Item description for Why Politics Needs Religion: The Place of Religious Arguments in the Public Square by Brendan Sweetman...
Overview IVP Print On Demand Title The charge is often repeated that religion should not be mixed with politics. Brendan Sweetman counters that charge, arguing that beliefs of some sort are unavoidable, even by nonreligious persons, in addressing our most contentious public debates. Certain religious beliefs (but not all), he contends, belong in the public square and for good reason. In fact, Sweetman goes so far as to suggest that a secularism that rules out religious belief has little promise of contributing to a civil society where we can allow for reasonable disagreements. Religion is no danger when it takes its proper place in political debate.
Publishers Description Can relligion and politics mix? Many voices reply, "No way " Yet in this provocative and timely book, Brendan Sweetman argues against this charge and the various sophisticated arguments that support it. As we witness the clash of religious and secular worldviews he claims that our pluralistic democratic society will be best served when the faith elements of secularism are acknowledged and the rational elements of religious arguments are allowed to inform the momentous debates taking place in the public square. In fact, Sweetman contends that "politics needs religion if it is to be truly democratic, concerned with fairness among worldviews, equality and a vigorous public discussion."
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More About Brendan Sweetman
Brendan Sweetman is Professor and Chair in the Department of Philosophy at Rockhurst University, USA. He is the author of Religion: Key Conceptsin Philosophy (Continuum, 2006) andco-editor of Contemporary Perspectives on Religious Epistemology (OUP, 1992).
Brendan Sweetman has an academic affiliation as follows - Rockhurst College University of Southern California University of Sout.
Brendan Sweetman has published or released items in the following series...
Reviews - What do customers think about Why Politics Needs Religion: The Place of Religious Arguments in the Public Square?
Informed faith in the public square Feb 15, 2007
We are told that religion and politics don't mix. But it is often the irreligious who make such claims. Secularists do not want people of faith to have any input into the political process. But given that the majority of the world's population is religious, it is reasonable to expect religion to inform and flavour the political debate.
There are at least three ways in which religion can influence and interact with politics. One is the sacred public square model, in which religion takes over the public arena. This theocratic model is best exemplified in the Islamic view of religion and politics, in which there is no sacred/secular distinction.
Another is the naked public square model, in which religion is decidedly and deliberately absent from the public arena, being a privatised faith relegated to the purely personal sphere. This is what the secularists and atheists are gunning for.
Finally there is the civic public square model, in which competing religious belief systems are allowed to slug it out, intellectually and ideologically, in the public arena. In this model various religious arguments are made, and may the best man - or religion - win. That is the model argued for in this book.
Sweetman, an American philosophy professor, claims that all religions have a right to enter the social and political debates of the day. Modern pluralism is not threatened or harmed by allowing religious argumentation about current social debates. In fact, it is strengthened by it.
He insists that all worldviews have a genuine place in the democratic process, and that non-religious positions promote their own worldviews, just as the various religions do. Indeed, he demonstrates that even secular humanism is a worldview and a religion.
A worldview, says Sweetman, is a philosophy of life, dealing with such issues are the nature of reality, what it means to be human, and how we think about right and wrong. It also contains certain life-regulating beliefs. Clearly the major world religions deal with such considerations, but so too does secularism and humanism.
And all worldviews have a faith component. That is, not all of their claims and beliefs can be fully and absolutely proven or established, so there is a belief commitment. Every worldview, even the secular worldview, has this faith component.
Philosophical naturalists, for example, have a commitment to the belief that all that matters is matter. It is not something that can be proven with absolute certainty, but is instead a philosophical presupposition.
There is nothing wrong with having such faith commitments, Sweetman suggests. We all hold to some beliefs without absolute surety, but we have substantial and reasonable grounds for holding to such beliefs. Thus religious folk can have strong, probable and rational grounds for holding to various beliefs, just as secularists do.
In this volume Sweetman spends a fair amount of time demonstrating just how secularism is in fact a worldview, even a religion. He shows how these secularists are not just against certain things (religion, God, the supernatural, etc.) but in fact have many things they are positively promoting and advocating, such as their philosophical naturalism, their materialistic reductionism, and so on.
Moreover, many secularists want in fact to establish a "seculocracy". They want to see established by law their views on a whole range of issues, be it evolution, moral relativism or a fully naked public arena. These goals can be clearly seen in the various Humanist Manifestos that have been produced (1933, 1973 and 2000).
Sweetman next argues that if secularism is as much of a worldview and a religion as is Christianity, then both should be treated the same: both should have equal access to the public square, and both should be allowed to set forth their case, and let the people decide which is the preferred option, at least on various public policy issues.
But secularists do not even want the debate to take place. They act as if they alone should have exclusive access to the public arena, and that all religions must be privatised affairs, with no influence whatsoever in the social and political spheres.
But Sweetman says that all worldviews should have this access to the public sphere. He teases this idea out by looking at several contentious debates, such as the abortion issue, and shows how in a pluralistic and democratic society, those with religious convictions can just as properly, and reasonably, put forth their case as the secularists.
