On Being Liberal and Religious--Part 2
In this instance, because of the rhetorical overload which religious issues carry in our politics, it will be helpful to think of "secular" as a point of view which asserts that religious questions are wholly separate from political ones.
This may mean that an individual who is "secular" has an explicit disbelief of religious answers, is agnostic about such answers, or thinks such answers are irrelevant to public questions and a matter for private belief only.
From the vantage point of religion, these views are quite distinct from one another. But from the vantage of politics they make for virtually the same secular tone in the political writings--so that James Joyner, say, sounds as secular as Daniel W. Drezner, Matthew Yglesais, or Juan Cole. And it is not possible to tell immediately which of those three distinct religious attitudes any of them may favor.
By looking at "secular" in this way, we can take a controversy like that over the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of allegiance and shed more light on it. The legal defense the Government commonly makes for the phrase is secular, NOT religious. Constitutionally, it is plain that no religious defense of the phrase would be permissible, for it would "establish" the religious views used in the defense. Hence the legal defense itself amounts to saying that the words "under God" have no specific religious reference.
This is not exactly what the Texas Republican Party meant, I think, when they added a plank in their platform this year stating that "the United States is a Christian nation." And it seems to me that any religiously minded Christian or Jew should seriously consider whether the secular legal defense of "under God" amounts to an admission that the usage in the Pledge is a violation of the Third Commandment.
In any event, as a Buddhist, it seems to me that the Pledge, as it stands, amounts to "establishment" of religious views which I explicitly do not hold. But, then, as a Buddhist, I take the expression of any religious view in public life seriously, and I do wonder if those of the secular persuasion ever do. I also suspect strongly that many members of the Texas Republican Party take it as seriously as I do.
The substance of the challenging comment I posted was as follows: In politics, as in everything else, all of us make categorical moral assertions of right and wrong. But how do we justify such assertions? How can we argue that the world itself is moral? And if the world is not moral, why should we be?
As a religious individual I have a clear and simple basis for justifying the moral assertions I make in the religious texts I follow. And as an educated Buddhist, I know that these assertions require me to assume certain things about the world--principally rebirth in past and future lives--that I cannot directly prove.
But when I read the moral assertions of the secular, the only real justification I can see for them would be either, "Because I happen to think so," or "Because people I trust and admire happen to think so," and I see little effort made to intellectually examine the hidden assumptions behind such assertions. Indeed when I do bring up such questions on blogs like these, using my own moral views as a counter example, all I seem to create is the desire to refute my views rather than an examination of the views I am contrasting them with.
So this, then, is the religious question which separates me, apparently radically and irredeemably, from both the Secular Liberal and the Secular Libertarian:
What is the true moral nature of the world, and why should we conform to it?
And it does seem to me that the question inevitably is as political as it is religious. Whatever answers we give to it must be the same answers for our religion, or lack of one, as for our politics.
To Be Concluded....