The Unintended Reformation:

Contents and discontents of (post)modernity

posted by Brad S. Gregory

The Unintended Reformation is an unusual work of history in deliberately focusing as much on the present as on the past, and in emphasizing the ongoing importance of the Reformation era for understanding the Western world today. Having considered issues related to the book’s genre, method, and assumptions in the first part of my response and others related to its historical arguments and omissions in the second part, the principal focus of the final part of my response will be the reactions of the forum participants to my description and assessment of the present. I will also take up speculation about my supposed agenda, and the book’s lack of ideas for solving contemporary problems.

As I noted briefly in the first part, it is quite possible that someone could agree with my description of our contemporary hegemonic institutions and ideological hyperpluralism but evaluate them differently than I do in my book. In that case we would simply disagree about what is desirable and what is not, presumably as a function of more basic beliefs, as different evaluative expressions within our current hyperpluralism. On this point, I will first simply repeat what is also apparent in the book, namely that its argument is neither a blanket condemnation of modernity nor a thoroughgoing lament about the contemporary Western world (James Chappel’s “Weltschmerz”). Second, the three contemporary practical concerns I mention in the Introduction—a conspicuously uncivil public sphere and political life (especially in the U.S.), global climate change, and a frequently nonchalant attitude in the academy about the alleged lack of non-subjective moral norms—are an attempt to appeal to readers’ moral awareness. I hope that many readers share my (and many others’) view that these are serious problems. Those who do not will obviously be unmoved by my appeal to them and will instead view their invocation as oddly alarmist or exaggerated, as will others who find unproblematic the conditions endured by millions of factory workers in poor countries, for example, or the incoherence of undergraduate education in research universities. In that case we disagree about what is good and bad—which reinforces my point about the subjectivization of morality as a sociological reality but vitiates the force of my moral appeal. I happen to think (and imply in the book) that those who are unperturbed by the subjectivization of morality are naïve, doubly so given the ever more astonishing biotechnological possibilities that may well be around the corner, a concern also expressed by Jürgen Habermas and others. But if someone relishes the prospects of a transhumanistic future, for example, in which individual choice is extended limitlessly via a liberal eugenics to embrace whatever cybernetic innovation and genetic engineering can facilitate, I am afraid I do not know how to reach such a person from my own moral vantage point. But I do not think this describes most readers.

I will now take up a number of questions about my characterization of our present situation. Some reviewers seem to think my description of “hyperpluralism” in the “Kingdom of Whatever” implies a uniformly shared attitude of political indifference, secular commitments, or expansive toleration on the part of citizens within Western countries. This is not the case, although the particular configurations and collective character of the truth claims individually maintained by citizens will of course vary by country and locale, and like all human phenomena are subject to change over time. Ernst Van den Hemel attributes to me the view that the “lack of a moral framework leads to an attitude of disinterest: ‘Whatever,’” to which the recent growth in popularity of the reactionary Dutch nationalist political party, the Partij voor de Vrijheid, constitutes a counter-example as part of the recent resurgence of European “nationalist movements of which a culturalized notion of religion is an essential component.” But the Dutch PVV and its European counterparts in other countries are no more counter-examples to hyperpluralism in Europe than the Tea Party is an exception to hyperpluralism in the United States. They simply contribute to the ways it is constituted in its current, dynamic forms. Hyperpluralism denotes not a uniformity of indifference or disinterest, but a spectrum of political engagement from the deliberately detached to the fervently committed that intersects with divergent moral views, religious and secular beliefs, and political ideologies. The results—again, always varying in their particularities depending on the location—are likely to be conflictual in the ways I suggest at the end of Chapter 4: “the more the limits of the tolerable are legally extended and politically protected via rights, the more do those citizens object who, because of their different conceptions of the good, find intolerable precisely the novel goods that are being newly protected through the assertion of rights under the aegis of liberty. The result tends to be friction, faction, and anger” (187). Such a perspective allows us to understand the PVV’s angry opposition to multiculturalism and its view of the perceived threat of Muslim immigrants to Dutch culture. It is precisely liberal institutions and laws that protect all the political protagonists that make up a given configuration of hyperpluralism.

