Essay Faith Knowledge Habermas

To the extent that the wider public shares those conceptions of human flourishing, the arguments are intelligible.

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It’s not even clear that it would be right to speak of these religious forays into public discourse as involving “translation.” The idea that divorce in Ireland or same-sex marriage in the United States will hurt families is not the secular equivalent of a religious idea.

The sense, rather, is that religious teachings are relevant to human flourishing.

Dillon has found that pro-change Catholics use theological arguments to claim their legitimate social identity.

“The Catholics I had studied,” she says, “were clearly grounding their emancipatory claims for greater equality within religious reasoning.

Living in a country where you don’t know the language means you have a great excuse for not talking to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Sociologist Michelle Dillon makes a similar (but not identical) critique of Habermas and the post-secular in her interview with the Religious Studies Project.

To be completely honest, I actually did understand the two Witnesses when they came to my door. She notes that in his earlier work on communicative action, Habermas didn’t speak of religious participation in public discourse, implicitly excluding it.He writes that “The cleavage between secular knowledge and revealed knowledge cannot be bridged” (An Awareness of What is Missing: 17). Perhaps Habermas hasn’t seen such bridges, but they are quite common.Religious people regularly enter into conversations with those from other religions as well as those with no religion.But why start with the assumption that translation will be a problem?Dillon, in her work, has looked at Catholic bishop’s arguments against legalizing divorce in Ireland. There has been much theorizing under the heading of “post-secular” about the problem of religious participation in public discourse. They don’t expect to be accommodated in conversation; they accommodate.And it was the sort of reasoning that would appeal or could persuade people who were Catholic or not Catholic.” The same could be said of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ more controversial practice of rejecting blood transfusion.While the argument is religious — blood is connected to the soul— it is not unintelligible to those who don’t share the presuppositions of Witnesses. They cannot, that is, just appeal to divine authority when they come to your door or come to the public square. What is sacred to them must be re-conceived in reasoned discourse as secular. For the religious to speak to those who do not share their ontological presuppositions, it is said, in public discussions in pluralistic, democratic societies, it must be necessary for there to be a reformulation of religious arguments into publicly accessible, this-world terms. Yet it illustrates, if nothing else, that there might be a problem with framing the matter of religious people dialoguing with those who do not share their religion as a “problem.” As philosopher Jürgen Habermas explains the problem, religious language can be allowed into the public sphere, but only on certain conditions: “The truth contents of religious contributions can enter into the institutionalized practice of deliberation and decision-making only when the necessary translation already occurs in the pre-parliamentarian domain, i.e. citizens of faith may make public contributions in their own religious language only subject to the translation proviso” (Between Naturalism and Religion 131-32).


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