May 3, 2013

A Bait and Switch Argument

Writing for the Family Research Council, Rob Schwarzwalder attempts to make a religious liberty argument against Bruce Leiter’s new book, Why Tolerate Religion?.

Schwarzwalder quotes Leiter almost correctly, “[N]o one has been able to articulate a credible principled argument for tolerating religion qua religion - that is, an argument that would explain why, as a matter of moral principle, we ought to accord special legal and moral [treatment - sic] to religious practices” (p.7).” Schwarzwalder omitted the rather important word “treatment.” After a little history lesson on the “oppression of Christians, “ Schwarzwalder responds, “The assertion that a ‘principled’ case for religious liberty remains unmade is so striking in its ignorance that it invites the derision a serious academic should find embarrassing [highlight added -des].” Leirter worries about religions toleration; Schwarzwalder worries about “religious liberty” throughout his review. They are not the same thing.

I don’t know either Bruce Leiter or Rob Schwarzwalder (I've exchanged an email or two with Leiter over the years) but I do know that Leiter wouldn’t just flat out change the subject and pretend that he didn’t. From reading Leiter’s philosophy blog I’m pretty sure he would be against “the persecution of the early church, the Inquisition, anti-Catholic violence, or the Holocaust” - part of Schwarzwalder irrelevant history lesson. I’m also pretty sure Leiter is well aware of “the Judeo-Christian intellectual tradition and its contribution to the foundations of liberal democracy.” The quotation here is part of a more extended quotation from Joe Loconte in Schwarzwalder's review. That there is an important and influential “Judeo-Christian intellectual tradition” is beyond question (I do worry about what is exactly meant by “Judeo-Christian . . . tradition” but that’s another question.) I even think that one can make a strong case that the Enlightenment came out of that tradition. But the foundation of liberal democracy is a child of the Enlightenment and at the very best a grandchild of our western religious traditions.

I’ve read a draft paper that I think Leiter expanded into his book (while I've started reading his book, to my regret I haven't finishing it). This paper and what I've read of the book speak to quite different issues than Schwarzwalder seems to think the book does. He only speaks to Leiter 's book; he may not know the paper. It makes me wonder if he has really even read the book. On the one hand, Leiter addresses what Mark Twain was getting at when Paine quoted him as saying,

So much blood has been shed by the Church because of an omission from the Gospel: "Ye shall be indifferent as to what your neighbor's religion is." Not merely tolerant of it, but indifferent to it. Divinity is claimed for many religions; but no religion is great enough or divine enough to add that new law to its code. apud Paine, Mark Twain: a Biography

On the other hand, Leiter’s paper and his book (or as much as I've read of it) speaks to policy questions that would (and should) arise if we were to practice religions indifference rather than merely religious toleration. Leiter’s position has nothing to do with religious liberty as Schwarzwalder seems to wish it did. Leiter and, for that matter, I may well question the intellectual basis for religious beliefs but I'm rather sure that neither one of us would even be indifferent to the loss of religious liberty. I don’t know about Leiter, but I'm fearful about what might replace it. It might be Schwarzwalder's brand religion!

For another take on Why Tolerate Religion? check out R. C. Robinson at Choice Reviews Online.

Via Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog

Posted by Duane Smith at May 3, 2013 8:58 PM | Read more on Religion |

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