What can religious belief contribute to the public conversation? Having theorized both “communicational reason” and the determination of collective choice through well-reasoned claims, the German philosopher’s latest books offer a positive reassessment of the contribution religious beliefs can make. Faced with the instrumental lapse of modern rationality and a concomitant surge of fanaticism, must secular democracies reconsider the role of religion?
Philosophies that take their inspiration from the Enlightenment are often loath to consider religion. In fact, their first act consists of neutralizing dogmas in the name of a logic of autonomy that does not need to refer to God in order to know nature or to act. Only new aporias later push them to appropriate religious symbols. For Kant, these two operations take place simultaneously in a single critical perspective. It is a negative critique to the extent that it refuses religion’s claim to occupy the foundation. Yet it becomes positive from the moment when the understanding of certain facts (such as “radical evil” for Kant) implies recourse to symbols that reason has not produced but can understand. Those things that defy explanation can still be understood using the narrative and symbolic resources present in the religions of the Book. “Fall,” “conversion,” “redemption,” and “grace” are Christian themes that, if taken separately from the faith that supports them, allow an approach of those areas that will always remain a mystery for reason: the free origins of evil and the possibility to respond to it.
In modern rationalism, the detour through religion comes after the fact: it becomes inevitable when Enlightenment thinkers observe certain deficiencies in secularization. “An Awareness of What is Missing” is the title of a recent study by Jürgen Habermas dedicated to religion. In a procedural theory like the one Habermas professes, the always partial and specific definitions of the “good life” have to be neutralized to develop the norms of a discussion to be carried out in accordance with the principles of justice…
Lecturer in philosophy at the University of Burgundy. Most recent work: Après la fin du monde. Critique de la raison apocalyptique (Paris: Le Seuil, 2012).
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