Indeed, as the author argues, politics needs religion. If the state is to treat its citizens fairly and equally, then it must create a level playing field in which all religions and worldviews are allowed to flourish and promote their vision of the public good.
It is possible that secularism might prevail. Or some religion, like Christianity. But that is what a democracy is all about, letting the people decide what set of core beliefs and values they wish to model their nation on. A fair and democratic political system will allow vigorous debate on the issues that concern its citizens, and not allow one group (increasingly in the West, the secularists) to have an unfair monopoly over the public arena.
This book deserves wide reading, if we are to forestall the secularists from cutting of the much needed debate on the important issues of the day.
Religion Within the Bounds of Reason Dec 1, 2006
Sweetman's latest book, Why Politics Needs Religion, is an important contribution to the contemporary debate on the place of religion in the public square. Secularists insist that religion is a personal matter and, as such, has no claim to a voice in the public square. They maintain whereas their views are based on reason, evidence, and an overall open mindedness, religious views are, on the contrary, based on faith (construed as the absence of reason), lack of evidence (construed as dogmatism), and closed mindedness. Sweetman quickly punctures this bubble by calling attention to the fact that religion and secularism are both worldviews. As worldviews they belong to the same category as to their form but differ as to their respective content. Sweetman acknowledges interpretations of the Constitution that bolster the secularist efforts to silence the public voice of religion, but argues that a moral interpretation of the issues of public debate, such as abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex marriage has priority over the constitutional interpretation. This is a brilliant move since if all judgments, whether secular or religious, are made within one's worldview. It follows that "...the role one's religious beliefs should play in politics must be defended from within one's own worldview, not from some independent, neutral standpoint" since there is no such thing as a neutral standpoint when that refers to a standpoint that lies outside any worldview. The identification of both secularism and religion as worldviews is decisive because it discloses the inconsistency and injustice of depriving religion of an equal hearing with secularism in the public square, especially in a liberal democracy. This proves to be a telling consideration because it enables Sweetman to go on to show that some secularist views are not rationally justifiable and some religious views are rationally justifiable. Accordingly, he distinguishes between higher and lower order beliefs, pointing out that while the lower order beliefs are more accessible to rational scrutiny, the higher order beliefs are less so. Religion, for example, offers objections against slavery and abortion that do not depend predominantly on religious belief but on reason and empirical evidence. In contrast, Sweetman regards the secularist denial of human nature as a higher order belief since "it is based on weak reasons and seems to ignore evidence to the contrary" and thus has no legitimate role to play in the public square. Lest one suppose that the question of human nature is better left to academic debate, consider that it is what gives legs to the current national debate over same-sex marriage. In the book's closing pages, Sweetman distinguishes two senses of "tolerance," thereby unmasking the intolerance of secularism's advertised tolerance of opposing viewpoints. The book offers an engaging critique of the darling of academic liberals, John Rawls, in addition to a full and current bibliography. I give it a five star rating.
Raymond Dennehy Philosophy Dept. University of San Francisco
Religious Arguments in the Public Square Oct 10, 2006
The title of this book, "Why Politics Needs Religion," might surprise, because the often repeated mantra is that religion has no place in the public square. In fact for some, any discourse informed by religious opinions is off limits. Of course, public policy is shaped by persons, and persons are not so easily compartmentalized in such a way that their religious values are suspended when acting on behalf of the public. As it turns out, however, even those who purport to approach the public square in strict neutrality bring with them a worldview containing specific ideas about the nature of reality, the nature of human beings, beliefs about morality, etc. Philosopher Brendan Sweetman's argument, then, is that in a liberal democratic society, it is not only appropriate but necessary to introduce religious arguments into political issues, both because it is the fair thing to do in a democratic society and because religion is such a dominate player in the lives of so many living in our society, Christianity in particular.
With this thesis in mind, Sweetman lays out his arguments logically and carefully. Based on his criteria of what constitutes a worldview, he demonstrates that secularism is as much a worldview as is Christianity. Further, he dispels the myth that religion is based simply on faith, void of rational foundations. Sweetman then critically analyzes eight arguments often offered for restricting religious discourse in politics, such as the argument that religious beliefs are not fully rational, that secular reason is neutral toward religion, that religious beliefs are dangerous but secularism is benign, and others. In the remainder of the book Sweetman presents his own views on the role religion can play in political issues, applying his arguments to such controversial issues as school payer, euthanasia, the display of religious symbols in public places, and others.
"Why Politics Needs Religion" is timely. As Americans face a political landscape that is more and more polarized, what we don't need is the exploitation of religion by politicians from the left or the right. What we do need, rather, is more political discussion that has been informed by a wide range of arguments, including religious ones. "Why Politics Needs Religion" is a step in that direction, forcefully and cogently asserting that all reasonable arguments deserve to be heard, including religious ones. This book will doubtlessly generate discussion. It is valuable not only for those who work in public life but for all citizens who care about the quality and content of discourse that goes on in politics.
