And some more serendipitous reading that makes the same point I’ve been making. I happened to pick up a collection of essays by Richard Rorty and found ‘Religion as Conversation-stopper.’ Just so – my point exactly. And Rorty takes issue with Stephen Carter’s The Culture of Disbelief.
The main reason religion needs to be privatized is that, in political discussion with those outside the relevant religious community, it is a conversation-stopper. Carter is right when he says: ‘One good way to end a conversation – or start an argument – is to tell a group of well-educated professionals that you hold a political position (preferably a controversial one, such as being against abortion or pornography) because it is required by your understanding of God’s will.’
Yup, it sure is. Rorty actually lets Carter off much too easily at that point. Because note what Carter has done – note how easy he’s made it for himself. Note how he’s helped himself to the moral high ground while sort of kind of pretending not to (that weasel-word ‘controversial’). Let’s do a little thought-experiment, shall we, and replace the items in his parenthesis with some different ones. Like, oh, I don’t know – how about slavery, or stoning to death, or forbidding women to vote or work or drive or leave the house, or flying loaded airplanes into tall buildings full of people. All of those items represent some people’s – quite a lot of people’s, in the first three cases – understanding of ‘God’s’ will. So why the hell does he make it a matter of reproach that educated people, whether professionals or amateurs, don’t leap and clap their hands for joy when people announce that they hold a political position because they think it’s God’s will? Why should we? Why does he think we should? Even apart from the obvious objection that imaginary beings shouldn’t be telling us how to make political decisions – even apart from that, what about the issue of what terrible creatures those imaginary beings so often are? Humans invent them, humans invest them with their own nasty hatreds and sadistic urges, and then humans triumphantly point to them as authority for their nasty hatreds and sadistic urges. And we’re supposed to not mind that? Not going to happen!