By Peter Berkowitz
The Wall Street Journal, September 15, 2007
Edited by Andy Ross
The Stillborn God
By Mark Lilla
Knopf, 334 pages
Evangelical Christianity was not supposed to rise as a political force in
the United States. Militant Islam was not supposed to develop into a global
threat to America and the West. Democracy and modernization were
supposed to sweep away ancient superstition and make man at home in the
world by secularizing it.
Mark Lilla's study of religion and politics in the modern West helps to explain where
this supposition came from and why it has proved to be misguided.
American citizens generally
agree that political questions should not be decided by appealing to God's
will, scriptural interpretation, or prophetic pronouncement. For the most
part, we recognize the imperative of making our case without the aid of divine revelation or theological speculation.
understanding represents a relatively recent innovation. Political theology
guided men for millennia in the West and still does in many parts of the
world. Its great mission was to ground politics, publicly and definitively,
in religious teaching.
According to Lilla, the decisive figure in the
revolt against Christian political theology was Thomas Hobbes, who sought to
separate politics from religion. Hobbes effected this Great Separation not
only by making human nature itself the highest political authority but also
by introducing a new understanding of man, nature and the cosmos.
Hobbes' view, human nature was governed by amoral appetites and passions,
and reason was an instrument for satisfying them. Religious belief arose out
of fear and ignorance. The best political order achieved peace by
concentrating power in the sovereign. Religion had to be radically demoted.
Later thinkers challenged Hobbes' demotion of religion but did not
disturb the Great Separation. Locke taught that peace and the protection
of the individual could be better achieved through religious toleration and
the separation of powers. Rousseau and Kant argued that men had religious
needs that demanded respect but could not be fully satisfied by conventional
religion. And Hegel sought to show that religious faith provided an
indispensable vehicle for expressing crucial truths about the ethical life.
Political theology enjoyed a rebirth of sorts in 19th-century Germany.
The new political theology found in the moral and political achievement of
the modern German nation-state God's presence in history. Liberal
theologians were sharply criticized in the 20th century. And then the guns
and concentrations camps of World War 2 silenced the debate in Europe.
Lilla concludes that "there is no effacing the intellectual distinction
between political theology, which appeals at some point to divine
revelation, and a political philosophy that tries to understand and attain
the political good without such appeals" and urges us to keep
revelation out of politics.
reconstructs so much intellectual history that one can't help wishing that
he had taken his narrative even nearer to the present. Leo Strauss contended
that Western civilization draws strength from the unresolved contest between
reason and revelation. And Charles Taylor, the winner of the 2007 Templeton
Prize in religion, has long argued that many of modernity's greatest
achievements draw sustenance from premodern religious sources.
The Political and the Divine
By Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
New York Times, September 16, 2007
Edited by Andy Ross
Mark Lilla adds
nuance and complexity to the intellectual account we tell about the West's
thinking on religion and politics. Lilla wants to challenge the view that
the Great Separation was analogous to, say, the Copernican Revolution.
In Lilla's telling there was nothing inevitable about the Great
Separation: "When looking to explain the conditions of political life and
political judgment, the unconstrained mind seems compelled to travel up and
out: up toward those things that transcend human existence, and outward to
encompass the whole of that existence."
Lilla says this urge is
so irresistible that only highly unusual circumstances can
compel us to give it up. Those unusual circumstances were provided by
Christian theology. Christianity's fundamental ambiguities made it
uniquely unstable, subject to a plurality of interpretations.
some sense, Lilla is saying that Christianity is just too philosophically
interesting. Thinkers like Hobbes, Locke, and Hume were responding to "the
intellectual structure of Christian political theology, which turned out to
be exceptional, and exceptionally problematic".
The Enlightenment's proffered cure was to translate questions about
religion into psychological and anthropological questions. The problem was
changed from "What does God want from us?" to "Why is man constantly asking
what it is that God wants from us?" The thinker most centrally responsible
for this interrogative substitution was Thomas Hobbe, who thought religion comes from a dark place in the psyche.
Hobbes' thinking to be psychologically simplistic. The religious impulse
can also be an expansive response toward the universe, morality and freedom.
Thinkers of the caliber of Kant struggled to do justice to religion's
The "stillborn God" is what Lilla calls the deity
of liberal theology, a post-Hegelian movement, active particularly in
Germany, that "wedded romantic soulfulness with the modern conviction that
man attains happiness by freely developing his capacities, not by submitting
them to God's authority." Lilla believes this dud helped prepare the way for
a far more fiery and apocalyptic breed of political theology, expressed in
totalitarian religions of state.
Lilla acknowledges the
profundity of the religious impulse yet remains committed to the
Enlightenment's prying apart of theology and politics. His book does justice to the complexity of our long
attempt to reconcile transcendental aspirations with human well-being.
