Faith, Politics and Liberal Democracy


BLAIR: Well, I think was well worth the rest of it, Nick. Listen, when you talk about a demeaning political discourse, try the British House of Commons:
the Prime Minister’s question time. It kind of defines a demeaning political discourse, I would say. WOLTERSTORFF: I take it you sometimes felt yourself demeaned there? BLAIR: I very seldom felt myself anything else. Listen, here’s some good news– because we’ve
we’ve had with us some of the people from the other universities
who are now taking this course from– from around the world, and actually
the things that we’re debating here are things that they are debating too, in a very lively and interesting way,
and so I think what– it’s– it’s kind of good to think that we’re a part of a broader movement. And actually what I want to do is to build
very much on what Nick has just said, because I’d just like to
say I agree with it. I just agree with it. And I want to try to take this debate to the next stage because I think that the classic divide– and I found this reading the literature
for– for what we’re going to do today– the classic divide in this debate is on the one side, religious people saying, “We’ve
got the right to enforce our views against– against you,” and then the secular liberals come back and say, “Keep your religion out of the public realm.” And it’s then– when we, we analyze these things, it’s not just about the constitution, because there can be all sorts of things that are outside the constitution that can still make a difference
to how religion is viewed. I mean, for example– I don’t know, and you tell me, but– I think if you’re an American presidential
candidate and stood up and said, “I don’t believe in God,” you’d probably find it– I mean your campaign manager would say, “I don’t think you should say that– not–” Your strategist and your pollster would be leaping
out of their seats. So, you know, even if it’s not– you know, sometimes religion can have an influence
outside of the formal nature of– of the debate in terms of the constitution. But the classic
divide– the religious people saying, “We decide,” and the secular
liberals saying, “Get out of the public realm,” I personally think you can move on from
that, really. And– because what is clear that– as Nick has just said– the democracy, pluralist democracy– or, let me say this– actually a pluralist
society, because I think some of these things apply
even to non-democratic societies that are pluralist– they require a common space where difference can be accommodated, but where certain values or norms are shared. Right, so that people are respected irrespective of their religious commitment– whatever their own religion says about certain
issues, nonetheless they accept, they come on a common
space at a certain point, and have to expect that public face in
the valleys and norms of– within it. So, I think most people understand that, even if they’re
strongly religious, actually. Most people. Not everyone, but I think most do. And also– and I think this is where the
thing has moved on from Rawls’s time– although there are people who still come up with some quite intemperate stuff on
this– but I think most people believe also that religion can’t be excluded from the public realm. In other words, it’s one thing to say, “I, as a religious thinker– I’m going to determine the public realm.” It’s quite another thing to
say, “I simply want to be– my voice to be heard.” Now that, at its minimal, I think most people would say nowadays, “Well, yeah, of course that’s true.” And incidentally, the fact is– which I would make for a practical point of view– if you are of religious belief, in a sense you can’t exclude it; it defines you. So
there is no way that you could have a public debate in which your religious is not somehow relevant to you, and therefore relevant to the debate that is occurring within the public realm. So my view is that this debate is not really about liberal versus religious, in the sense of the way that, say, O’Donovan uses it, whereas
the liberal is really a sort ofa contractarian– I think he said that, is that the right– the expression is that it’s to do simply with the contract– whereas the religious people are the people
with the values. That is almost the suggestion I found in that writing. It seems to me that even if you are– if you take a non-religious view, of human rights, nonetheless– as, indeed, Rawls was pointing out– behind any constitution of rights, there will lie certain ideals, and those ideals are inspired by certain values. So, it isn’t really true to say that the person who’s a secular liberal, and says, “Look, religion shouldn’t come into
this debate,” is really arguing from the point of view of saying, “I think this is just a personal contractual
issue; it’s got nothing to do with larger society.” In the same way, as I say, that in my view most people who are religious do in fact accept that there is a common space and a common constitution written or unwritten to which they must conform. In addition to that, I think that no one seriously thinks nowadays that society doesn’t require
certain values to underpin it. Whether you’re religious or you’re secular. Most people talk about certain values that lie behind whatever is the constitutional, the legal laws
