hindu and Christian neighbors. The Jehovah's Witnesses seek the right to be a recognized religious organization in Russia and to be exempt from patriotic exercises in Greece....

I have read a fair amount about the Reformation as well as the history of Northern Europe in the 16th and 17th century and I support one of the contentions of the author that something rather peculiar happened in places like England1 and The Netherlands during this period, and the full flower of that process can be found in the United States, a nation that gives expression to Christianities, but no support for one state church. Of course, there isn't a sharp dichotomy between the "Protestant model" and everything else, there is after all a difference between 16th century Spain or 21st century Saudi Arabia and traditional Chinese or Indian attitudes toward pluralism of faith.2 Also, note that one reason I believe Roman Catholicism has been such a success in the United States is that operationally it has become a Protestant religion here, when I listened to Catholics being interviewed on television after the priest scandals talking about how "they cared more about their relationship to Jesus" than "the edicts of the Church" it really struck home. Many Jews also mock the Reform as (in the words of John Stewart) "Christians with curly hair," but again, the introduction of organs and other Protestant motifs and the popularity of personal "spirituality" as opposed to adherence to the norms of halakah suggests to me a definite inward Protestantization of that faith as well. Will Herberg's Protestant-Catholic-Jew triumvirate was possible in large part, I believe, because the latter two were fast renorming themselves to adhere to mainline Protestant mores.

1 - Please note that there were multiple Reformations (including a Catholic one, what is termed the "Counter Reformation"). To say that the Protestant Reformation resulted in the trend toward disestablishmentarianism is to ignore the reality that in much of Germany and Scandinavia Lutheranism was closely identified with the temporal powers that be, that in Geneva and Scotland Calvinism became the state church (with some bumps in the road in the latter case). Rather, the road to disestablishmentarianism was seeded by the intransigence of groups like Baptists, Quakers and other assorted "Free Thinkers" who simply could not or would not submit themselves to the religious establishment and had abandoned any pretense of universal societal salvation. The difference between the Roman Catholic and Protestant models was not their mode or median, that is, as a whole Protestantism was not more or less predisposed to disestablishmentarianism than Roman Catholicism, but there was far greater variation because of the nature of Protestantism. It could be argued that in many parts of the Roman Catholic world the church was more separate from the state than in parts of the Protestant world (ie; Scandinavia), but for every Denmark you had a Holland.

2 - Many Hindus take pride in the fact that religious minorities like Jews and Parsis came to India to escape persecution, and rightfully so.