Features March 1999
The bright line: liberalism and religion
The seventh in a series titled “The betrayal of liberalism
It is not at all clear whether contemporary liberalism, in its many modes of expression, has betrayed its own tradition in relation to religion or, rather, if what we are witnessing is a gradual and more complete display of liberalism’s constitutive principles in its dealings with religion. The standard treatment of liberalism and religion tells us that liberalism saved religion from itself—that is, liberalism saved religion from its bloodcurdling excesses and absolutist demands. It is said that by forcing a regime of “toleration” on religion, liberalism in its constitutional forms demanded that religion act more humanely. And so it came to pass that both sides—“sectarian” groups (meaning religious groups, of course) and non-sectarian groups (all the others organized along the lines of the liberal mandate)—have learned to live happily or at least safely with one another. But this truce is insistently represented...
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