to which people are expected to– to conform. And even the most non-religious politicians, certainly, in societies like ours– you know, I think they– they’re not merely motivated by certain values,
but they see them– see themselves as representing certain values. And I think the people are perfectly prepared, mostly to see those who are of religious belief at least having the right to participate
in the debate and the right to say– because how can they
say otherwise– that their view of a particular debate is motivated by their religious belief. So I think it’s really– when we come to this supposedly very strong divide between the secular and the religious, I think most people have resolved that debate in their own mind. I’m not saying that
there aren’t still people at the extremes on either side who will say on the religious side, “I want to determine
the way that society works; I’m not prepared to accept, my religion impels me to act in a way inconsistent with the constitution”–
as Nick was explaining– I’m sure there are people like that, there are people like that– there are people on the other side as you saw with the statement from Jacoby, which is very much, you
know, just– “Get out of there, you shouldn’t be anywhere
near this debate”– but I don’t– I think most people accept that society’s based on certain values, and
some of those values will derive from religion and some of those values won’t, but there’s a place,
often, that is common and overlapping. I think the more interesting questions now are really these, however: in order to make a society work effectively, what is it that is necessary for religious and non-religious people to agree
upon in order for that society to function well? Now I agree with the two principles that Nick has just outlined, and let me try and
put this in my own way and develop it somewhat. I think, first of all, that people who are secular need to understand also that the religious dimension can give a quality of a moral nature to the debate within society that can be helpful and constructive and progressive. So, for example, I would say that of the debates about Western policy in relation, let’s say, to
Africa and the third world debt– the impact of those inspired by religion had a significant impact on the political decisions that were then
taken by leaders. I would say that the G8, which I presided over in 2005, would never have
come to its conclusions without a very strong religious movement here, back in Europe, and elsewhere in support of
that. And actually one of the big changes in the
whole issue to do with HIV/AIDS and how it was treated in Africa was when many of the Christian movements here decided to get over various of the sexual issues in relation to HIV/AIDS and actually
embrace the notion that it was an important part of their religious duty in order to deal with this– this issue, and in fact, much of the health care that is delivered
in Africa today is delivered by religious organizations. So I think– and I would– it is a very controversial idea to raise
this in– if you take an issue like abortion, which is
very very controversial in my society, and even more so in your society, leave aside whether you agree or disagree
with the positions of religious people on it– but I think that it’s not unhelpful to actually have issues that are difficult
like that raise, in a context that is spiritually or religiously defined– now that doesn’t mean to say that
you end up with the same position of– of, let’s say, the Catholic church on that
issue or not. But I think even secular people should recognize that it’s a debate that’s still important to have, and it’s a debate that might not have taken
place in the same way unless religious people had been prepared to put it on
the agenda. Now, likewise, I think that once society comes to a view, that view has to be accepted– by the religious people also– but all I’m saying is there are– what I think the second people need to understand
is that there can be a way of raising questions– that’s why I do agree
with O’Donovan– a way of raising questions and actually the establishment of an agenda
in which religious and spiritual thought can play part, and play a positive part– because otherwise some issues would not
get raised at all. And– you know, I think, for example, of the work done by many church organizations in relation to the disabled. Now it’s true there are many people
who are not religious at all who raise these issues, but I would have to say, certainly in my society, the most extraordinary and selfless work is done by religious organizations
in this sphere. So. That’s the first thing. The second thing, however– and I think the concomitant obligation is the people who are religious also need to understand that those who do not conform to a view derived from religious
belief nonetheless have equal validity to state that
belief, adhere to it, and advocate it. And this is where, if you like the concept of faith-friendly
democracy, or democracy-friendly faith, it’s so important– you need that balance
if you’re going to achieve a proper settlement of the place of religion
within society. But I think this is not just about democracy and that’s– I just want to make this amendment,
in a sense, to our– our discussion. I think it is possible to have a non-democratic– certainly in the sense of
