Religion as sedition: On liberalism's intolerance of real religion

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‘Political liberalism’ claims to manifest the real meaning of democracy, including crucially the toleration of religion – it is through the history of this toleration that it acquired its current form and power. Political liberalism is however, I argue, more hostile to religion than was ever dreamt possible in the philosophy of avowedly anti-clerical Enlightenment Liberalism. For it refuses point-blank ever to engage in serious debate with religion. It considers it of no consequence. It allows religion only to be ‘outward forms’, meaningless ceremony. Political liberalism annihilates religion.

The time has come for Western intellectuals to re-assess their allegiance to a tacit (or indeed explicit) secularism, and to overturn the annihilation of religion. Religion or spirituality that brings forth the best of humanity may well in fact be essential to addressing the cultural crisis of our times. Political liberalism is the most extreme fundamentalism of them all, in its insistence upon every political claim being purely political, and not at all religious. Political liberalism considers genuine religion seditious. The way beyond the clash of fundamentalisms must be genuinely open to (genuine) religion. (If that involves ‘sedition’, then so be it.)

Such openness to religion requires openness to the possibility that – far from reducing religion to a ‘lowest common denominator’ if it is to enter into public affairs at all (via Rawls’s ‘proviso’ or something like it), and neutering it otherwise to being an entirely private and inconsequential merely ritualistic matter – we might (instead) seek a ‘highest common factor’ approach to affirmative religions that escape the narrow constraints laid down by liberalism. Such a ‘common faith’ may even be vital to human survival.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-100
Number of pages18
JournalArs Disputandi
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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