Readers of HT may find this of particular interest – click over to read the rest of my answer:
I found your discussion of religious freedom quite fascinating. What are the blessings and problems of this arrangement? Can religious freedom be consistently upheld without the majority influence of the Christian tradition?
The greatest blessing is the space it creates for virtue and conscience. I think most people have forgotten that it’s very rare in human history to have a culture where people are expected to shape their lives according to an understanding of what is right. In most civilizations historically, 98% of the population was simply told how to live, and that leaves no space for people to be moral creatures. One challenge this creates is that religion and even morality can come to seem optional. Another is the fragmentation of our moral language – if you and I have different religions, we may still agree that murder and theft are wrong, but we’re likely to disagree about what actions should count as murder or theft. It becomes very challenging to hold a society together without returning to the old way of just having the elites at the top simply tell everyone how to live. Can we uphold religious freedom over time if Christianity remains a minority view? …
By far my favorite question was on the opportunities and challenges of economic growth. This is an issue on which I have no strong views whatsoever:
In the Old Testament, God warns his chosen nation that they are going to get rich and it’s going to tempt them to evil – but the reason he gives this warning is because it is his intention to bless them with fabulous wealth! Israel becomes wealthy in the promised land, we are told over and over again, because it was given the law of God and it learned virtuous behavior. So does that mean God is responsible for Israel’s sin, because he taught them virtue and made them wealthy? Do we think God was just kidding when he wrote the Proverbs? The command to do honest work that creates wealth and increases the well-being of our households and communities is repeated in the New Testament. We have to avoid a prosperity gospel that says faith creates wealth by some automatic process, but at the same time, we have to avoid saying that God doesn’t care if people starve to death or die of polio. And unfortunately, the prevailing current in Christian intellectual life these days is very anti-growth. I guess I’m just not as smart as the people who take that view, because unlike them, I simply don’t know how to love my neighbor while hoping that my neighbor loses his job. In general and on the whole, virtuous behavior tends to create wealth and health for most people. God is in favor of that.