Sunday, April 26, 2009

Irreconcilable Goods: Religion and Politics

The New Republic's Damon Linker argues, using an Aristotelian model, that religion and politics are irreconcilable goods. That is, they are both good for humanity, but the profound interaction between the two, taints both. As such, the Religious Right's political marriage was doomed to failure:
These divergent loyalties might not come into direct conflict every day, but they nonetheless stand in deep and abiding tension with one another, forever threatening to pit the theological duties of the believer against the political duties of citizen. It is possible for a person of moderate or lukewarm faith to be a great president because his spiritual convictions will give way in the event of a clash between the two spheres. ... And the opposite is equally true: The purest man of God might be capable of serving as a moderately good president, but his devotion to the Lord will prevent him from compromising with the wickedness of the world to the extent sometimes required by his office.

That's the core Aristotelian lesson about religion and politics: Our saints will not be statesmen and our statesmen will not be saints. Whether the religious right has been definitively defeated or lives on to fight another day, it can never succeed in its goals -- because those goals deny this ineradicable truth about the permanent tensions between incompatible goods.

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