Thursday, August 30, 2007

Something is only "secular" within a given theology

I continue not to receive unanimous support for my arguments in favour of treating all religions equally in Ontario. I imagine John Tory knows how I feel. The Left is scared of evangelicals (F.R. Scott's defence of the Jehovah's Witnesses would make him unwelcome in all the circles he helped create). The Right wets its bed at the notion of Muslims.

Not that either of them is necessarily wrong. The idea that a society can cohere with a genuine diversity of ultimate metaphysical commitments or "comprehensive conceptions of the good" is hardly justified by either logic or evidence. Few of the traditions of the world would have endorsed the idea, and none of the interesting political theorists would.

Commenter "B" wants religion out of politics altogether. I think this is closer to the French/Turkish notion of laïcité to anything I could recognize as non-establishment and free expression, let alone the Canadian tradition. Canadian politics has always been about religion, even more than language, and certainly more than ideology or class.

The difficulty is that laïcité (and, for that matter, the more civilized Protestant traditions of free exercise) are themselves theological conceptions. Indeed, you really only can have a notion of the "secular" within some theological space.

Although maybe that isn't really a difficulty. All states need a civil religion -- and laïcité could in principle provide it, as long as you could make it stick. I don't think you can make it stick in English Canada, because those who like it will never breed enough. Also, you'd need tanks, or at least guns, and again I suspect the social base for laïcité don't know how to use them.

I think it would be better to think through what our civil religion should require in a way that acknowledges that the evangelicals, the Ismailis and possibly other Muslims could be a part of it. Fund everyone willing to take the money on those terms and ruthlessly suppress the rest.

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