Volume 4, Issue 1, 2012
Johannes A. Hans van der Ven
Religion’s Political Role in A Rawlsian Key
In Political liberalism (expanded edition) Rawls repeatedly urges religions to accept liberal democracy for the right reasons, including reasons that are based on their own religious premises and not simply as a modus vivendi. This article is an exploration of that field. The first part is a hermeneutic analysis of Luke’s account of St Paul’s speech to the Areopagus in Athens, as it tries to find common ground with Hellenistic philosophy by means of deliberative rhetoric. In the second part these two characteristics (i.e. finding common ground and using deliberative rhetoric) are examined as building blocks for intrinsic acceptance of liberal democracy, albeit in a formal rather than a substantive key. The common ground Luke explored was religious, whereas in our day, at least in North-Western Europe, religion is espoused by a cognitive minority. But intercontextual hermeneutics metaphorically permits us to use the following quadratic equation: as the Lucan Paul related the Christian message to his philosophical context in order to find common ground with his listeners, so we have to relate this message to our context, the common ground being not philosophical but political. This article advocates playing a bilingual language game for religion to present its convictions to public debate and, in due course, translate them into the language of public reason. Such translation requires deliberative rhetoric and argumentation, in accordance with the logical and epistemological rules of practical reason.