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Theological Notebook: Atheist Habermas on Christianity as the Foundation of Political Liberty

This Holy Saturday finds me tripping through notes from the noted German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, a self-described “methodological atheist,” who Pope Benedict had engaged in very public conversation a few years ago before he was elected Pope. It was a funny moment in that lots of dogmatic atheists in the public sphere were crowing ahead of time about the beating that their "team" was going to give the clearly-inferior (after all, he's Catholic) Ratzinger on the question of Christianity's role in the public future of Europe, and what he had and has been arguing is the importance of acknowledging that in the Preamble to the European Constitution, along with the contributions of the Greeks and of the Enlightenment.

Then, to their surprise, the two of them engaged in very polite and accommodating conversation and Habermas did nothing of the sort, and instead very much supported Ratzinger on this point. Denying it is easy thanks to a determined effort to avoid the hard work of examining the question, he criticizes, and presents a potential threat to the foundations of our free public order. In an essay published in Italy right around that time as “A Time of Transition,” Habermas argues that Christianity, and Christianity alone, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy.
To this day, we have no other options. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter.
Some other samples:
I don’t resent it at all when I am accused of having inherited theological concepts. I am convinced that religious discourse contains within itself potentialities that have not yet been sufficiently explored by philosophy, insofar as they have not yet been translated into the language of public reason, which is presumed to be able to persuade anyone. Naturally, I am not talking about the neopagan project of those who want to ‘build upon mythology.’ Today, in the field of antirational postmodern criticism, these neopagan conceptual figures are back in fashion: a broad anti-Platonism carelessly spread by fashions inspired by the late Heidegger and late Wittgenstein, in the sense of a definitive repudiation of the universalism that characterizes the premises of unconditional truth. I rebel against this regressive tendency of post-metaphysical thought.

In the dialogical dispute among competing religious visions there is a need for that ‘culture of recognition’ which draws its principles from the secularized world of the universalism of reason and law. In this matter, it is thus the philosophical spirit which provides the concepts instrumental in the political clarification of theology. But the political philosophy capable of making this contribution bears the stamp of the idea of the Covenant no less than that of the Polis. Therefore this philosophy also hearkens back to a biblical heritage.

In the general leveling of society by the media everything seems to lose seriousness, even institutionalized Christianity. But theology would lose its identity if it sought to uncouple itself from the dogmatic nucleus of religion, and thus from the religious language in which the community’s practices of prayer, confession, and faith are made concrete.
I also found a West Coast graduate student's paper posted online entitled, Jurgen Habermas: A Secular Atheist Changes His Mind on Religion in the Public Sphere that was engaging reading on this point.
Tags: atheism, benedict xvi, christianity, constitutional, cultural, europe, faith and reason, historical, historiography, philosophical, political, theological notebook

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