In comparing The Unintended Reformation with A Secular Age, Guido Vanheeswijck alleges “Gregory’s (unconscious) failure to escape from the supersessionist template that he deliberately wanted to avoid” and asserts that my book “presents a supersessionist story in reverse” because (supposedly) “Gregory’s final suggestion is that we have to return to the rejected—not refuted—metaphysical assumptions of old and face up to the challenge of making our individual lives and our society more genuinely Christian.” There are several things wrong with this assessment. First, Vanheeswijck misunderstands what I mean by a supersessionist view of history. I intend by it the idea that the transformations wrought by modernity have supposedly been so radical as to render negligible any continuing influence of the premodern past on the present. A genealogical history, by contrast, shows how changes in the premodern past continue to influence the present in ways that remain explanatorily significant. Second, the intellectual viability of religious traditions today has nothing to do with supersessionism, whether “in reverse” or any other direction; it amounts simply to an awareness of the ways in which their respective doctrines are compatible with the findings of the natural sciences and other academic disciplines. Third, nowhere do I suggest that we have to return to any metaphysical assumptions or make our lives and society more Christian; rather, I say there is no reason to believe human rights or persons are real unless human beings are more than biological matter-energy, because scientistic assumptions yield no empirical evidence for rights or persons. (That human reason, in Victoria Kahn’s phrase, is “capable of conceiving of a notion of human dignity and human rights” is beside the point if the conceptions are illusions, which, on metaphysically naturalist assumptions, they must be.) Fourth, the continuing intellectual viability of belief in a transcendent creator-God in relationship to all else that is known is not a return to “metaphysical assumptions of old,” but rather a recognition of views that have never gone away and remain a live intellectual option in multiple religious traditions within our hyperpluralism. Fifth and finally, the problems with the preferential open-endedness of Protestant and modern philosophical claims precludes neither the possibility that some of them might be true, nor the obvious fact that many millions of people believe some of them to be true. Accordingly, they continue to play constitutive roles in comprising our hyperpluralism in ways that are not contravened by anything I argue in my book. This is relevant as well to Peter Gordon’s indictment that mine is a slippery slope argument so extreme as to be frictionless. Millions of people today respectively affirm innumerable, constantly shifting and hybridized truth claims in answering the life questions on the basis of the Bible or secular reason in ways that continue to play major parts in constituting diverse expressions of hyperpluralism in Western countries. There is no sign of this changing anytime soon, so there remains plenty of friction exerted against any slippery slopes, yet without affecting the arbitrary preferentiality of the respective positions affirmed.

The critique developed by Gordon from the title question of his review—“Has Modernity Failed?—commendably seeks to take my argument about the respective failure of medieval Latin Christendom, the Reformation, confessional Europe, and Western modernity on its own terms, and then to show that I do not extend to Western modernity the same internal criterion for failure that I apply to medieval Christendom. In describing my position and making the point on which his critique turns, Gordon writes: “Modernity has ‘failed,’ or, at the very least, modernity ‘is failing.’ (Gregory uses both phrases as if they were interchangeable, though surely they are not: A doctor if told that a patient was dying would respond differently than she would if she were informed that the patient was dead.).” I agree that there is a crucial difference between “has failed” and “is failing”—which is why, contrary to what Gordon says, I do not use them interchangeably: I am careful to say that modern philosophy has failed on its own terms (123-126, 220, 378-379, 380) but that modernity “is failing” (365, 381). That modernity is failing is due partly to modern philosophy having failed (377), but modern philosophy is much narrower than modernity, which I take to include not only modern philosophical ideas and ideals, but also beliefs, laws, institutions, behaviors, and practices. From Gordon’s review I suspect (though I am not sure) we might not be too distant in our assessments of how modernity has gone thus far: he writes that “few of us today can feel confident that modernity has things right” and notes “the persistence of astonishing social inequality” within modern liberalism as “a historically contingent ideological-institutional formation, and we may find that it does not measure up to its own ideals.” Gordon and I also agree that efforts to impose a single metaphysical view on citizens or to try to coerce ideological conformity are bad ideas. But my argument about modernity failing derives not from its failure to realize its own ideals, and certainly not from failing to instantiate a single metaphysical view. As Gordon rightly says (and as I also argue in the book), the attempt to instill a single metaphysical view was never a part of modern liberalism per se (epitomized in Jefferson’s famous quip, which I quote: “It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg” [165].). Accordingly, beginning historically with the individual right to religious freedom, liberalism was able to function in combination with the redefinition of religion in a manner that could address the confessional antagonisms of the Reformation era.

