Elucidations: Prev Next

Why tolerate religion?

  • Why protect religious conscience, over and above other forms of moral conscience?
    • Historically, lots of religious intolerance have led to atrocities.
  • What’s distinctive of religious belief (not merely theistic religions)? Two characteristics:
    1. There are certain beliefs that are insulated from ordinary standards of reasons and evidence.
    • This is trying to cache out “faith”
    1. There are certain obligations that are demanded of a believer.
    • This is why religion comes in conflict with the law, so the need for practices
    • Potential counterexamples:
      • Not let in enough: Christian apologists willing to argue/defend Christiantity based on normal standards of evidence.
        • It’s true there exist intellectualist traditions within religious thought.
          1. Most believers want their beliefs insulated
          1. These are beliefs that are post-hoc rationalizations
        • Could say these are not religious hypotheses, although they deployed to support religion.
      • Let in too much: secular people have opinions about the meaning of life that are not subject to reason/evidence. E.g. John Lennon thinks we should give peace a chance, I’m commanded to not go to war.
        • Whether you think moral views are insulated from reasons/evidence depends on deeper metaphysical views.
          • Naturalistic moral realist: morality is just like science, so it is answerable to reasons and evidence
          • Noncognitivist: moral beliefs are actually expressing emotions, so not applicable to rule 1.
  • Neither of the distinctive characteristics are related to the standard arguments for tolerating religion.
    • Utilitarian and Rawlsian arguments justify protecting liberty of conscience but would not single out religion.

More than mere toleration

  • Nussbaum - doesn’t religion deserve more than toleration, e.g. respect:
    • Mere toleration: you disapprove but you have to put up with them.
    • Respect is ambiguous:
        1. recognition respect: “you ought to respect his feelings”
        • respect for people in virtue of them being people
        1. appraisal respect: “I respect her intellect”
        • admiration
    • People conflate 1 (which is uncontroversially owed to strangers), but bait-and-switch with meaning 2.
      • Nussbaum’s example: Roger Williams founded Rhode Island and discovered the Native Americans were more similar than he expected.
        • This still doesn’t justify appraisal respect.

Practical import of the argument

  • Extend the practice of appealing for an exemption from a law to all matters of conscience.
  • Worrisome that courts will now have to judge whether matters truly are of conscience.
    • It’s easier to figure out if 1.) someone is a member of a religion, 2.) if a religion demands a certain behavior rather than to figure out if a person is being genuine.
  • Maybe pragmatic reasons for status quo, but not moral reasons.