Ryan Anderson Reviews Brian Leiter’s New Book on Freedom of Religion

here.  A few brief excerpts:

In Why Tolerate Religion? Brian Leiter, author of theLeiter Reports blog and a law professor at the University of Chicago who has an interest in philosophy, asks why Western democracies have sought to promote and protect religion—and religious liberty—in both law and culture.

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What to make of this? Leiter’s argument suffers from a pair of damning flaws. First, he misconceives religion, the nature of religious beliefs, and the relationship between faith and reason (at least as understood by non-fideistic traditions of faith). Second, he wrongly assumes that Kantian and utilitarian arguments are our only options. These two errors are not unconnected. Had Leiter seriously explored both virtue-ethic and natural-law forms of Aristotelian-Thomistic approaches to morality and politics, he might have achieved a better understanding of what religion is and why it deserves special protection.

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Indeed, Leiter’s treatment of that history is astonishingly superficial. He spends three paragraphs, for example, dismissing Thomistic thought, betraying a stunningly shallow understanding of it and summarily concluding that there are no “lines of thought that converge on the conclusion that one should affirm a transcendent cause.” Never mind Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Pascal, Descartes, Leibniz, Kant, and Newman, much less leading contemporary heirs to their project.

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So what can one say by way of conclusion? There is an interesting book to be written on the relation of conscience rights and religious liberty, but unfortunately this isn’t it. That book would need to get clear on the real nature of religion and thus the foundations of religious liberty. Academic philosophers—especially philosophers of religion—will likely ignore this book. The rest of us can safely do likewise.

 

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