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Liberalism can be defended

March 9th, 2010 · No Comments

Liberalism can be defended
by Ophelia Benson – butterfliesandwheels.com
from dawkins site
Taner Edis thinks Gary Bouma is right about secularism and that Russell Blackford is wrong. I think Taner is mostly wrong that Russell is wrong that Gary Bouma is wrong. Still with me?

Note that, as often in the liberal tradition, the main pragmatic argument Blackford uses to promote a secular regime is that it helps keep the peace between rival sects…Such arguments tend to overlook how such reasoning is difficult to generalize beyond the context of Western European Christianity in the modern era.

Possibly. But then…this may sound crude, but the reality is, Western Europe is a pretty good place to live, and it and its descendants are better places to live than most of the rest of the world. Yes, that does sound crude, but it doesn’t sound exactly fictitious, does it. There aren’t great waves of migrants going from France or Canada or New Zealand to live in Pakistan or China or Nigeria, and that’s not just some random accident. Yes Western Europe and its descendants are prosperous as well as liberal, but then it is generally thought that there is a pretty strong connection between the liberalism and the prosperity. So even if it’s true that secularism currently seems easier to defend in (let’s call it) the liberal world than outside it, that doesn’t really indicate that the illiberal world (to put it crudely) has a good case for theocracy.

But today’s multicultural urban environments are different. We have to deal with not one fragmenting religious tradition, but people thrown together from very different faiths, including various kinds of Muslims, Buddhists, African Christianities, indigenous traditions, etc. etc.

Well not exactly ‘thrown together’ – as indicated above, it’s more a matter of people going to such places on purpose, for reasons, because they want to. It’s a matter of mass migration, of large-scale immigration, of people who are drawn to these places because, for whatever reason, they prefer them to their places of origin. For at least some of those people, secularism and liberalism in general are among the reasons, are among the attractions that draw people from all these very different faiths into today’s multicultural urban environments. It is not necessarily the case that people who move from one place to another want their destination place to transform itself into a simulacrum of the place they left behind. People don’t generally leave home in order to find the same thing elsewhere, so the fact that the new place has many unfamiliar aspects is not automatically a reason to change those aspects. For all anybody knows those are the very aspects that draw people in the first place.

[I]t is hard to say that individualist tendencies are clearly dominant over desires to retain some measure of community identity and cohesion. Governmental bodies, unless driven by an explicit secularism in the French style, can effectively deal with representatives of religious communities as intermediaries. Keeping the peace often means ensuring that South Asian Shiites and Korean evangelicals and so forth do not feel disrespected and disadvantaged.

Tags: liberalism · secularism

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