Religion And Political Theory part The Argument from Divisiveness

If the liberal critics are
correct, one of the
problems with the
argument from warfare
is that there is no
realistic prospect of
religious warfare
breaking out in a
stable liberal
democracy such as the
United States. Still,
there may be other
evils that are more
likely to occur under
current conditions,
which compliance with
the DRR might help to
prevent. For example,
it is plausible to
suppose that the
enactment of a
coercive law that
cannot be justified
except on religious
grounds would
engender much anger
and frustration on the
part of those coerced:
“when legislation is
expressly based on
religious arguments,
the legislation takes on
a religious character,
to the frustration of
those who don’t share
the relevant faith and
who therefore lack
access to the
normative predicate
behind the
law” (Greene 1993,
1060). This in turn
breeds division
between citizens—
anger and distrust
between citizens who
have to find some
amicable way to make
collective decisions
about common matters.
This counts in favor of
the DRR precisely
because compliance
with the DRR diminishes
the likelihood of our
suffering from such
bad consequences.
To this argument,
liberal critics offer a
three-part reply. First,
suppose it is true that
the implementation of
coercive laws that can
be justified only on
religious grounds often
causes frustration and
anger among both
secular and religious
citizens. The liberal
critics maintain that
there is reason to
believe that compliance
with the DRR would also
engender frustration
and anger among other
religious and secular
citizens. To this end,
they point to the fact
that many religious
believers believe that
conforming to the DRR
would compromise their
loyalty to God: if they
were prohibited from
supporting coercive
laws for which they
take there to be strong
but exclusively
religious reasons to
support, they would
naturally take
themselves to be
prohibited from obeying
God. But for many
religious believers this
is distressing; they
take themselves to
have overriding moral
and religious
obligations to obey
God. Similarly, some
secular citizens will
likely be frustrated by
the requirement that
the DRR places on
religious citizens.
According to these
secular citizens, all
citizens have the right
to make political
decisions as their
conscience dictates.
And, on some
occasions, these
secular citizens hold
that exercising that
right will lead religious
citizens to violate the
If this is correct, for
the argument from
divisiveness to
succeed, it would have
to provide better
reason than not to
believe that the level
of frustration and
anger that would be
produced by not
conforming to the DRR
would be worse than
that of conforming to
the DRR. But, the liberal
critics claim, it is
doubtful that we have
any such reason: in a
very religious society
such as the United
States, it might be the
case that restrictions
on the political practice
of religious believers
engenders at least as
much frustration as the
Second, the liberal
critics argue, there is
reason to believe that
conformance to the DRR
would only marginally
alleviate the
frustration that some
citizens feel when
confronted with
religious reasons in
public political debate.
The DRR, after all,
does not forbid citizens
from supporting
coercive laws on
religious grounds, nor
does it forbid citizens
to articulate religious
arguments in public.
Furthermore, complying
with the DRR does not
prevent religious
citizens from
advocating their
favored laws in
bigoted, inflammatory,
or obnoxious manners;
it simply has nothing to
say about political
decorum. So, for
example, because the
DRR doesn’t forbid Fred
“God Hates Gays”
Phelps from helping
himself to demeaning
rhetoric, the anger and
engendered by his
inflammatory rhetoric
does not constitute
evidence for (or
against) the DRR.
Third, the liberal critics
contend that because
most of the laws that
have a chance of
enactment in a society
as pluralistic as the
United States will have
both religious and
secular grounds, it will
almost never be the
case that any of the
actual frustration
caused by the public
presence of religion
supports the DRR.
Given that the DRR
requires not a complete
but only a limited
privatization of
religious belief, very
little of the frustration
and anger apparently
engendered by the
public presence of
religion counts in favor
of the DRR. To which it
is worth adding the
following point:
advocates of the
standard view could,
with Rorty (1995),
adopt a more
demanding conception
of the DRR that
requires the complete
privatization of
religious belief. But, as
many advocates of the
standard view itself
maintain, it is doubtful
that this move
improves the
argument’s prospects.
The complete
privatization of religion
is much more
objectionable to
religious citizens and,
thus, more likely to
create social foment.
(Rorty, it should be
noted, softened his
approach on this issue.
See Rorty 2003).
There are no doubt
other facto overall
frustration, anger, and
division than would not
requiring them to do
so. The issues at
stake are empirical in
character and the
relevant empirical facts
are not known.


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