Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Is freedom of religion a contradiction?
It seems to me that there is a built in contradiction in the place of religious freedom in classical liberalism: While religious freedom is a central element of classical liberalism, the ability of a state to function as a liberal democracy will collapse if a large majority of the population do not share a common basic moral and philosophical (and thus by implication theological) worldview. Thus, while religious freedom is a foundational element of classical liberalism, only a certain degree of religious conformity makes it possible.
Not a problem as natural religion, the natural law, is reflected in most religions: forms of the commandments to love your neighbour and do no harm, because societies throughout history have found that they work. Those that don’t follow them destroy themselves. That explains the seeming minimal conformity: it’s not coerced. The law of God is written in the heart of every man. Religious liberty rightly understood is not indifferentism or relativism.
As people’s views change as permitted in an environment of religious liberty, it’s possible that they will diverge to the extent that the commitment to religious liberty and other unifying ideals will erode. Hobbes, for instance, thought this threat was an excellent reason for the state to abolish religious freedom altogether. In this scenario, religion would be yet another tool of good governance.
Taking God’s name in vain, an abuse of religion and threat to liberty that can come from the right or the left.

From Jeff Culbreath.

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