Make Fair and Square the Public Square Oct 2, 2006
This outstanding book is a definitive answer to the question whether religious worldviews have a right in a democratic or pluralistic society to participate in the public square. In fact, this book is the best analysis and response to that question since Richard John Neuhaus (who, by the way, endorses Dr. Sweetman's book on the cover) published "The Naked Public Square" some years ago. Sweetman's book is a brilliant analysis and criticism of a political rhetoric prevalent in contemporary America that presumes secularism to be a neutral position congenial to democratic discourse. While secularism is neutral, this same rhetoric judges religion to be a prejudicial point of view. By virtue of its assumptions about truth, religion brings bias to political debate and undermines democracy. Thus, enlightened politics should exclude religious voices from the public square. Sweetman adroitly diagnoses this bit of hypocrisy, making two central points: (1) secularism, as a worldview, itself rests on many assumptions that it does not prove; in that respect, it is not different in kind from religion; hence, it is unfair to include the one in the public square and to exclude the other; (2) for centuries thinkers from multiple disciplines defended many religious convictions on grounds that religion could be rational; if a religious advocate regards his or her position as rational and asks in a democratic society to argue his or her position in the public square, it is arbitrary, intolerant, and undemocratic not to allow such a person the minimal right to express his or her argument. These observations put in new light the sophistries of political and legal activists (such as the ACLU) who interpret the American Constitution's "separation of church and state" as prohibiting religious voices from participating in public discourse. Sweetman explains (1) that this interpretation of the constitution is controversial at best, and (2) that it obscures the underlying moral question whether in a genuinely open and pluralistic society anyone who believes his or her views are reasonable--even if religious--should be excluded a priori from participation in the democratic process. Two chapters in Sweetman's book assess the standard arguments demanding religion not participate in the public square. These chapters would interest anyone in this debate. Why self-proclaimed champions of democracy would be so undemocratic about their tactics of exclusion inspires Dr. Sweetman to speculate about their motivation. In his judgment, secularists cannot risk permitting religion to stake its claim as a peer voice in the public square, since the religious worldview is powerful and defensible. Once secularists must listen to and fairly debate the religious worldview--its claims about reality, the human person, and morality--they would have to concede that secularism is less plausible than religion in its attempt to explain reality, the human condition, and morality. Not wanting to run this risk, secularists try to create a culture to preempt religious advocates from participation. It's easier to win a debate, if your opponent is not allowed to speak. Secularists have much to lose if Dr. Sweetman's book is influential in American political and social debate.
Reason in Religion Sep 26, 2006
Those who believe that reason and religion have no connection between them will be surprised by this book. Pope Benedict XVI recently spoke of the importance of reason in the life of faith, and it was striking how many commentators in the media found his remarks almost incomprehensible. All religions are irrational, aren't they? For many in the media and academic establishments, religion is another word for the opposite of science, which supposedly has a lock on all rational inquiry.
Sweetman disassembles such claims in this timely book. Like Pope Benedict, he realizes that reason is in fact the key element in any well-defined faith. Rationally plausible religious statements, Sweetman contends, belong in American public life. He begins by distinguishing between two levels of religious statements, those that are dependent upon the particular teachings of a revealed religion, and those broader and more universal statements that are amenable to reason. For example, to say God is a Trinity is beyond our rational comprehension, but to say that God's existence can be deduced from nature is a reasonable statement given our observations on the world at large. Because statements like the latter have a rational foundation, Sweetman argues that they ought to be allowed within our nation's public life and, more importantly, should influence our public debates on moral matters.
Scientists themselves have their own beliefs, for example, that all of nature can be reduced to the material interaction of atomic particles or other such naturalistic claims. Sweetman shows that this is an assumption that is made before one even begins to practice science and for which there can be no proof, other than the belief that it must be true. He rightly classifies such beliefs as no different from religious beliefs.
Sweetman also does an excellent job of skewering the arguments of secularism. He is not afraid to address the most neuralgic moral issues of our day. Abortion, euthanasia, school prayer, etc., are all discussed insightfully. One of the key sections is Chapter 3, Religious Beliefs and Reason. Sweetman here argues for the rationality of many commonly held religious beliefs and makes a good case for leveling the playing-field between secularists and believers. The secularists want to claim that the public square belongs to them exclusively by saying that only non-religious arguments (that is, their own arguments) merit public consideration, while any statement with a connection with religious conviction must be set aside without any debate as inappropriate. Obviously, this is not only unfair, but also one of those secular beliefs for which there can be no proper justification.
The Founders, of course, wanted a separation of Church and State. The sectarian doctrines of private religious traditions do not belong in our public life. Sweetman therefore sets these aside. But the Founders were completely open and encouraging of religious ideas that were informed by reason. These, Sweetman shows, belong within our public life.
Christians interested in a new angle on how to influence public debate will find many valuable insights in this very thoughtful and well-reasoned book.