JMC fellow John O. McGinnis argues that thanks to the Constitution’s Disestablishment Clause, religion in the United States is not an entity competing for political rule but a institution that forms virtuous citizens.
Religion Currently Poses Less Danger to Democracy Than Other Social Movements
In my last post, I described why religious sentiments can help democracy produce public goods and beneficial reforms. Of course, religious sentiments are not the only kind of attitude toward the world that can rally citizens for the public good. The environmental movement has tapped into the sense of wonder about nature and propelled needed regulations against pollution. The human rights movement has battled entrenched dictatorships across the world.
But to mention these other social repositories of public regarding sentiments shows how foolish, arbitrary, and even bigoted it is single out organized religion as an inappropriate influence on politics. An environmental movement which sets a transcendental value to preserving species and other wonders of the world is not different in kind from religion. Those with knowledge of ancient religions in fact can see it as a form of pantheism in modern garb. Historians chart the human rights movement to Christianity’s insistence that we are all children of God. Democracies need all the help they can get, including religion, to muster the better angels of ourselves for the sacrifice that sustains a politics focused on common goods.
John O. McGinnis is the George C. Dix Professor in Constitutional Law at Northwestern University. His book Accelerating Democracy was published by Princeton University Press in 2012. McGinnis is also the coauthor with Mike Rappaport of Originalism and the Good Constitution published by Harvard University Press in 2013 . He is a graduate of Harvard College, Balliol College, Oxford, and Harvard Law School. He has published in leading law reviews, including the Harvard, Chicago, and Stanford Law Reviews and the Yale Law Journal, and in journals of opinion, including National Affairs and National Review.
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