Coping with Political Theology
By Mark Lilla
Cato Unbound, October 8, 2007
Edited by Andy Ross
American policy has been unable to understand the religious passions
dominating contemporary world politics. Given Americans' collective
recognition of religion's legitimacy in a modern political order, one would
think that we would be better able to adapt ourselves to the current
Contemporary American debates over religion and politics
keep coming back to the same basic themes: toleration, church-state
separation, freedom of assembly, conscience, values, community, and a few
others. For many of the first settlers, establishing a constitutional
framework guaranteeing toleration and church-state separation was the first
order of political business.
We seem to have forgotten how unique the
circumstances were that made possible the establishment of the American
compact on religion and politics. Perhaps now is the time to remind
ourselves of some basic facts. The most important one was the absence of a
strong Roman Catholic Church as a redoubt of intellectual and political
opposition to Enlightenment ideas.
America was racially and culturally homogeneous in the early years of
the republic. There were a few Catholics and Jews among the early
immigrants, but the tone was set by Protestants of dissenting tendencies
from the British Isles. Everyone spoke the same language and looked to a
shared history of persecution and emigration.
It was this trust, bred
of homogeneity, that allowed the ideal of toleration to be actualized.
People feel comfortable when they are with their own, and it is only in an
atmosphere of mutual trust that norms of acceptance and openness can
The principle of toleration has been rooted in the United
States and is formally recognized in the democracies of Western Europe,
Latin America, and parts of Asia. Toleration seems so compelling to us as an
idea that we find it hard to take seriously reasons for rejecting the
democratic ideas associated with it.
The United States has no
established tradition of political theology. No serious American religious
thinker ever developed a full-blown theology of government throwing the
basic legitimacy of American democracy into question.
theology is the primordial form of political thought. Virtually every
civilization known to us began with an image of itself as set within a
divine nexus of God, man, and world, and based its understanding of
legitimate authority on that theological picture. Political theology seems
to be the default condition of civilizations.
Unlike the Hebrew or
Muslim God, the Christian God was a trinity that ruled over a created cosmos
and guided human beings by different means: revelation, inner conviction,
and the natural order. But the Christian picture of the divine was difficult
to apply to politics.
The crisis of Western Christendom prepared the
way for modern political thought. Modern liberal democracy is a
post-Christian phenomenon. I want to stress the uniqueness of Christian
revelation and its theological-political difficulties.
Thomas Hobbes changed the subject of European
political thought from theology to anthropology. All political theology
interprets a set of revealed divine commands and applies them to social
life. Hobbes ignored the substance of all such commands and talked instead
about how and why human beings believe God revealed them. The hope was that
whenever we talked about the basic principles of political life we would
simply let God be.
This was the Great Separation. But letting God be
is not easy. God must be conceived of as having imposed upon himself a
certain distance from the mechanics of political life. Such a theological
transformation is unimaginable in many religious traditions, and difficult
in all of them.
Religious Americans believe in the absolute truth of
their faiths. Yet they believe that those revealed truths should not affect
the rules of the democratic game. Americans freely
express their religious views about particular policies, but hardly any
harbor religious doubts about the legitimacy of a process that does not
recognize the revealed truth of those views.
This should allay worries expressed in recent decades about the
political influence of organized religious groups in the United States.
Considered historically, our problems are relatively minor so long as they
are about policy, not about the basic legitimacy of our constitution.
Americans focus too little on the intellectual separation needed to keep
political theology at bay. Historically speaking, the Great Separation is a
departure from the way most civilizations have thought about themselves, and
there are revivals of political theology even in nations we recognize as
The challenge in the Islamic world is much greater.
Our working assumptions are simply not the assumptions of millions of
Muslims across the globe. The political theology of the sharia is still
intact and has been put into practice in Muslim nations for over a thousand
years. The Great Separation has no counterpart in the Muslim world.
Muslim tradition does not lack political concepts akin to ours. But Muslim
political theology derives them from the revelation of the Quran, the
traditions of the hadith, and the decisions of scholars who look to these
sources. And that must be recognized if we are to understand each other.
The Templeton Prize
Templeton Foundation, New York, March 14, 2007
Edited by Andy Ross
Professor Charles Taylor, a Canadian philosopher who for nearly half a
century has argued that problems such as violence and bigotry can only be
solved by considering both their secular and spiritual dimensions, has won
the 2007 Templeton Prize.
The Templeton Prize, valued at more than
$1.5 million, was announced today at the Church Center for the United
Nations in New York by the John Templeton Foundation.
is engaged in such questions as the role of spiritual thinking in
the 21st century. He has argued that depending wholly on secularized
viewpoints only leads to fragmented, faulty results. Taylor: "The divorce of natural science and religion has been damaging to
Taylor has long objected to what many social scientists take
for granted, namely that the rational movement that began in the
Enlightenment renders such notions as morality and spirituality as simply
quaint anachronisms in the age of reason. "The deafness of many
philosophers, social scientists and historians to the spiritual dimensions
can be remarkable."
