All Religions are Authoritarian

Justin Cartwright’s commentary in The Guardian is anti-religious flame bait, but it does make an interesting observation. Liberal democracy is principally concerned with the process rather than the outcome.

Most religions are good, positive belief systems. The Christian gospels are a powerful plea for tolerance and humility. However, the fundamentally good core fails to prescribe a process that would allow a moral society to function.

Socially, all religions are authoritarian. Sadly you can’t make people act morally by simply telling them to do so. In the real world even good people have conflicting interests, and an authoritarian “only one true answer” system can never resolve those conflicts successfully.

Liberal democracy may not be a very good system for resolving conflict, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

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  1. Dan Knauss said,

    18 August, 2005 @ 16:24

    If we say Liberalism reduces to a minimum dogma of “There is no ‘one true answer,'” that is still a “one true answer,” and it is necessarily at odds with all others. Most religions admit more agreement and shared truths between them, but Liberalism–an anti-metaphysical, materialist Enlightenment ideology with a strong anti-religious history–acts as a secular political religion that denies any validity in any other system except to the extent that the other system can be radically mis/construed (and thus co-opted) as proto-liberal. E.g, the gospels as being focused on tolerance and humility.

    There’s nothing instrinsically non-authoritarian about Liberalism. Perhaps it is quite the opposite. “Modern” history–the self-aggrandizing eurocentric history of the “modern liberal west”–is the most destructive, brutal and repressive period.

    At any rate, all social organization requires exclusivistic principles and practices backed by authority. What you probably mean to say is that ‘religion’ is inherently predisposed to what you deem excessive uses of authority, in contrast to ‘liberal statism.’ That is a very sweeping and questionable generalization, considered historically and theoretically. It is a common sentiment, however. Prejudicial characterizations are usually in effect for the assumed one-size-fits-all definition of ‘religion’ and ‘authoritarian’/’excessive uses of authority.’

  2. alex said,

    20 August, 2005 @ 10:57

    Further reading. Here are a few excellent links on the would-be theocrats in the USA:

    Soldiers of Christ I
    Soldiers of Christ II

  3. alex said,

    20 August, 2005 @ 10:45

    Liberalism […] acts as a secular political religion that denies any validity in any other system… There’s nothing instrinsically non-authoritarian about Liberalism.

    Interesting response. Dan has no answer to my argument, so he’s made up a novel definition of liberalism in order to decry it. He then goes on to criticise what I “probably meant to say”, instead of thinking about what I actually did say:

    Every society needs rules, but eventually those rules always need to adapt to changed circumstances. Liberal democracy is a process that allows the rules to change, without the need for revolution or other unpleasantness. Theocratic systems are inflexible, because their rules derive from a ‘higher authority’ which cannot be challenged.

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