Rawls’s liberalism, unlike that of many liberals who know very little about religion, is founded on a vivid sense of the importance of religious faith and an understanding of the difference between genuine and merely conventional religion. He knows what he is talking about when he says in Political Liberalism that the Reformation “introduces into people’s conceptions of their good a transcendent element not admitting of compromise”, that “this element forces either mortal conflict moderated only by circumstance and exhaustion, or equal liberty of conscience and freedom of thought”; and that political thought needs to understand “the absolute depth of that irreconcilable latent conflict”.
By insisting on the importance of a terrain of political justification that is consistent with such ultimate commitments but does not depend on them, Rawls was not devaluing religion. On the contrary. The importance of liberty and of separating the state from religion is that they make possible the commitment of all members of a pluralistic society to common political institutions and a shared enterprise of public justification, despite their ultimate disagreements about the nature of the world, the ends of life, and the path to salvation. Such disagreement, he emphasizes, is not a disaster, but the natural consequence of reason’s exercise under free conditions.
In this, he and Oakeshott were not so far apart. The core and only original (at the time) argument of my dissertation on Oakeshott was that a religious and Christian doctrine underlay his worldview. It's all in Chapter 5.
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