Role of Religion in American Public Life

Wolterstorff continues his response to rortys

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Wolterstorff continues his response to Rorty’s reasoning of religion as a conversation stopper by pointing out the hypocritical notion that Rorty believes that religion might stop the conversation,
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but does not seem to acknowledge the reverse situation in which it may be just as unacceptable for Darwinian pragmatist reasons such as Rorty’s to stop conversation. One reason that Rorty may not see the antithesis to his own reasoning, as Wolterstorff points out, is that Rorty sees religious reasons for political positions as opinions that are not shared by the general public (Wolterstorff). However, this only causes room for more contradiction by Rorty’s part, as he had been advocating the restriction of conversations to subjects within a “common premises” when addressing the public. This is certainly a self- contradictory phenomenon, as Rorty has written several discourses based on his Darwinian pragmatist ideology with the clear intention of speaking to the general public, and thusly failing to adhere to his own idea about limitations. Wolterstorff adeptly remedies Rorty’s inconsistencies by offering a diplomatic course of action and suggesting the idea of “making allowances”, as many intellectuals do in matters of politics and philosophy. Even more political, however, is Wolterstorff’s position on coming to a consensus in a liberal democratic fashion, which is to take a vote (Wolterstorff). Rorty maintains a pessimistic approach to the possibilities of bringing religion into political debates, but one way by which a resolution may appear is by having a vote to end the conversation in a less negative light. To Wolterstorff, Rorty’s message is that “… religion must shape up if it’s to be tolerated in our liberal democracy. It’s shaping up must take the form of privatizing itself” (Wolterstorff). To this, Wolterstorff argues even further for the voting aspect of liberal democracy and asks why religion or any other ideology has to “shape up”, when democracy already guarantees certain liberties to citizens so that there is no need for religion to change at the expense of losing out on those liberties. Wolterstorff’s proficient response to Rorty’s reasoning seems to be the best solution, as far as I can see, to defining the role which religion should have in American public life. As I have
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stated previously, privatization of religion is not the answer to improving the relations between those who believe religion is too involved in public policy, and those who believe that religion should have more of a presence in public debate. Rather, there should be an open discussion and if there is no margin for a compromise to be made, then we should adhere to the American standards of liberal democracy and come to a vote. As Wolterstorff stated in his response, “…the results of some votes… will make some religious people happy and some… unhappy; the results of other votes… will reverse the distribution of happiness and unhappiness” (Wolterstorff).
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