Taylor is currently professor of law and
philosophy at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and professor
emeritus at McGill University in Montréal.
Foundation President John M. Templeton, Jr:
"Throughout his career, Charles Taylor has staked an often lonely position
that insists on the inclusion of spiritual dimensions in discussions of
public policy, history, linguistics, literature, and every other facet of
humanities and the social sciences."
The Foundation seeks to serve as
a philanthropic catalyst for discovery in areas engaging life's biggest
AR I studied Hegel with Taylor at Oxford in
Key Articles and Books
Edited by Andy Ross
The Explanation of Behavior
(Routledge and Paul Kegan,
This was my doctoral dissertation, an all-out attack on
University Press, 1975; various languages)
This was an attempt to write
an introduction to Hegel's philosophy which would make his work
understandable to people trained in the analytical tradition. It was
originally commissioned for the Penguin series on major philosophers, but it
rapidly outgrew the permitted dimensions for this series.
Hegel and Modern Society
(Cambridge University Press, 1979;
This was basically a shortened version of Hegel, with
more emphasis on the relevance of Hegel today.
Papers Vol. 1: Human Agency and Language
Philosophical Papers Vol. 2:
Philosophy and the Human Sciences
(Cambridge University Press,
These two collections brought together a number of papers written
in the previous two decades, mostly critiques of mechanistic, and/or
reductive, and/or atomistic approaches to human sciences.
Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity
University Press, 1989; various languages)
This was my first large-scale
reflection on history. The theme was the development of the modern
understanding of the human agent. My thesis is that we are all caught in the
tension between what we have drawn from the Cartesian-Lockean tradition and
the Enlightenment on one hand, and what we have learned from the
Romantic-expressive movement on the other.
The Malaise of
(Anansi, 1991; various languages)
Published in the
United States as:
The Ethics of Authenticity
University Press, 1992)
This text was the basis for my Massey Lectures, a
series of talks given each year on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. It
tried to explore our conflictual relation to modern individualism and to
describe the ethic of authenticity.
"The Politics of Recognition"
(with Amy Gutman and others)
(Princeton University Press, 1992; various languages)
produced a new concept of identity. This has had a profound impact on our
political life. I was trying in this essay to analyze this new phenomenon.
Press, 1995; various languages)
This is another collection similar to the
two published in 1985.
A Catholic Modernity?
(Oxford University Press, 1999)
This is a published version of the
Marianist Lecture that I gave in Dayton. I cast the issue of how the
Catholic Church should relate to the modern world in the context of
understanding Catholic Christianity in all human civilizations and cultures,
seeing modern Western civilization as another such culture.
Varieties of Religion Today: William James Revisited
University Press, 2002; various languages)
This is one of the (three)
products of my Gifford Lectures in Edinburgh in 1999. The theme was the rise
of the contemporary secular age in the West. This was a look back at William
James' Gifford Lectures, also delivered in Edinburgh a century before
Modern Social Imaginaries
University Press, 2004)
This is the second product of the Gifford
Lectures, where I try to define shifts in our way of collectively imagining
ourselves as a society.
A Secular Age
University Press, 2007)
This will be the third (and central) product of
the Gifford Lectures. It is an attempt to follow the development of the
modern Western secular age. I challenge the dominant "master narrative" of
secularization as the inevitable decline of religion with advancing
A Secular Age
Harvard University Press, 896 pages
it mean to say that we live in a secular age? Almost everyone would agree
that we — in the West, at least — largely do. And clearly the place of
religion in our societies has changed profoundly in the last few centuries.
In what will be a defining book for our time, Charles Taylor takes up the
question of what these changes mean — of what, precisely, happens when a
society in which it is virtually impossible not to believe in God becomes
one in which faith, even for the staunchest believer, is only one human
possibility among others.
What Happened to the City of God?
By Jack Miles
LA Times, September 16, 2007
Edited by Andy Ross
A Secular Age
by Charles Taylor
Press, 874 pages
The Stillborn God
by Mark Lilla
Knopf, 334 pages
In AD 391, Roman Emperor Theodosius established Christianity as the state
religion. Less than a century later, when the last emperor ruling from Rome
was deposed, a remnant of imperial power devolved upon the most important
church official in the West, the pope.
By the 17th century there had
arisen the doctrine of the divine right of kings. The religious wars of the
first half of that century were ferocious, and among the fiercest was the
English Civil War.