non-democratic in a Western sense– political system that nonetheless is pluralist and nonetheless
has a– the same relationship that I’m describing between religious faith and politics. What is essential is the notion of pluralism. If you don’t have the exact– the question of pluralism, the issue of pluralism there, that concept rooted in the society– then I think it’s very difficult. And so my view is that this very– what I would call quite extreme, almost a slightly
old-fashioned sense of a divide between those people who say, “My religion entitles me to enforce my
view against you,” and those people who say, “Actually, you take your religious views out of here; we don’t
want anything to do with that, and it’s not a legitimate basis upon which you
can put your case,”– I think that is largely– people– as I say, I’m not saying that it doesn’t
exist, but I don’t think that’s what most people find difficult today. Most people can accept that religious people have a right to
express their view, most religious people can accept that they don’t have the
right to enforce it. I think the question is, though, what are the conditions that– that give rise to that faith-friendly society and a society-friendly faith. And those– in my view– are, as I say, that the secular needs to understand
the religious connections enrich the social and moral dialogue of a nation, and the religious need to understand that those who aren’t religious have equal validity
in their views. The question, to my mind, then becomes the practical
question of how you best create such societies. And here’s where I think the political and the social and the faith
conditions for such societies are an interesting subject of analysis and discussion, because– and it may be it’s just because of my background– I kind of think it’s interesting to analyze the question
and even more interesting to find an answer to the question– and so, what is it that– that gives rise to this? Because I can describe and just have what are
the attitudes, but how do you encourage those attitudes? How do you abet those attitudes? And here’s where I think that the– the policy, in a sense, that flows from this, is as follows: I think, to begin with, there does need to be some clear constitutional or legal framework within which this is set, and the full principles that Nick outlined, they’re behind the US Constitution. Those undoubtedly helped create the sense in the US today that there
is a legitimate and an illegitimate way of having the debate between religion and politics. So I think that is important. I think secondly, none of this would work without action to support it. I think this– what we’re
talking about is radical implications, for example, for our education system, and I think in particular the way that religion is taught within our education system within civic society. Within international engagement– for example, the alliance of civilizations concept put
forward by Turkey and Spain– in some process of development now– is
actually important in this regard. And so if we want to create that society in which there is the balance of the proper space for religion, to make its view clear, but also the– the broader polity that must encompass more
than the religious– I think it requires that constitutional framework, it requires policy on behalf of government that supports such attitudes, and the third thing that it needs, and this is– which touches directly on our faith and globalization course– is it does require a certain attitude of mind. And this is where I find it– it’s quite interesting just listening to Nick’s analysis of the way that the intellectual debate has gone. In the end, what this requires is what I would call an open rather than a closed
attitude to both the process of globalization in the society
in which we live, and how you inculcate that attitude has also got to be part of the the discourse in and around this subject. Because, you see, ultimately, in order for this balance to work, in order for us to be able to say, as Nick has
really outlined for you, that you should not exclude the religious, the religious has a place and
a voice, but nonetheless that is within certain rules and with certain qualifications to how that voice should be spoken– in order to do that and in order to have a society work like that, there needs to be within the people in that
society a certain openness to the other. So that, for example, someone who is religious is not merely not exclusivist toward with those of other religions, but is actually prepared to acknowledge that
the secular can sometimes have something to say to the religious world. But it also requires– and actually
this is– has often, I think, far more resisted– that those that are secular should also realize that those who are religiously
inspired have something to offer and to add to the forum within which political debate is conducted. So, to summarize, my view is this: that this is– I think there is a developing consensus that you do require faith-friendly democracy, democracy-friendly faith, or faith-friendly society, society-friendly faith– the question is how you achieve such a thing, and in order to achieve it, you need a combination of the right constitutional framework the right policy and the right attitude.

Maurice Vega

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