A Christian Case for Religious Liberty

A Christian Case for Religious Liberty
AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis

Secular liberals and conservative opponents of political liberalism both see religious liberty as the product of the Reformation and the Enlightenment. According to the secular liberal narrative, religion—at least Christianity—is intolerant and prone to violence. Indeed, the modern state became the schoolmaster of faith precisely because its adherents had become so unruly and violent during the Reformation and subsequent wars of religion. Once religious pluralism became a fact and the state held the social monopoly on violence, European societies learned to embrace religious tolerance. Religious liberty and liberty of conscience came from enlightened reactions to religion, not religion itself.

Conservative critics of religious liberty agree, but see religious liberty's Enlightenment roots as evidence of its cheapening of religion. They claim that religious liberty is an impossible attempt to be neutral about the highest human goods that ought to order a society; it is a cloak for religious or anti-religious commitments, or relativism.

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