The 911 attacks and the rise of a politically assertive conservative Christianity sparked a series of provocative and lively attacks on religion. These “New Atheist” works were met with an avalanche of replies from a variety of perspectives: fundamentalists and conservatives, more liberal believers, a leftist agnostic, and even a Marxist literary theorist.
After the New Atheist debate (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014) examines the controversy. The participants in the debate have focussed on questions such as: how strong are the arguments presented for or against God’s existence, for or against the reasonableness of belief and unbelief?
After the New Atheist debate, however, focuses on the political dimension. It concerns questions such as: How are we to live together? What is the place of religion in a modern democracy? To what extent should democratic laws constrain religious freedom? What are the ethical principles that a community should embody in law?
For citizens in a democracy, this dimension is in fact the vital one. We can bypass the theological dimension, since the existence and nature of God is a matter on which the respectful coexistence of many perspectives is entirely possible, as we find in most developed societies today. The political dimension to the debate, however, cannot be avoided, as it concerns many of the ground-rules for a modern democracy.
For religious conservatives in particular, one of the vexing questions of modern life concerns perceived restrictions on their freedom to advance arguments based on religious beliefs. In the vivid words of candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, Rick Santorum, “to say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes you throw up. What kind of country do we live [in] that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case?”
“Stout, Rawls, and the idea of public reason ” (Journal of Religious Ethics, 2014) tackles this controversy. Philosopher John Rawls argued that citizens in a liberal democracy should voluntarily restrain themselves when arguing in certain political spaces. Rawls’s “idea of public reason” has been attacked by many thinkers, including philosopher Jeffrey Stout. My paper critiques Stout’s position, and presents a defence of Rawls’s position.
Here is the article abstract.