A review of The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse

"No whining!" the plaque on my study wall all but shouts. Steven D. Smith does not whine as he invades a territory frequented by whiners. Some, whom he names secular rationalists, moan about the religious discourse that they regard as threatening. On the other hand, the religious who fear the secularists complain that secular discourse claims and possesses a near monopoly in the public world. Smith, a law professor at the University of San Diego, takes on but then transcends the whiners.

His weapon is argument, and his goal is eliciting a new openness on all hands, but especially on the part of the secularists, who tout reason and tend to unreflectively or calculatingly dismiss almost all expressions of religion in public. He argues with notables who can handle themselves, including John Rawls, Susan Jacoby, Richard Rorty and Martha Nussbaum, though I imagine that they will make future utterances with more care if they read Smith.

 

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