Saturday, August 17, 2013

Religious freedom.

Church and State, Irish style.
The problem for pluralistic states is that good ends will and must collide. Religious freedom (and freedom from religion) is clearly a good end, but it frequently clashes with other good ends such as homosexual rights. No overriding principles exist to resolve such clashes; democracy is not a search for truth but a means of securing consensus among wildly differing opinions. No single universally agreed conception of the common good exists, let alone consensus on the means of achieving it.

A society may decide that religion is of such importance to its adherents that it deserves some special privileges and protections*. The scope of these special privileges will vary, sometimes dramatically.
For example, the protection of faith through rampant censorship was removed, after  prolonged struggle, in the West because we decided free speech was a greater benefit to society and religions should be capable of competing in a search for the truth without the protection of state institutions or appeals to cultural tradition and authority.

How do we determine the scope of the privileges granted to religious faith? I don’t know of any satisfactory answer to this question because such privileges will conflict with the rights of other groups. Extreme views on the subject are often unhelpful. The Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò defines religious freedom as the complete freedom of religion without compromise:

"Religious freedom is the exercise of fidelity to God and His Holy Church without compromise.  Human action that reflects this fidelity is what has hastened martyrdom and persecution for many believers of the past, and of today.  At the core of this fidelity is the desire to be a good citizen of the two cities where we all live: the City of Man and the City of God.  This kind of dual citizenship necessitates libertas Ecclesiae, i.e., the freedom of the Church."

This definition of religious freedom is absurd because it effectively demands a return to medieval feudalism with the Church defined as the supreme good. No cultural pluralistic state can accept such a definition. (Ireland however once did and we are still counting the cost, not least in the financial compensation the Irish tax payer is forced to pay victims of Roman Catholic social policy.)
The scope of religious freedom then must be determined on a case by case basis and balancing the needs of competing Irish citizens. It requires wisdom on behalf of our elected representatives rather than metaphysical principles.

This is obviously in opposition to monist positions, whether secular or religious, that believe good ends must never clash, that there is a single correct answer to all overriding questions which is in principle discoverable whether through human reason or revelation.

*Protection here means protection from other rival sects or movements.

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