My argument about why modern liberalism is failing is different: it is that its ideals depend on basic moral and anthropological categories that cannot be rationally justified unless one holds some metaphysical view in which human beings are more than the natural sciences say they are. Modern liberalism’s “most basic moral, political, and legal claims” about the reality of persons and rights depend on humans being more than just another species of biological matter-energy (381). I do not think this requires explicitly Christian views, (as Kahn also imputes to me) nor does it require a single metaphysical view. But it does require something besides materialistic naturalism as one’s (implicit or explicit) metaphysics—because there is neither empirical evidence for persons or rights or dignity, nor any reason to think we will ever discover any. Continued belief in them is a quaint superstition, like believing in “souls,” if metaphysical naturalism is true. I can well understand why those who think their “postmetaphysical” views include a robust, rational, justified commitment to the reality of human rights and dignity find this argument annoying. No one appreciates having heartfelt beliefs challenged. I would argue that Habermas’s postsecular turn toward the secular appropriation of religious ideas and values in recent years reflects an anxiety that postmetaphysical reason alone is incapable of providing a basis for the norms necessary for the robust functioning of democratic societies.

Another potential failure-in-process, quite different in kind, I take to be the global climate change facilitated by the politically protected rights of individuals to consume as much as they can afford, inseparable from the environmental impact of manufacturing technologies that utilize scientific discoveries to produce an ever-increasing array of ever more plentiful consumer goods. (I set to the side the moral issue of the millions of men and women in the sweatshop factories of poor countries who make most manufactured products consumed in the West, since some people regard their labor as part of capitalist modernity’s success rather than its failure.) If capitalist production and consumerism eventually makes the planet uninhabitable (or inhabitable only under radically modified conditions) it would seem to count as a failure of modernity, insofar as supposedly benign self-interest understood in material terms has been for more than two centuries a cornerstone belief of Western modernity. Material acquisitiveness was supposed to continue to enhance rather than to harm human life, its benefits always outweighing its liabilities.

So I stand by my argument that Western modernity is failing, not that it has already failed. Perhaps Gordon and others can understand why I am less than sanguine about future prospects for our “provisional and proceduralist practices for our common life that rest on nothing more secure than ongoing reasonable debate over what should count as a social good,” a pragmatically formal austerity on which even Habermas has hedged in recent years with his postsecularist views about religion. In fact, these proceduralist practices do depend on something more: political power that now includes surveillant policing by the most bureaucratized and technologically powerful governments in the history of humanity. The prospects opened by more ambitious biotechnology and ideologies such as transhumanism seem to me very likely to exacerbate the sort of fundamental disagreements characteristic of our society—about who is a person, what is a marriage, what is a family, indeed what is good. Thus it seems to me likely that we can anticipate, as I wrote in the book, an ever more intrusive state acting in the name of freedom and reminding us ever more insistently how free we are. For those who might have been in doubt before, Edward Snowden has recently provided plenty of dramatic evidence.

Paul Silas Peterson takes issue with my characterization of hyperpluralism, fittingly comparing it to Charles Taylor’s “unheard of pluralism of outlooks” and arguing that in fact there is “a soft consensus” about more than consumerism in Western societies. The constituent elements of this soft consensus include, according to Peterson, a modern democratic political order, concepts of unalienable human rights, the rule of law, and the separation of political powers, as well as a high regard for the individual (with its Jewish and Christian roots) and for individual freedom, all of which “are not arbitrary assertions but rather principles that are connected with one another, interwoven with historical developments and representative of human life and ideals.” (Peterson’s inclusion of a “high regard for cooperation” in his soft consensus seems more tenuously variable and has been in rather short supply in recent years, at least in the U.S.) I entirely agree; in fact, my book analyzes the historical formation of such interconnected values and institutions, especially in Chapters 3 and 4. What distinguishes them, however, is their formal character: their deliberate lack of content or prescription about how individuals should exercise their freedom and rights as protected within the laws of democratic institutions. It matters little, it seems to me, whether one calls this a “soft consensus” or (as I do) “the formal ethics of rights and the individual freedom politically protected by modern liberal states” (242). Regardless of the nomenclature and whatever the particularities in a given country at a given time, we are talking about the combination of beliefs, ideas, laws, and institutions that protects the hyperpluralism of answers to the life questions and the sorts of human practices associated with them. I also agree with Peterson about “evidence of a soft consensus in some shared values” and the ways in which ecumenical and interfaith interactions in the past half-century demonstrate recognition of shared commitments across religious traditions. Both are vastly preferable to their alternatives. What hyperpluralism looks like at a given time and place is an empirical question; it need not entail (and is almost certain never to manifest itself as) a sheer atomization of values among mutually antagonistic individuals any more than it implies a uniformity of casual moral or political indifference across a citizenry. But neither does the reality of some widely shared values change the reality of fundamental and frequently divisive disagreements about very basic issues of morality and meaning, which order-keeping democratic states do their best to control and manage. At least so long as their economies keep producing.

