I just received my September 16, 2011 issue of the TLS. In it is Bernice Martin’s review titled Feel the Power in which she reviews A Sociology of Religious Emotion. Ms. Martin does engage in a disagreement with Jurgen Habermas and his belief in the superiority of political secularism. She believes that it is failed and makes an almost convincing argument as to the failed nature of his faith, in that secular mythology. Although she sounds like a believer and as an atheist I find these defensive polemics a bit wearing, in this case she brings a great to deal of light to the conflict of the secular and religious, in her review. Challenging the Habermas’ view of the necessary primacy of a secularist politics by raising the rise of National Socialism as an object lesson in the failure of secularist politics/reason. One could add, in the spirit of polemic, that the American experience of the rise of our own indigenous religious fundamentalists has demonstrated a degree of intolerance toward the relativism that is the pervasive phenomenon of the secular faith, as defined by that very religious sub-set of civic actors. That might make Ms. Martin’s faith in religious tolerance sound a dissonant note in the American civic space, to this secularist. But that does not in the least take away from this review or the book under review; both are well worth respectful readerly attention.
This morning with Ms. Martins review fresh in my mind, I read it before turning out the light, I was reading Michael Frede’s entry, The Philosopher, in this indispensible compendium of essays, originally published in a large format hardback as Greek Thought, A Guide to Classical Knowledge and then two smaller easier to handle and read paperbacks. The excerpt that caught my attention is as follows:
“We learn from Stoic physics that the world is governed by an imminent divine rational principle that arranges the world down to the smallest detail so as to be a perfect world. We also know from Stoic physics that we are constructed in such a way as to be guided by reason toward the good, and that, hence, as part of our development, we have to acquire the approximate beliefs as to what is good, bad, or neither; what it is appropriate for us to do, if we are guided by a concern for the good; and how good action consists precisely in this, doing what is appropriate out of concern for the good.”
If I am willing to imagine myself to be follower of Rorty then I might say, in the spirit of generosity that is the guiding spirit of Rorty, as the philosophical successor of James, that we could view that immanent divine rational principle as Nature. Shorn of its divinity but a potent idea none the less.
I will confess that I only become a radical atheist, when confronted with the ideological intransigence and moral/ethical, not to speak political, surety of believers; who insist that all must live by their covenants, while living under the protection of a secular state that recognizes the rights of all religious citizens, to practice their faiths, unencumbered.