Christian Dignity and the Overlapping Consensus
27 Pages Posted: 9 Sep 2020 Last revised: 11 Sep 2020
Date Written: September 7, 2020
Written for a symposium about Christian perspectives on human dignity, this Essay rejects arguments by Christian leaders and scholars who lament the secularization of Western societies and urge Christian dignity as the foundation of universal human rights. It argues instead that only a secular conception of dignity free of Christian metaphysics can create an overlapping consensus supporting human rights.
Part 1 describes the roots of Christian dignity in medieval theology and status. Part 2 recounts how the Renaissance and Enlightenment re-centered the end of dignity from knowing God to knowing oneself, while the Reformation’s extension of original sin to the intellect left Catholicism as the primary defender of Christian dignity. Part 3, the heart of the paper, shows that unprecedented religious and moral pluralism in the West makes Christian dignity an implausible ground for universal human rights. The theological and natural law underpinnings and the political implications of Christian dignity alienate and exclude unbelievers, nonChristians, and even many Christians, impeding the formation of a stable political consensus for human rights. Part 4 concludes with observations about why conservative Christians might find the overlapping consensus attractive, and why they might not.
Keywords: human dignity, Christian dignity, Christian theology, universal human rights, natural law, metaphysics, religious pluralism, moral pluralism, conservatism
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