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Posted on: 02/24/10:

Are There Secular Reasons?

Category: General
Posted by: RBAFounderX
Are There Secular Reasons?
By Stanley Fish

In the always-ongoing debate about the role of religion in public life, the argument most often made on the liberal side (by which I mean the side of Classical Liberalism, not the side of left politics) is that policy decisions should be made on the basis of secular reasons, reasons that, because they do not reflect the commitments or agendas of any religion, morality or ideology, can be accepted as reasons by all citizens no matter what their individual beliefs and affiliations. So it’s O.K. to argue that a proposed piece of legislation will benefit the economy, or improve the nation’s health, or strengthen national security; but it’s not O.K. to argue that a proposed piece of legislation should be passed because it comports with a verse from the book of Genesis or corresponds to the will of God.

A somewhat less stringent version of the argument permits religious reasons to be voiced in contexts of public decision-making so long as they have a secular counterpart: thus, citing the prohibition against stealing in the Ten Commandments is all right because there is a secular version of the prohibition rooted in the law of property rights rather than in a biblical command. In a more severe version of the argument, on the other hand, you are not supposed even to have religious thoughts when reflecting on the wisdom or folly of a piece of policy. Not only should you act secularly when you enter the public sphere; you should also think secularly.

Whether the argument appears in its softer or harder versions, behind it is a form of intellectual/political apartheid known as the private/public distinction: matters that pertain to the spirit and to salvation are the province of religion and are to be settled by religious reasons; matters that pertain to the good order and prosperity of civil society are the province of democratically elected representatives and are to be settled by secular reasons. As John Locke put it in 1689 (“A Letter Concerning Toleration”), the “care of men’s souls” is the responsibility of the church while to the civil magistrate belongs the care of “outward things such as money, land, houses, furniture and the like”; it is his responsibility to secure for everyone, of whatever denomination or belief, “the just possession of these things belonging to this life.”

A neat division, to be sure, which has the effect (not, I think, intended by Locke) of honoring religion by kicking it upstairs and out of sight. If the business of everyday life — commerce, science, medicine, law, agriculture, education, foreign policy, etc. — can be assigned to secular institutions employing secular reasons to justify actions, what is left to religious institutions and religious reasons is a private area of contemplation and worship, an area that can be safely and properly ignored when there are “real” decisions to be made. Let those who remain captives of ancient superstitions and fairy tales have their churches, chapels, synagogues, mosques, rituals and liturgical mumbo-jumbo; just don’t confuse the (pseudo)knowledge they traffic in with the knowledge needed to solve the world’s problems.

This picture is routinely challenged by those who contend that secular reasons and secular discourse in general don’t tell the whole story; they leave out too much of what we know to be important to human life.

No they don’t, is the reply; everything said to be left out can be accounted for by the vocabularies of science, empiricism and naturalism; secular reasons can do the whole job. And so the debate goes, as polemicists on both sides hurl accusations in an exchange that has become as predictable as it is over-heated.
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Category: Politics
Posted by: RBAFounderX
Black America can't rely on Obama alone
By Eddie S. Glaude Jr.

(CNN) -- If we are to address seriously the economic devastation in black communities across the nation, we have to put aside, once and for all, the idea that President Obama has a special obligation to African-Americans.

Obama has said repeatedly that he can't be the president of black America; he is the president of all Americans. We should take him at his word.

But to be president of all Americans involves recognizing the extraordinary differences that make up our nation. These differences are not only cultural, racial and ethnic; they also involve differences in quality of life and in access to opportunity -- disparities that have long histories in the United States.

Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton's classic work, "American Apartheid," charts this history in the housing sector. And William Julius Wilson's important books, especially "When Work Disappears," give us a sense of the complexities surrounding black communities and unemployment.

Politicians talk about the needs of Main Street in contrast to the recent bailout of Wall Street. But Main Street is often divided by railroad tracks or highways that separate different sides of town. If Obama is going to address the problems of Main Street, he must understand that it isn't some idyllic space where all live and suffer equally and together.

I am sure the president recognizes this. And I understand that he can't be cornered into some troublesome game of identity politics. Partisan camps would have a field day.

But it is one thing to say that Obama must be the president of all Americans; it is another to say, because of that, African-Americans cannot demand specific policies that will relieve their suffering.

Americans are being ravaged by this economic recession. Joblessness plagues black communities. The Economic Policy Institute projects that African-American unemployment will reach 17.2 percent, a 25-year high.

In several states, such as Michigan, Alabama, and Illinois, the EPI projects unemployment rates for African-Americans will climb above 20 percent.

Health care disparities ensure a shorter life expectancy for African-Americans. The housing crisis has foreclosed the dreams of many.

More black children are growing up poor. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 35 percent of black children live in poverty. In the 10 most populated states, "rates of child poverty among black children range from 26 percent in California to 51 percent in Ohio."

It is not enough to offer policies to lift all boats; the buoyancy of some ensures their survival. Others are sinking at alarming rates. African-Americans must cry out. Those cries cannot take the form of the rhetoric of old. "Freedom Now" doesn't work. Nor do angry demands for "Black Power" seem appropriate.

Talk of justice is always relevant. What black communities need are just and targeted policies to address the Great Depression they face.

The president's recent black leadership summit doesn't help matters much. Inviting a few black leaders to the White House does not alone constitute a substantive engagement with the problems of black communities. In fact, it only reproduces a bad form of custodial politics -- where a small cadre of individuals broker on behalf of the supposed interests of all black communities.

Something much more substantial is desperately needed. The irony in all of this is that Obama and many other black leaders are asking African-Americans to trust that he is working diligently on their behalf without any tangible evidence. That trust rests on the assumption that as the first black president he would in fact have the interests of black communities at heart.

But this is precisely the view that we are urged to reject. In fact, we must give up this idea and work publicly to demand policy ideas from the administration and to secure legislation from Congress that will improve the circumstances of African-American citizens.

The president is right. He is the president of all Americans. I trust that he understands what these words really mean.