As that war raged, Thomas Hobbes saw human nature
itself as defined by terror. And he saw terror as at its worst when driven
by religion. Fortunately, the wolves of the human pack could create an
all-powerful sovereign monstrous enough to protect them.
Rousseau saw politics as the source of human corruption rather than a remedy
for it. Remarkably, the path forward for Rousseau and Hobbes alike was the
In the founding of the United States, the gloomy
Anglophile John Adams owed something to Hobbes, and the sunny Francophile
Thomas Jefferson owed rather more to Rousseau.
secularization is just one of three kinds of secularization that Taylor
addresses in his voluminous social and intellectual history. The second kind
is the decline of subjective religious practice. The third kind is that in
which neither belief nor unbelief is a given and one's identity is
constructed rather than assigned at birth.
encompasses art, literature, science, fashion, and private life. Readers may
occasionally lose their way, since Taylor never denies himself the pleasure
of an interesting digression.
In Lilla's heroic view of him, Hobbes
is a pinnacle from which later German thinkers each deviated in his own way,
lured by Rousseau toward some lamentable accommodation of religion. The
lesson drawn is that such soft-headed liberalism cannot revive religion but
can invite fascism.
Sadly, in its extreme simplification, Lilla's
book is a fairy tale. Taylor may risk boring his readers by including too
much, but Lilla offers only a small part of a large story and gets even that
part more wrong than right.
The Templeton Foundation
By Nathan Schneider
The Nation, June 21, 2010
Edited by Andy Ross
The declared mission of the Templeton Foundation is to explore life's big
questions: Does the universe have a purpose? Does science make belief in God
obsolete? Does evolution explain human nature? The foundation wants these
questions to be our culture's uniting focus.
The Templeton Foundation
was founded by John Templeton Sr. It holds assets valued at around $1
billion. This sum that will likely swell to $2.5 billion in the years to
come. The foundation dispenses about $70 million in grants annually. The
founder's flagship program is the annual Templeton Prize. The award's value
is pegged to be bigger than that of the Nobel Prize.
Templeton built a career as one of the great architects of globalization. As
he grew older, he began turning his attention away from business. He would
rhapsodize about science's amazing progress in virtually every area of
knowledge except in spirituality. The answer he envisioned was a new posture
he called "humility theology," an outlook that emphasizes how little is
known about the divine and how much believers need to question and test
Through his mostly self-published writings, Templeton
developed an idiosyncratic vocabulary, speaking of the search for "spiritual
information" and of God as "Unlimited Creative Spirit." Uneasy with
conventional meanings for "God" and "religion," he speculated in a 1990
document that "maybe God is providing new revelations in ways which go
beyond any religion."
While its founder preferred eternal questions
to worldly politics, the son who has succeeded him, John Templeton Jr. —
Jack — is a conservative Evangelical who spends his personal time and money
opposing gay marriage and defending the Iraq War.
Jack Templeton is
little like his father. While the elder Templeton's writings venture into
the poetic and speculative, his son's read like a medical report. Jack
displays admirable filial loyalty, evident most of all in his decades-long
leadership of the foundation under his father's guidance. He has been
president since it began, serving full time since he left a successful
pediatric surgery practice in 1995. His memoir begins and ends with lessons
his father taught him and is suffused by, as he put it, "a struggle to find
acceptance and approval in my father's eyes."
Project Reason, founded
by New Atheist author Sam Harris in 2007 to promote secularism, hired
British science journalist Sunny Bains to investigate Templeton and build a
case against it. Her unpublished findings include evidence of pervasive
cronyism. She concludes that Templeton's mission is to promote religion.
The Templeton Foundation has associated itself with political and
religious forces that cause it to be perceived as threatening the integrity
of science and protecting the religious status quo. This is quite the
reverse of the founder's most alluring hope. Sir John Templeton wanted to
remake the human race's moral and cosmic toolbox in a scientific revolution
of the spirit.
By Sean Carroll
Preposterous Universe, May 2013
Edited by Andy Ross
The John Templeton Foundation (JTF) supports research into the "Big
Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality" and likes to promote the
idea that science and religion are gradually reconciling.
Due to the
efforts of many smart people over the course of many years, scholars who are
experts in the fundamental nature of reality have by a wide majority
concluded that God does not exist. We have better explanations for how
things work. The shift in perspective from theism to atheism is arguably the
single most important bit of progress in fundamental ontology over the last
five hundred years.
In my view, we have a responsibility to get the
word out. And when we blur the lines between science and religion, we do the
world a grave disservice. Religious belief exerts a significant influence
over how the world is currently run. Understanding the fundamental nature of
reality is a necessary starting point for productive conversations about
morality, justice, and meaning.
The JTF has done its best to spread
the impression that science and religion get along just fine. This
impression is false. But if anyone is tempted to award me the Templeton
Prize, I will totally accept it!