In (Partial) Praise of (Some) Compromise: Comments on Tebbe
Journal of Civil Rights & Economic Development, vol. 31, no. 2, 2018
17 Pages Posted: 10 Oct 2019 Last revised: 22 Nov 2019
Date Written: 2018
I want to begin by sketching a point of view that, at best, makes only an implicit showing in Tebbe's persuasive, thoughtful, and challenging book. That viewpoint looks something like this: religion is unique, not just in substance but also in form. Start with substance: religion is a way of looking at the world as not exhausted by secular values or concerns; for money, prestige, or for "utility" broadly construed, or even exhausted by morality. Religion asks, repeatedly of those who believe in it, to do seemingly impossible things. It counts on miracles. Religion sees the world and our lives, fundamentally, as something that we did not make and which come to us as sort of a gift. It tells us that others should be at the center of our universe and not ourselves. And now, go to form: religion, to the believer, pervades that person's life. It is a structure of commands, in part; a collection of virtues, in part; a set of techniques for making it through the day, in part; and a relationship, in part. In both of these ways (form and content), there is nothing quite like religion to many. To put it another way, religion truly is special.
This point of view isn't obviously present in Tebbe's book, which is not to say that it isn't there. But at best, it is buried. The sort of considerations that go into the social coherence method don't include (at least on my reading) many considerations of this type. The social coherentist looks at harm of a concrete, secular sort and fairness of an equal protection variety. There is not much in the way of spiritual harm or the particular benefits of religion or the special demands and needs of religious believers. Perhaps for good reason are these harms, goods, demands, and needs excluded. To some, they will simply not register; to some, they won't count as reasons. To still others, they might simply be the wrong kind of reasons to use in public debate.
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