Religion of Doubt
Commentary, Vol. 129, No. 6, pp. 43-45, June 2010
3 Pages Posted: 7 Jun 2010
Date Written: June 4, 2010
A review of Ian Buruma, "Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents," (Princeton, 2010).
Liberal democracy and religion enjoy a strained relationship, Ian Buruma writes in "Taming the Gods," because democracy is about "resolving conflicting interests through negotiation and compromise," while religion claims to represent "absolute or divine truth" and therefore cannot compromise. Democracies, he says, must find a way "to stop irrational passions from turning violent" and to prevent "religious irrationality from interfering with rational inquiry." Because Buruma regards the claim to absolute truth as the quintessential characteristic of any religion, the main opposition one finds in his book is not really between religion and democracy but between certainty and doubt. At the outset of the book, Buruma compares some political ideologies to religious beliefs and notes the danger that arises when "the state claims to be the source of absolute truth." Such claims, he writes, "are always lethal, whether they are enforced by commissars or by priests." Democracy is different: "It is not the task of a liberal democratic state to provide answers to the deeper questions about life, let alone impose metaphysical beliefs on its citizens." Well, yes — and no.
Keywords: Religion, Democracy
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