By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
The first step toward religious reconciliation in a world of increasing religious diversity and conflict is to eliminate exclusivist mystical beliefs that condemn those of other religions. The next step is for competing religions to find common ground with a minimalist (Hegelian) moral standard of legitimacy that is universal, reasonable and that respects religious traditions.
Jesus provided such a universal moral standard in the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, including our neighbors of other races and religions. It is a common word of faith and a minimalist universal standard of morality that can reconcile Jews, Christians and Muslims without eliminating their religious differences.
Universal moral standards can be minimalist or maximalist. Hegel’s minimalist moral standard is flexible, based on reason tempered with tradition. Kant’s maximalist standard is invariant and based on secular reason. Noam Chomsky put Kant’s categorical imperative this way: “If an action is right or wrong for others, it is right or wrong for us.”
Human rights are where religious moral standards and politics converge into secular law. The ancient scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam never mentioned democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law since these were irrelevant to those ancient times; but today those libertarian political concepts are essential to concepts of religious and political legitimacy.
The greatest moral challenge for democracy is balancing individual rights with providing for the common good. In the 17th century the Enlightenment introduced reason into religion and politics in the Western world, fostering libertarian democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law. Since then individual rights have been emphasized at the expense of the common good.
In America’s materialistic and hedonistic culture, the self-centered objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand has taken precedence over the altruistic moral teachings of Jesus, sanctifying greed and contaminating Christian morality with the materialistic prosperity gospel and radical right family values that contradict the altruistic teachings of Jesus.
In Islamic nations apostasy and blasphemy laws deny the fundamental freedoms of religion and speech, while in America evangelical Christians use the freedom of religion to discriminate against homosexuals, denying them equal protection of the law. Both religions must promote a better balance between individual rights and providing for the common good.
After shedding their exclusivist doctrines of salvation, Christianity must emphasize the teachings of Jesus as universal moral imperatives of faith, and Islam must acknowledge that Islamic Law (Shari’a) is incompatible with libertarian human rights and a secular rule of law. Only then can those great religions be reconciled with a common word of moral universalism.
Moral universalism provides a standard of legitimacy that can reconcile disparate and competitive religions and politics without forcing uniformity. The greatest commandment is a common word of faith and a universal moral standard for Jews, Christians and Muslims; but applying its reconciling standard of altruistic love in both faith and politics will be a daunting task.
Moral universalism is at the intersection of religion, philosophy and politics, and it is where Immanuel Kant’s maximalist and invariant categorical imperative based on pure reason meets the more malleable minimalist moral standards of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel that consider religious and traditional norms. Nicholas Adams has argued that Hegel’s more flexible minimalist standard of legitimacy that is compatible with the greatest commandment as a common word of faith is better suited to reconcile contentious religious differences. See Nicholas Adams, In Pursuit of a “New Secular”: Human Rights and “A Common Word,” at chapter 14 of Muslim and Christian Understanding: Theory and Application of “A Common Word,” Edited by Waleed El-Ansary and David K. Linnan, Palgrave MacMillan, 2010,
Standards of moral universalism are needed to balance the political conflict between individual wants and rights and providing for the common good. Western democracies emphasize maximalist standards of human rights in their constitutions and promote them overseas through the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Under the Cairo Declaration Islamic nations condition the human rights of the ICCPR to the provisions of Shari’a that include apostasy and blasphemy laws that prohibit the fundamental freedoms of religion and speech and that deny women equal protection of the law; and unlike Western democracies, they promote the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) that requires government to provide public welfare services such as employment and housing. The conflict between the provisions of the ICCPR and the ICESCR at the international level is analogous to the political conflict at the national level between protecting fundamental freedoms and providing for the common good. See discussion of the above issues in Barnes, Religion, Law and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy, 2016, which is posted in Resources listed on the home page of the website Religion, Legitimacy and Politics at http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/.
On Noam Chomsky’s paraphrase of Kant’s categorical imperative, and on moral universalism generally, see Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_universalism.
