How liberal ideology undermines religious freedom
Benjamin Wiker identifies Benedict Spinoza as “the father of modern political liberalism.” While Spinoza claimed to advance the cause of religious freedom, Wiker argues that the unconventional 17th-century Jewish thinker actually undermined true liberty, by suggesting that people may believe whatever they want in private, but should be restricted in what they do in public. If religion is purely a private affair, Wiker reasons, “Spinoza’s atheism becomes the default ‘belief’ of the liberal state.”
Actually, Wiker writes, Spinoza arrived late for the discussion of religious freedom. The most important advances had already been made. It was the Catholic Church, Wiker notes, that first recognized the need to separate secular from religious authority. “The principled distinction between the church and political power was something hammered out by the church between the 5th and 12th centuries.”
Wiker concludes his provocative essay:
Or, more deeply, there is all the difference, between defining religious liberty as the right of the unified church to be free from manipulations by the state, and defining religious liberty as the right of every individual to believe whatever he wants, which destroys the unity of the church and leaves the individual powerless before the manipulations of the state.
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