Liberalism and Religion


The histories of liberal political thought and revealed religion have been inextricably intertwined since the birth of liberalism during the seventeenth century wars of religion. While liberals like John Locke were once so bold as to attempt to reconstruct Christian doctrine in order to harmonize it with liberal teachings, the more recent efforts of liberals—for example, John Rawls’s "political liberalism""—seem on the whole much more modest. Rather than rely on a comprehensive doctrine that points to the ""metaphysical"" foundations of a liberal political order, many contemporary liberals tend either simply and self-consciously to speak for a contingent communityof ""postmodernist bourgeois liberals"" or, following Rawls, to articulate a conception of ""public reason"" that is very limited in its ambit. Because there seems to be no hope of finding a thick and rich common ground in a pluralistic society, characterized by a apparently permanent multiplicity of secular and religious comprehensive doctrines, Rawlsian liberals stay closer to the surface, offering and demanding arguments ""the essentials of which all citizens may reasonably be expected to endorse in the light of principles and ideals acceptable to them as reasonable and rational."" Abstaining from offering only reasons that are not acceptable to rational human beings as such is a ""duty of civility,"" through which one respects the autonomy of one’s fellows and does not expect them to live under rules to whose ground they may not have access.
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