Stanley Fish chews at length over Jurgen Habermas’s new position on religion. Habermas, an ardent Enlightenment secularist, now recognizes that secularity is missing something essential to being human. That, he now believes, is the religious sense. Habermas now believes that we need religion, and it should be admitted into polite society as long as it knows its place, and doesn’t interfere with secular procedures. But this can’t work; if religion is wholly instrumentalized, it’s no longer religion, but an ethical system. Put another way, as soon as one is conscious that one adheres to religion not because it is true, but because it is useful, it loses its power to bind and to loose. It only has the power to affect behavior insofar as it is believed as religion.
So here Habermas finds himself, believing secularism cannot provide a fully satisfying account of life and how to live it, especially in community, but unwilling to make the leap out of the secular mode into the religious, because it would require giving up too much. Where have we heard this sort of thing before?
The borrowings and one-way concessions Habermas urges seem insufficient to effect a true and fruitful rapprochment. Nothing he proposes would remove the deficiency he acknowledges when he says that the “humanist self-confidence of a philosophical reason which thinks that it is capable of determining what is true and false” has been “shaken” by “the catastrophes of the twentieth century.” The edifice is not going to be propped up and made strong by something so weak as a reminder, and it is not clear at the end of a volume chock-full of rigorous and impassioned deliberations that secular reason can be saved. There is still something missing.