The Clergy of Civic Religion
March 2, 2012
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Imagine a sacred document. It lays forth the morally righteous principles around which our community should be organised. It is to these foundational principles that our particular laws and practices should adhere, and no one of them should contradict these principles.
But these principles are vaguely worded in many places, and are often expressed in a tone that is archaic; they are in the language of another era, in many respects. It is a difficult challenge to find ways to apply those principles to the situations we face today, and we must find a way to overcome that challenge and do so effectively, lest we stagnate. Besides, it was the intent of those who set forth the principles that we should not take them wholly literally, but that we bear in mind the more abstract values contained and articulated within them.
Hence we have a class of experts who interpret those principles, and tell the rest of our community what they mean for today’s world, and today’s dilemmas. These experts must be special people: they must undergo a long training, and must exhibit a deep reverence for the underlying truth and legitimacy of our sacred document and the principles written on it. While anyone can and should have conversations about the principles amongst themselves, they should still respect and usually defer to the authority of the experts. If ever those experts seem corrupted, then we definitely have a crisis of faith.
Are we talking about priests or Supreme Court judges? Are we talking about the bible or about the constitution? And if we could be talking about both, what precisely is the difference?