Friday, August 02, 2013

Debating Darwinian Liberalism (4): How Christianity Supports Liberal Tolerance

The first premise of Dilley's Syllogism is: "Classical (Lockean) liberalism is founded on Christianity."

We must wonder about what kind of Christianity would support classical (Lockean) liberalism.  Through much of the history of Christianity--beginning with the Constantinian regime of the Roman Empire--Christians have insisted on a confessional state in which legal coercion is used to enforce Christian doctrines, and unbelievers, heretics, and apostates are punished by the state.  Presumably, this is not the kind of Christianity that Dilley has in mind, because this would be an illiberal Christianity.  As Roger Masters indicates in his contribution to Dilley's book, the Lockean teaching of religious tolerance was crucial for the emergence of liberalism as a way of pacifying religious warfare and avoiding legally enforced persecution.

Clearly, the kind of Christianity that Dilley has in mind is a liberal Christianity that would teach liberal tolerance.  He indicates this when he quotes approvingly from an article by Richard John Neuhaus on "The Liberalism of John Paul II."  In that article, Neuhaus praises the Catholic liberalism of John Courtney Murray and Pope John Paul II.  "We affirm not a confessional state but a confessional society," Neuhaus declares, because religious belief is a voluntary choice of individuals living in civil society, and thus religious groups can promote their beliefs through persuasion but not through coercion.  The coercive power of the state is to be used only to enforce the civil peace.  As Neuhaus indicates, John Paul recognized that the Catholic Church had had a history of violating religious liberty and tolerance by using coercive violence to enforce religious belief, and John Paul declared that he and all Catholics should ask forgiveness for this history of religious violence.  Previously, the Church had argued that persecution was biblically authorized, but liberal Catholics like Murray and John Paul argued that such legally coercive persecution was contrary to the New Testament.

As I have argued in a previous post, this liberal Christianity embraced by Dilley, Murray, John Paul, and Neuhaus is the New Testament Christianity of Roger Williams.  More clearly than any other Christian author in the Reformation, Williams saw that legal toleration to protect the liberty of conscience was a return to the original position of New Testament Christianity as opposed to the Mosaic regime of theocracy and persecution in the Old Testament.  He argued for a "wall of separation" between church and state, in which the state would be restricted to enforcing "civil peace."  This promoted a liberal policy of legal toleration of both religious and moral pluralism.

The Christian classical liberal in the tradition of Williams will reject the legal moralism of some evangelical Christians and some Catholics (like Robert George, for example) who assume that any good regime must legally coerce people into virtue.  They will reject this because it cannot work, because it denies human liberty, and because it contradicts the New Testament.

I must wonder, however, whether my nine critics in Dilley's book can fully embrace the liberal Christianity of Williams.  If they believe that social order is impossible when people do not believe in orthodox Christianity, wouldn't that suggest the necessity for a "confessional state" in which a specified orthodoxy is enforced coercively by law?  Wouldn't that suggest that the only healthy social order is a theocracy, in which heretics, apostates, and blasphemers (such as the Darwinians) are persecuted as threats to the social order?

By contrast, Darwin's evolutionary account in The Descent of Man of the emergence of moral and religious beliefs shows how the moral order of civil society can arise without any coercive enforcement of religious beliefs by the state.

Moreover, as I have indicated in my previous post, Darwin's principle of dual causality allows for the possibility of believing in original divine action through "primary causes," while recognizing the regularity of the evolutionary process working through the "secondary causes" of the observable order of nature.

I have written previously about how the position of Roger Williams has been adopted by the most recent popes.

1 comment:

Michael J. Whjite said...

I guess that I am accounted one of his "nine critics" by Professor Arnhart. But I think that I agree (and disagree) with him about as much as I do with my eight supposed conspirators--e.g., about the 'dual causality' issue. In particular, I largely agree with his comments about 'liberal Christianity', which I most certainly do NOT embrace as a matter of (Christian) principle--even though its tenets may in some circumstances be licitly assented to for prudential reasons. (See, e.g., my book Partisan or Neutral? The Futility of Public Political Philososphy, Rowman & Littlefield, 1997.) However, I would disagree with the comment above that Roger Williams recognized that "legal toleration to protect the liberty of conscience was a return [sic] to the original position of New Testament Christianity." No doubt Williams believed this, although it is not clear to me that his endorsement of the view was stronger than, say, Locke's. But it seems to me that it's simply Protestant (and, yes, maybe modern Catholic) prejudice to characterize this as "a return to the original position of NT Christianity." I don't see it in the NT--and neither did (virtually) any of the Church Fathers or theologians prior to the Protestant Reformation. For better or worse, I've weighed in on this in a symposium article that appeared a few years ago in the San Diego Law Review: The First Amendment's Religion Clauses: 'Freedom of Conscience' Versus Institutional Accommodation" 47(4), 1075-1105. In brief, my view increasingly is that the notion of 'freedom of conscience' is unfortunate--something of an amorphous monster--but that there is more to be said for institutional accommodation.