No Harm: Ethical Principles for a Free Market

By T. Patrick Burke | Go to book overview

1
The Liberal Society

THE EMERGENCE OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

Across the street from Boston Common, in front of the State House, stands the statue of a Quaker woman, Mary Dyer, who was hanged there in 1660. The only crime she had committed was that of being a Quaker in a Puritan society. Her statue, generously erected by the Puritans' descendants, is a silent testimony to a revolution of thought and feeling which divides what we may call the modern world from everything which preceded it as effectively as the Himalayas divide India from China. She was hanged because to the world of the Middle Ages and for some time afterwards it seemed a self-evident truth that a society could only afford to have one religion.

If we were to try to explain this assumption in terms understandable to a person living at the present time, we might perhaps say something like this. It is religion which lays the foundation for society. Religious beliefs provide the cognitive foundation for society because they provide the interpretation of the cosmos within which the society has its being, and religious values establish the foundation for the values of the society because they provide the overarching goals of human life, and so the ultimate framework and guidelines of social existence. Religious beliefs and values have a direct and profound effect not only on a society's understanding of itself, and on its goals, but also on the socially acceptable means to those goals, and on social relationships altogether. A society only exists in virtue of shared meanings, and therefore the unity of society, that is, its existence as a unified realm under a single government,

-15-

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