Page On Habermas “Post-secularity” as just modern humanism
gary e. davis
July, 2008  

A shareable (learnable) sense of ever-developing humanity can resolve conflict between religionists and non-religionists

I’ve just finished carefully reading Jürgen Habermas’ lecture, “Notes on a post-secular society.” Quoted phrases in the following are from that lecture.

I’ll start a commentary with a brief focus on identity: The multiculturalist “appeals to the protection of collective identities....The secular state, they say,....tears individuals out their identity-forming contexts....On the other hand, the secularist....warns against the consequences of a ‘politics of identity’ that goes too far....” Both parties “argue...over...cultural identity,” but, in the end, JH insists, “the democratic state must not pre-emptively reduce the polyphonic complexity of the diverse public voices, because...the shaping of identities” is so important.

The locus of secularity is not in the state; it’s in civil society. The multiculturalist and the secularist may be talking past each other (confusing cultural and political issues). The state must not be “cutting society off...with regard to vulnerable social relations...[from] moral sensitivities and solidaristic intuitions [that] religious traditions possess the power to convincingly articulate,” but this just politically ensures that the religionist will get fair time in the public sphere; it doesn’t address the cultural basis of the potential for conflict between religionists and non-religionists trying to form public policies together that imply different conceptions of humanity.

So, the power to convincingly articulate values (let’s say, in short) is possessed by religious traditions. Yet actually, this power is possessed by cultural traditions generally. As cultural tradition, religion has a power to convince. What, then, distinguishes the especially-religious claim that is supposed to be convincing? “...[E]ven in religious utterances, semantic contents and covert personal intuitions...can be translated...into secular discourse.” Even! Availability of contents and intuitions pertains to cultural backgrounds generally, including religious backgrounds.

But it is as cultural meaning that the “religious” claim can be convincing, because the especially-religious matter of enchanted faith cannot be convincing to a non-religionist as matter of enchanted faith. (A “disenchantment” is one of the 3 features of the secular that JH stipulates.) Rather, faith-filled views can be interesting (even inspiring) in some disenchanted manner (like poetry can be profoundly insightful). Indeed, poetic meaning belongs to culture universally, maybe even constitutively (as language itself is prototypically figurative in childhood, in folk psychology, and, perhaps, even in “the very idea of a conceptual scheme,” which a cognitive linguist might claim—surely, a Derridean would so claim).

The secular, in its original meaning, is premodern—and gains modern senses. Religion emerges originally amid secular culture, as the realm of the sacred has always distinguished itself from the mundane (or profane). Religion faces a splendid modernization of secularity tacitly in the humanizations of identity that are integral to post-Classical, neo-Renaissance modernity, which backgrounds the various Enlightenments. And religion faces a modernization of secularity overtly in the post-religious sense that JH presumes (in order to reach a post-post-religious sense). But what distinguishes the especially-modern sense of ‘secular,’ I would argue, is what JH calls the “post-secular”: a capability for e pluribus unum—appreciating cultural diversity as source of meaning; and finding our humanity in the synergistic potential of this (just as postconventional individuation expresses a diversity of self-understandings: cultural, professional, civic, etc). Secularity inhabits the entirety of cultural evolution, inasmuch as a sense of the enchanted sacred has always distinguished itself—long before the Axial Age—from what is culturally mundane. But only in modernity does cultural mundanity achieve high literacy. Being post-secular, in JH’s sense (being post-post-religious) is just modern humanism, richly comprehended.

So, the contemporary issue of “religion” in “secular” life completely translates, it seems to me (as progressive humanist), into the issue of appreciating the virtue of cultural diversity. Simple as that.

What religion can teach Habermas’ “secularist” is a thicker sense of sociality than the thin (if not culturally minimalist) “civility” that is ensured by the state (and its thin culture of polite society). But enchanted faith can only teach inspired humanism (my modern secularist) what’s culturally sophisticating, but not expect to achieve an eduction of enchantment (which would be a conversion to faith, available for a premodern sense of mundane life, but not for modern secularity or a sophisticated humanism). This potential of faith to inform humanistic life requires cultural sophistication by enchanted faith, i.e., appreciation of one’s own religious background as cultural background within a shared culturality, a shared humanity.

But that teaching also depends on an authentic secularism that learns (which I stipulate as part of the meaning of ‘humanism’), not Habermas’ proper characterization of the invalid secularist: “...[S]ecularism is often based on ‘hard’ naturalism....” Secularism doesn’t require this. Secularism can be based in a human interest in our humanity that is evolutionary in a humanistic sense (and humanistic in a complexly evolutionary sense), showing then (for the humanist, the secularist) in enchanted faith, as part of a culturality that is anthropological in nature.

General to that culturality is that identity is developmental: Cultural identity is developmental as individual identity is developmental. The “complementary learning processes,” that JH appeals for, are developmental purposes that “mentalities” achieve. The conflicts of cultural backgrounds can be translated into cognitive differences of the kind that are integral to developmental analyses (and “moral developmental” analysis especially). Just as one doesn’t devalue adolescence by denying that it likely shows mature autonomy, so one properly appreciates the potential of less complex inspirations to develop (e.g., expecting that relatively lower educational levels can become higher).

But “institutionalized decision-making” cannot accept enchanted faith as a reason to support a public policy. For the faithful, the flip side of secular expectation that the faithful “appropriate the secular legitimation of constitutional principles under the premises of their own faith” is that their “political will formation” cannot expect recognition of their “use of religious language” in legislation (let alone jurisprudence). Good reason, relative to cultural diversity, pertains to the humanity of that diverse culturality, which, I would argue, is best found in shareable conceptions of our common history (which is ultimately evolutionary, as are religions’ splendid emergences in cultural evolutions), from which the notion of human rights is born as somehow self-evident to intuition.

The polyphonic complexity of diverse public voices is cultural, born from identity-forming contexts that we all share, as solidarity is born from kindredness, and kindredness is born from intimacy.

July 5, 2008

The Obama campaign sees a proper place for religious organizations in the sphere of public funding, but any stance would be controversial. Today, I’ve tried to provide a way of steering between competing camps—between evangelical motives and separation of church and state—relative to recent discussion of Senator Obama’s interest by The New York Times.

Also: This discussion is associated with the “being in Time” area of

Be fair. © 2017, g. e. davis.