Saturday, May 21, 2005

Religion vs. democracy smackdown

This Mark Lilla essay in last Sunday's NYT Book Review limns the no-longer-so provocative idea that Christianity and liberal democracy are in some sense fundamentally at odds. He bats down various canards about the founding fathers - that they wanted a "Christian nation" in the modern sense of the term, or that they were indifferent to religion:

The British and Americans made two wagers. The first was that religious sects, if they were guaranteed liberty, would grow attached to liberal democracy and obey its norms. The second was that entering the public square would liberalize them doctrinally, that they would become less credulous and dogmatic, more sober and rational.

So much for that one.

He goes on to say that when Christian churches have tilted this direction - become aligned with the broad political consensus, more focused on the inward spiritual journey, etc. - it hasn't lasted. The world gets more complex and threatening, and the churches rebel. Hence our current predicament. Not sure I agree, but it's a worthy read.