Law, Politics, and Morality in Judaism

By Michael Walzer | Go to book overview

9
Judaism and Cosmopolitanism

DAVID NOVAK


Theology and Contemporary Political Discourse

Before one can intelligently present a theological perspective on any matter of contemporary political discourse, he or she must first indicate how any theology, which stems from the perspective of a singularly constituted faith community, can possibly contribute to discussing any normative issue defined largely by those who do not share this faith or any faith. I think the answer to this question depends on how one views the role of religious tradition or traditions (the distinction will soon become evident) in post-Enlightenment secular societies. Here there seem to be four possibilities.

One, any religious tradition could be regarded as a historically limited, hopelessly particularistic, point of view, based on the irrational acceptance of an authority. In terms of the topic of this essay dealing as it does with “international” society, it would seem that reason and not revelation is what we should be seeking since the universalism of reason is more appropriate to what pertains between particular nations. We can assume a universal operation of reason, whereas such an assumption about any revelation cannot be made. That would mean that discussion here of teachings from any of these traditions is at best superfluous and at worst dangerously distracting. This is the most predominant “secularist” view at work in secular societies. It is a common enough view among many intellectuals today to warrant mentioning it at the outset since it is one that any religious public intellectual, that is, any public intellectual whose religious commitments are integral to his or her intellectual opinions, must be prepared to counter.

Two, it can be maintained that the division between universal reason and particular traditions, which fundamentally becomes the division between reason and revelation, is one of degree rather than one of kind. In other words, religious traditions can be seen as cultural matrices out of which reason slowly develops. If this is the case, then these traditions can be taken as historical sources that cannot be ignored because all

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