Monday, December 22, 2008

In Which I Save The Magic Of Hanukkah From Noah Millman

Noah Millman of The American Scene doesn't get to make this move:
if freedom of religion means, most fundamentally, the freedom to be a heretic, it equally means the freedom to declare that the other guy is a heretic. In a very real sense, a social environment that is hostile to religious intolerance must necessarily be hostile to religious freedom. So, ironically, the modern transformation of Hanukkah from a festival of intolerance to a festival of religious freedom is no transformation at all!
If we understand "declaring that the other guy is a heretic" to mean "thinking and saying that the other guy's beliefs about God are untrue", that isn't intolerence. That's just disagreement. People disagree about lots of stuff. Jon Henke and I disagree on how effective government intervention in the economy can be, but it'd be weird to say that we're being intolerant of each other. We can perfectly well be tolerant (that is, avoid using coercive power against people just because their beliefs and practices differ from ours) while preserving religious freedom (that is, the freedom to believe and practice a religion without coercion). In fact, the two things go together, contra Millman's attempts to serve up the big counterintuitive conclusion.

Now, if we understand "declaring that the other guy is a heretic" to mean "using the coercive power of the state to have him tied to a pole and set on fire", that would be intolerant. But religious freedom plainly doesn't involve the freedom to declare the other guy a heretic in that sense. Really, I think the multiple meanings of 'heretic' were making Millman's point look more plausible than it was.
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