At the basis of much of the debate which goes on the subtext at which we worry was highlighted in a little book. Then Cardinal Ratzinger and philosopher Jurgen Habermas debated the following question:

Does the free secularized state exist on the basis of normative presuppositions that it itself cannot guarantee? This question expresses a doubt about whether the democratic constitutional state can renew from its own resources the normative presuppositions of its existence, it also expresses the assumption that such a state is dependent on ethical traditions of a local nature.

I wrote of that here (check it out, a few interesting quotes from the book The Dialectics of Secularization: On Reason and Religion are included). Herr Habermas (here I diverge from my Mr/Mrs/Ms nomenclature as a reference merely to his Deutsche origins) argues (of course) the affirmative and Fr Ratzinger the latter.

Fr Ratzinger notes that there are pathologies of religion which are quite dangerous. It is this in fact which the atheist apologists over emphasize often and key upon, most recently JA noted “zeal” as peculiar religious problem, setting aside for some reason that other ideological zeals have been at the root cause of most of the 20th centuries mass killings. However, this misses the point. The vast majority of both the faithful and the secular are quite non-violent. The question isn’t about the fringes, although those should not be ignored, but the central question is can society function without without religious ties binding it? Charles Taylor in the book A Secular Age noted the important and central role the church had in the softening and civilizing of our social behavior over the last 600 years. Compare for example ordinary behavior by the elite between the 15th century (War of the Roses) and the Elizabethan 100 years later and then to the Victorian in the 19th. They are like night and day. The conventional wisdom was that this was driven by the Enlightenment and the secular (reason-based) move. But that doesn’t pan out to a careful examination. There was no “enlightenment” occuring in the 15th century that gave rise to the vast differences seen in that period.

But the question of whether a large scale national enterprise can hold together its society in the absence of any faith is unresolved. The French reformers of the 19th century attempting to craft a brave new world thought that the rites and rituals of the religious world gave continuity and permanence to daily life that a purely materialist secular world could not. They attempted to craft similar rituals to replace them, but as Mark Twain noted when his wife attempted using off-color language that “she’d had the notes but didn’t make music.” That is, they tried to make rituals but they, much like Mr Obama with his “clinging to guns and God” remarks, didn’t have the connection to the common man that was need to make music (rite/rituals) that the common man wanted to hear.

The demographic crises in mainly secular Western Europe, which afflicts our (secular) subcultures in the States, is not affecting the non-secular societies world wide. One of the commonalities in secular points of view that might be important to this question is how the secular culture promotes a radical individualism … and how that individualism is not very conducive to the sacrifices and commitment required of marriage and family. Without marriage and family raised as a linchpin or centerpiece of ones society, the same demographic crises will occur. People will go their individual ways and eschew raising families. Birth rates will drop and a generation or two later … the Piper will have to be paid for that particular indulgence.

So, to focus the question a little further, I might restate Herr Habermas’ eloquent question as:

Can the free secularized state exist on the basis of normative presuppositions that it itself cannot guarantee? This question expresses a doubt about whether the democratic constitutional state in the absence of religion eschew radical individualism and recall the necessary importance of stable marriage and family.

So if you disagree, and think that a secular society can in fact put family and children ahead of ego … tell me why and where are the clues that point to that notion.

Filed under: AbortionConservativeCultureLiberalMark O.Religion

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