Toleration is another issue broached in the book. Kahn seems not to grasp my argument about it: it is not, as she asserts, that I think “tolerance is a problematic virtue, a form of moral relativism produced precisely by the absence of consensus on Life Questions,” but rather that the toleration characteristic of modern liberal regimes solved certain kinds of problems inherited from the Reformation era but has turned out also to have created others. Assuming that Kahn does not think literally everything should be tolerated, she avoids my practical point about the present as stated near the end of Chapter 4: “the real question is thus never whether one should be tolerant or intolerant in general, but whether one ought to tolerate a specific measure or a particular behavior, and why” (232). It is simply not true that the answer is obvious, simple, or intuitive. Admonitions just to “be tolerant” are empty insofar as we (presumably) ought not to tolerate violence for kicks, racism, or sexism. Appeals to the liberal harm principle and thus to tolerate “whatever does no harm to others” are invariably question-begging because they presuppose notions of human flourishing and the good that are in question, an argument made well by Steven Smith in The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse.

Kahn follows this misrepresentation about tolerance and avoidance of the crucial question about what to tolerate and why with this aspersive claim: “There are other disturbing passages in the book, which also hint at a less appealing agenda, which one might miss if one were only to skim it. For instance, Gregory bemoans the ‘demise of the family’ and sees same-sex marriage as ‘aggressively secularizing’ and motivated as much by ‘overtly antireligious, bigoted vindictiveness as by principle.’” The irony is that Kahn seems herself only to have skimmed the passages to which she refers, distorting them in order to slot me into a negative moral-political niche. The phrase “demise of the family” (like Chappel’s falsely imputed “decline of ‘the West’”), quoted as if it were mine, appears nowhere in the book. The only passage to which Kahn plausibly could have been referring would seem to be this one, near the end of Chapter 3:

Families, too—along with churches the long-standing seedbed of citizens’ virtues, values, habits, and mores, on which the American nation’s political health relied so heavily—can only diminishingly serve this support function in a manner that still informs society at large. Widespread challenges to the very meaning of family and marriage have been added to the many millions of divorces which, for decades, have exacted vast human costs (176).

Whether one thinks these are good or bad developments, these claims are historical and sociological. Or does Kahn dispute that more diverse views of families and marriages, as well as divorce rates of over 40% since the 1970s, have led to less coherence and diminished effectiveness in the instilling of whatever values and virtues as a matter of fact? The sentence that mentions same-sex marriage has nothing to do with my own views; in fact, I say nothing about same-sex marriage per se in the book. My sentence was about the politics of measures pertaining to it and euthanasia in two European countries: “The recent, aggressively secularizing measures in once-Catholic countries such as Belgium and Spain (same-sex marriage in both, euthanasia in Belgium) seem driven at least as much by overtly antireligious, bigoted vindictiveness as by principle” (177). Note that my statement is qualified—“seem”—because moving from evidence to motivation is almost always conjectural. Then comes Kahn’s following sentence. It is obscure how she gets to it from my qualified factual statement about what were in their public expressions anti-Catholic measures in two European countries: “This would be news to a lot of gay Catholics, not to mention those gays and others who are not bigoted or vindictive.” How would this be news to anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, unless they were ignorant of the pertinent public discourse and political measures that with respect to these issues were explicitly hostile to the Catholic Church in both countries? A warning to readers about what to watch for if skimming my book would have been helpfully supported by less careless readings, especially when they were used to imagine and then to impugn my alleged agenda.

To me, one of the more entertaining aspects of the reactions to my book has been this willingness of some readers to speculate about my presumptive agenda and political views. Among the responses here, for instance, Thomas Pfau thinks my “dispiriting appraisals” about medieval Christendom, the Reformation, confessional Europe, and modernity are based on my own “underlying expectation of a definitive and just world,” rather than a comparison of the objectives of these eras’ leading protagonists with the consequences to which their commitments respectively led. Brenna Moore imagines that because I chose a passage from Jacques Maritain for the book’s epigraph, this “offers a glimpse into Gregory’s intentions and his inspiration.” Not really—I chose it because it combines a concern with morality and politics in an image that neatly suggests the book’s genealogical method. Maritain plays very little role in the book or its inspiration; I cite only his essay about Machiavellianism. Van den Hemel refers to “the implicit, but undoubtedly conservative, ideology underlying Gregory’s analysis” and thinks “one of the goals of Gregory’s book is to provide an aristocratic cultural-religious framework for values such as democracy” in ways that align it with the agenda of European “present-day conservative nationalists.” How anyone who reads my analysis of capitalism and consumerism in Chapter 5 could think I am a political conservative is beyond me; the purpose of my book is to understand historically how we have arrived at the situation in which we find ourselves, not to fashion policies for the future; and I consider appalling the agenda, ideology, rhetoric, and actions of parties such as the Dutch PVV. For those who might care about such things, I would characterize myself as a politically homeless Catholic, unable to marshal enthusiasm for either American Republicans or Democrats because of the extent to which both are beholden to corporate interests that perpetuate global socio-economic disparities I regard as morally outrageous, and because of their respective advocacy for other positions I regard as morally insupportable.

