About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Cavanaugh on Blackford

Just for the record, here's a critic of mine - William Cavanaugh writing in response to an earlier piece by me that is, in turn, based on material in chapter 3 Freedom of Religion and the Secular State.

I'll be responding to Cavanaugh on the ABC site. Meanwhile, we can certainly quibble about how much blame we should allocate to religion for, say, the Thirty Years' War (for reasons that I sketch briefly in the book). But I should just say for now that the historical thesis Cavanaugh attributes to me is not one I have ever argued for. Perhaps something I have said somewhere as shorthand could be interpreted that way (I seem to recall some confusion during the IQ2 debate last year), but nothing like it appears in the first para of the piece that Cavanaugh objects to - and it's only in the first para that I touch on these issues about wars of religion.

What I say in the impugned essay and the book is not that the strife of the 17th century was resolved at the time by the introduction of secularist arrangements (a separation of church and state). It wasn't. Rather, I say that it provoked certain thoughts in the minds of political philosophers such as Hobbes and Locke, and that those thoughts are still of value to us today. I stand by that.

Anyway, I'll have a longer response elsewhere and will link to it when it's published.


Anonymous said...

Society would be much freer if secularists dropped the idea that their reasons alone are "worldly" and therefore fit for public consumption. It would be much more refreshing if atheists like Blackford just abandoned the pretence of neutrality and said that they find many Christian ideas batty. Then we could perhaps have an interesting conversation about the ends of human life and best political ways to attain them.

I read this in part to say, "come out from behind that wall and fight me you coward" - and I think so long as he agrees to not get violent in response to the conversation that this would lead to "about why his ideas are batty" that he is exactly right.

His church has doctrines that are formed before the age of reason, and have not been informed by all the "good news" we've gotten since the "good news" that he things is authoritative was written.

The other side of this however is that there is much that he believes in that is virtuous and good.

It seems to me that politically the wall of separation is practical and must remain - for everyone's benefit - but intellectually, he's accusing atheists of being like the french in the holy grail scene, and hiding behind the wall and being silly ...


I say, give him what he wants!

and further, that we (atheists) will benefit from watching you give it to him!

Thanks for all your writing on this topic!!

Russell Blackford said...

To be honest, the more I read the piece the more confusing I find it. And I don't think it's just me.

Anyhoo ... thanks.

Jason Streitfeld said...

Apart from the straw man about secularism ending religious wars, I think Cavanaugh's argument is sophisticated and not to be dismissed too casually.

On the one hand, he's talking about the politics of the word 'religion', which I think is very interesting. Maybe he'd like to stop using the word to make political distinctions. That would be one way of undermining the privileged status given to religious organizations in the West. But his main point seems to be that the so-called public space so prized by liberals has been carved out without due consideration of the values and principles of so-called religious institutions. He's saying that the world does not provide a ready line between the public and the religious, and that any attempt to draw the line is going to cause problems. But I don't think he's flatly against drawing public/private lines in general. I think he just wants a more substantive discussion of how to go about drawing it. The accusation he's making is that secularists have specific agendas which are not put in the open. This seems very much like the sort of response to your book I anticipated: you're not willing to say that you want to enfranchise/enforce/teach naturalism in the public sphere.

Jason Streitfeld said...

Maybe I shouldn't have said he wants "a more substantive discussion." That probably looked like a criticism of you, Russell, when none was intended. Rather, I think Cavanaugh wants a discussion that doesn't make what he believes are unwarranted assumptions about the proper province of so-called "religious" belief and action.