An oppressive regime in Egypt has used Shari’a to deny fundamental human rights to those critical of it, most recently in jailing a woman for speaking out against sexual harassment. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2018/09/29/an-egyptian-woman-said-she-was-sexually-harassed-now-shes-been-sentenced-prison/?utm_term=.eb68834b5117&wpisrc=nl_evening&wpmm=1
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(1/4/15): Religion and New Beginnings: Salvation and Reconciliation in the Family of God
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(1/18/15): Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy
(2/22/15): Religion and Human Rights
(4/12/15): Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy
(5/10/15): Religion, Human Rights and National Security
(5/17/15): Moral Restraints on the Freedom of Speech
(7/12/15): Reconciliation in Race and Religion: The Need for Compatibility, not Conformity http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/07/reconciliation-in-race-and-religion.html
(8/9/15): Balancing Individual Rights with Collective Responsibilities
(8/16/15): How Religious Fundamentalism and Secularism Shape Politics and Human Rights http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/08/how-religious-fundamentalism-and.html
(8/23/15): Legitimacy as a Context and Paradigm to Resolve Religious Conflict
(8/30/15): What Is Truth?
(9/13/15): Accommodating Religious Freedom under the Secular Rule of Law
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(2/7/16): Jesus Meets Muhammad on Issues of Religion and Politics
(2/27/16): Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy in Faith, Freedom and Politics
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(4/2/16): The Freedom of Religion and Providing for the Common Good
(6/18/16): A Politics of Reconciliation with Liberty and Justice for All
(7/2/16): The Need for a Politics of Reconciliation in the Wake of Globalization
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(8/20/16): The Freedoms of Religion and Speech: Essentials of Liberty and Law
(9/10/16): Liberty in Law: A Matter of Man’s Law, not God’s Law
(9/17/16): A Moral Revival to Restore Legitimacy to Our Politics
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(11/5/16): Religion, Liberty and Justice at Home and Abroad
(12/17/16): Discipleship in a Democracy: A Test of Faith, Legitimacy and Politics
(12/31/16): E Pluribus Unum, Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
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(1/21/17): Religion and Reason Redux: Religion Is Ridiculous
(3/4/17): Ignorance and Reason in Religion and Politics
(3/18/17): Moral Ambiguity in Religion and Politics
(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World
(7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy
(7/15/17): Religion and Progressive Politics
(7/22/17): Hell No!
(7/29/17): Speaking God’s Truth to Man’s Power
(8/12/17): The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism
(10/7/17): A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/10/a-21st-century-reformation-to-restore.html.
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(1/6/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Diversity in Democracy
(1/13/18): Nationalist Politics and Exclusivist Religion: Obstacles to Reconciliation and Peace
(1/20/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Morality and Religion in Politics
(1/27/18): Musings on Conflicting Concepts of Christian Morality in Politics
(2/3/18): Musings on the Search for Truth through Interfaith Dialogue
(2/24/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religion, Freedom and Legitimacy
(3/24/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christian Morality as a Standard of Legitimacy http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/03/musings-of-maverick-methodist-on_24.html
(3/31/18): Altruism: The Missing Ingredient in American Christianity and Democracy
(4/7/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Need for a Moral Reformation
(4/28/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Virtues and Vices of Christian Morality
(5/5/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Nostalgia as an Obstacle to Progress
(5/12/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christianity and Making America Great Again
(5/26/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Mysticism and Morality in Religion and Politics
(6/15/18): The Prosperity Gospel: Where Culture Trumps Religion in Legitimacy and Politics
(7/7/18): Whose America Is This? Musings on Conflicting Standards of Legitimacy in Religion and Politics http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2018/07/whose-america-is-this-musings-on.html.
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(7/21/18): Musings on America’s Moral and Political Mess and Who Should Clean It Up
(8/4/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religious Problems and Solutions in Politics
(8/11/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Changing Morality in Religion and Politics
(8/25/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Moral Priorities in Religion and Politics
(9/1/18): Musings on the American Civil Religion and Christianity at a Crossroads
(9/22/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Losing Religion and Finding Faith
(9/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of Christian Universalism