Chappel regards my book as “a frightening and deeply anti-democratic work, both in its methods and in its findings,” and seems to think I’m some sort of closet monarchist with a “fundamental, if unstated, opposition to democracy.” Is pointing out problems with contemporary liberal democracies tantamount to being anti-democratic? Perhaps Chappel is among the 12% of Americans who currently approve of the performance of the US Congress (up from a recent low of 9%), or maybe he has been shielded from the ubiquitous expressions of angry invective in the American public sphere in recent decades. He seems to have missed this sentence in the book’s Conclusion: “I am not among those who believe in comprehensive blueprints for human social engineering backed by political power” (381). Or this one, near the end of Chapter 4: “Without question, the protection of human beings via individual rights in modern, liberal regimes [note: including democracies] is incomparably preferable to the appalling brutalization of men, women, and children in modern dictatorships, whether fascist or Marxist. Nothing could be clearer” (233). Chappel not only misunderstands and mischaracterizes the book I wrote; he apparently thinks I should have written one about how to solve the problems of contemporary democracies. Seemingly it is not enough for one book to try to explain the historical formation over half a millennium of the institutions and ideologies that contribute to “the problems inherent in multicultural polities, structured by religious diversity, immigration, and empire.” As for Chappel’s allegation of my putative “refusal to engage in dialogue,” he seems not to see that the entire book is a historically based intervention in a dialogue that has been underway for centuries. Moreover, I was under the impression that this forum in The Immanent Frame is a dialogue, too, similar to ones I have had with many colleagues about the book over the past two years and in which I am happy to continue to engage in the future.

During the discussions in person that have thus far been part of the dialogue, I have been asked numerous times some version of “Where do we go from here?” or “How do we address the problems you’ve identified?” I don’t know. But neither do I know of anyone else who does, at least not in plausible ways. Nor should this be surprising: if my historical analysis about the character of our condition is near the mark, it is difficult to imagine obvious ideas about how to move forward in solving our difficulties in any programmatic fashion, in the manner of a socio-political theory, political platform, or set of policies. They are too deep and seemingly intractable for that; hence Pfau’s imputation of “despair” and Adrian Pabst’s comment that my story lacks “hope.” I don’t think that’s quite right; the gravity of our problems as I see them does not mean the genuine and enormously positive gains of modernity are illusory, as is evident in the book. But neither do modernity’s benefits make our conundrums tractable. The sort and degree of shared beliefs and values that a society needs in order to have a meaningfully substantive common good, or even widely shared practices based on mutual trust, cannot be imposed by force. Yet modern liberalism deliberately leaves up to individuals the choice of beliefs and values that over the long term have demonstrably militated against any such substantive common good and in various ways have eroded reciprocal trust among citizens.

But I am far from despairing or being without hope, and I try to carry out my work as a scholar in a manner expressive of that virtue. All is not lost; historical trajectories are contingent and therefore alterable; secularization is no more set in stone than is the history of any given religious movement or tradition, as is suggested by Pabst. If enough individuals voluntarily embraced a shared way of life, with beliefs and practices conducive to a substantive common good that simultaneously enhanced the individual good of all its members (as any genuinely common good does), it could facilitate the resolution of some of our vexing problems without the need for any political coercion. For those open-minded and amenable to argument, and more importantly, it seems to me, inspired by the concrete example of people who actually live self-sacrificing lives of compassion and love for others, large numbers of people might come to see the willing embrace of that shared way of life as a good thing—for themselves and for everyone individually and collectively. Argument and persuasion within a democratic society would have done its work in a non-coercive way, respecting individual freedom and autonomy; no one would have been forced to do anything.

