Sunday, November 6, 2011

Liberalism, Neutrality, and Christianity

Until now the Analytic Scholastic has had little to say which is politically incorrect. Here's my post originally posted at The Rational Gang. Please direct any comments there:

Modern left-liberalism is not neutral toward competing visions of the good life or to competing religions. It takes a decided stance against the notion that Christ is King (Rev. 1:5).  First, consider if Christianity is actually true. In that case, many claims about what are due to God in terms of worship are true; many claims about the future of the world are true; many claims about the roles of husband and wife, claims about the nature of marriage, claims about what is essentially good for humanity are all true. All these claims are embodied in a revelation and religious tradition. This is a comprehensive world view. Liberalism holds that such religious claims cannot serve as the basis for any law which would use the state for enforcement.

What of this understanding that no religious claim can be the basis for law? To put the question in perspective, consider the following scenario. Suppose, per impossibile, that a time-traveler comes to us from an alternate universe 1,000 years from now where, rather than taking action to preserve the wolf population in Yellowstone National Park,  we instead allow it to be decimated. The bison population, no longer controlled by hungry wolves, expands at incredible rates. The bison quickly turn rabid unleashing heretofore unknown powers against the human population in retaliation for past injustices. Suppose, moreover, that we have some reason to believe our temporal voyager’s claims–e.g. as proof he has a laser gun which is impossible to replicate with current technology–and we can rule out ulterior motives. Most of the citizens see this taking place before their very eyes. Clearly the state ought to heed his warnings and preserve the wolves despite the unhappy consequences for those who like hunting and for the way of life of certain agrarians. Yet this is a very odd situation. It is not, however, ruled out in principle. So evidence coming from very odd situations doesn’t rule it out as evidence for a course of legislation.

But what happens if it is God who reveals the same thing in a similarly obvious way? The fact that it is God telling us to conserve the wolves shouldn’t rule out the legality of our doing so. If anything we should be even more prepared to take God’s advice! So that means evidence coming from religious situations doesn’t rule it out as evidence for a course of legislation either.

So what about when God decides to reveal to the world through his divine son that unless we repent of our sins and accept his grace we shall all surely perish? What happens when this is supported by miracles and rational arguments? In short, what happens when Christianity is by all indications true? Clearly we should give at least some kind of acknowledgment as a people, and some sort of preference, to this world view. The liberal seems to want to be able to rule this out a priori. But why should he be able to? If he accepts that we can base legislation on the first example, and accepts that we can base legislation on the second example, then the inherently religious nature of the consequences in this case doesn’t make our evidence any less a basis for legislation.

The liberal, in true egalitarian spirit, might object that we should treat all religions as equal. But why should we? If two propositions have differing degrees of evidence then the one with more evidence should be given preference. The liberal makes an ad hoc restriction when saying the same doesn’t apply to propositions with religious content–unless, of course, he assumes that the strength of evidence for all religions is in fact equal. At this point, however, the liberal has given up neutrality and has begun to make a comprehensive statement about religious claims, viz. that we have no rational basis for preferring one religion over another.
Another objection might be that in my first example we have good evidence which is publicly available to all citizens, whereas in the latter we do not. This is meant to justify the exclusion of religious propositions for legislation and government recognition by saying that we do not have good evidence for them. But read that one more time: “We do not have good evidence for them!” Good evidence is sound evidence. So if we do not have good evidence for religious claims, then we have no sound evidence for religious claims, or at least likely no sound evidence. Notice, however, that the liberal has brought himself to the point of assessing the claims themselves. At this point we’ve left the high seat of neutrality and entered the arena of truth.

The liberal might retort that I am straw-manning his position. By “good evidence” he means something more like “evidence convincing to all citizens.” But this is ambiguous. It could mean either evidence which should convince all citizens or evidence which actually does convince all citizens. If the former then, once again, he must mean evidence which is rational and defensible, at which point he’s come back to assessing the rationality and defensibility of religious claims. If the latter, then he has picked a poor platform for pushing his liberal policies. Such policies as the managerial welfare state, affirmative action, higher taxes, strict separation of church and state, euthanasia, and all the rest are in no wise actually convincing to all citizens. In fact, the liberal system as a whole is not actually convincing to all citizens. Precious little gets done in the liberal state which takes as its maxim that only those policies whose justification actually convince all citizens should be enacted.

Finally, the liberal may argue that the state should not use religious beliefs as bases for legislation because we could be wrong about them. However, the mere fact that we could be wrong about something is not a good reason to think we are wrong about it. We could be wrong about liberalism. I think liberals are in fact wrong about liberalism. But unless good evidence is given to show that something is wrong then it’s not ruled out in principle.

I think the liberal is fundamentally right about a few things. He’s right that if all religions have equal evidence then no single one should be given preference. He’s right to think that if a claim doesn’t have good evidence in favor of it then it ought not serve as a basis for legislation.  When applying these principles he says that religions have equal evidence–likely not very much evidence at all! Or he might say that the evidence is not convincing for any of them. These both require either a certain understanding of the very nature of religious propositions or an assessment of the evidence itself. It’s not for no reason that they are typically accompanied by agnosticism, atheism, or more relativistic flavored views; it’s because these are tied to such fundamentally comprehensive philosophical and religious claims.

What’s the upshot of this? Well, it’s not that either liberalism or Christianity is in fact true. Neither is it the claim that we should base all or even most legislation on religion. It’s simply that liberalism can only claim that such legislation can be ruled out if it makes certain philosophical and religious assumptions which are just as contentious as the religious beliefs themselves. If Christianity is true, and it has evidence in its favor, then there is no in-principle reason why its adherents can't appeal to such evidence for some legislation. The liberal must justify his comprehensive theses and go toe-to-toe with the religious adherent via the same process of rational discernment, rather than presuppose it on the basis of an illusory neutrality.

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