Is Compromise in the Culture Wars Possible?

May 4, 2016 | Peter Berger
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Considering current debates over gay marriage, abortion, and other issues where religion and politics intersect, Peter Berger looks for ways to avoid or defuse confrontation between religiously traditional and secular Americans in the public sphere. He writes:

I think that the only practical as well as morally acceptable formula is some degree of separation between the state and religion. There are different forms of this: British, American, French, German, Dutch. In all of these, the state (de-facto if not de-jure) is religiously neutral and presides benevolently over the pluralistic cacophony. This presupposes a secular space in which people of different faiths can peacefully interact. Important point: acceptance of the secular space (and a secular discourse to go with it, such as religiously neutral law) is not the same as secularism, which is the project of banning religion from public life. Put differently: the U.S. Constitution is not a Jacobin manifesto.

Even under the aforementioned separation formula, there must be some shared values among all of the communities or the society will either lapse into conflict or fall apart before outside aggression. In the current German debate over the integration of immigrants, the concept of Leitkultur (“lead culture”) refers to such a shared value system. This has a clear implication: there must be the shared secular discourse, supported by all communities, albeit for different reasons. Thus the first lapidary sentence of the 1949 German (then West German) constitution—“the dignity of man is inviolate”—was and is understood by Christians in terms of man in the image of God. But it can be and is being understood by people of another or no faith in terms of other conceptions of human dignity.

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