Part of this process would involve making arguments based on evidence about how we have arrived at the situation we are in. It would involve showing how some kinds of attempts to answer the life questions, however promising they might once have seemed, have failed on their own terms and in fact contributed to our situation. So in this spirit I have sought to show the problems with both Protestantism and modern philosophy, problems avoided by the Catholicism I embrace and which is also open to anyone else freely to embrace. Again, as I noted in the first part of my response, this is not nor does it endeavor to be a positive apologetic argument for the truth of Catholicism. It rather distinguishes the basis for Catholicism’s truth claims in answer to the life questions from the bases of its two most influential modern Western competitors and argues for its compatibility with all possible findings of the natural sciences. It does not preclude the possibility that Catholic truth claims might be false, that those of Judaism or Islam or some other religious tradition might be true, or that all religion might turn out to be mistaken. Of course, I am not so naïve as to think that, in and of itself, my book is likely to change many non-Catholics’ minds about Catholicism as a possibility for their lives. That is almost never how such changes happen. Moreover, the history and contemporary reality of the Catholic Church is so obviously a record of (often egregious) sinfulness, even by its own standards, that to distinguish between this lived reality and intellectual arguments for its viability and moral appeal are almost certainat least initiallyto strike most non-Catholics as flabbergasting, despite all those nice things Pope Francis has been saying and doing. I get that. Still, the distinction is crucial and the arguments remain. And for many reasons, no one likes to have their fundamental commitments challenged, regardless of their content, which I think helps to explain the response to my book from some readers.

The discomfort that results from challenges to one’s cornerstone commitments is a phenomenon familiar to religious practitioners confronted with challenges from the world of learning—challenges that can be profoundly unnerving depending on the content of one’s religious convictions and whether or not one has the intellectual resources to address them. But one is not supposed to question the putatively neutral and allegedly justified assumptions underlying modern secularism, naturalism, and atheism that supposedly legitimate the rejection of religious traditions and render unbelief the de facto default among the highly educated. This, to judge from some responses to my book, is apparently unacceptable, especially if one additionally argues, as I do, that there are problems in trying to combine such assumptions with moral commitments that remain central to Western (post)modern liberalism (about the reality of persons, rights, and dignity, for example). It is apparently also unacceptable if one temerariously argues that some religious traditions remain intellectually viable options for scholars and scientists today. Because if this were true it would undermine the common, usually complacent notion that serious intellectual inquiry is somehow intrinsically connected to skeptical unbelief or at least to principled, postmetaphysical agnosticism and thus incompatible with a robust affirmation of Jewish, Islamic, Christian, or other religious truth claims. And that would mean that secular convictions are not the straightforward product of advanced education, critical scholarship, scientific discovery, or the earning of a Ph.D. that many of those with a Ph.D. assume them to be. It would imply instead that, however widespread, such convictions are the personal ideological preferences—or differently put, the faith claims—of those who happen to hold them, however explicitly or inchoately. This could be a potentially unwelcome conclusion for those secularists who affirm that their beliefs are rational, since unlike religious believers, they think they arrive at rationally justified conclusions dispassionately reached through a proper interpretation of relevant evidence. My book challenges this view; hence the baffled and sometimes hostile incredulity from some colleagues.

The Unintended Reformation has no programmatic agenda: it is not nostalgic for medieval Christendom, is not politically conservative, has no political program, does not reject democracy, is not sympathetic to monarchy, regards attempts politically to impose religious views as morally objectionable, and does not offer any socio-political theory or practical policies for solving the problems whose historical formation it traces. It is a work of history based on evidence in which no questions are off limits. Including questions about secularism, liberalism, naturalism, morality, or metaphysics—historical realities, one and all, and therefore open to inquiry and analysis. The book makes only one practical suggestion, and it does so from within and on the basis of the academy’s own commitment to academic freedom: namely, that the academy unsecularize itself. In no way could or should this amount to a return to any kind of confessional history or any other sort of academic endeavor that prohibits the asking of any questions whatsoever. It means only that there should be no a priori ideological prohibition of religious perspectives or religious arguments in the academy for anyone, from whatever religious tradition, who demonstrates the intellectual acumen and knowledge requisite for engaging with a given academic discipline or in a multidisciplinary inquiry. Postmetaphysical commitments should not be a requirement for participation in academic discourse; it is hard to see how there can be genuine academic freedom if they are. Religious ideas and arguments should be subject to criticism and debate just as secular ideas and arguments are. But this also means that however complacently some assumptions or ideas might be grazing like contented bovines in the secularized fields of the academy, none of them are sacred cows.

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