A Philosopher’s Specious Argument That Religion Must Be Eliminated for Democracy to Thrive

March 7 2019

In his recent book This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom, the literary critic and philosopher Martin Hägglund offers a utopian vision of democratic socialism in which citizens will have not only material comfort but the time to enjoy it. In his review, James Chappel notes that Hägglund “does not do the work to show how [such a vision] might plausibly be on the horizon, or ask how it might be possible in a globalized economy.” But he objects more strenuously to the book’s main argument: that until people abandon religion—which takes focus away from humanity in this world and toward the supernal—democracy cannot reach perfection. Chappel writes:

The most obvious objection to Hägglund’s thesis is simply that religious people care about the world, and other people, all of the time. . . . His response is that when they do so, they are not in fact acting religiously but are, despite their own self-perception, honoring the secular faith that is at the heart of the human condition. . . .

Religious believers claim, [however], that their care for the finite world is enlivened and awakened by their sense that the world is not dead matter, but rather emanates from the divine. Hägglund considers this to be impossible, but he does not directly explain why. . . He believes that you can either love the world in its finitude, or you can love the eternal creator, but you cannot possibly do both, and one could not possibly enrich the other. . . .

The problem is that, for a book so concerned with theology, Hägglund does not really have a theory of religion. He does not, in other words, have a theory to explain why so many people, today and historically, have devoted themselves to (what he sees as) transparently false understandings of the universe.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Boston Review

More about: Democracy, Religion & Holidays, Religion and politics, Socialism

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey