Faith-Based Medicine for Fractured Nations
In many other countries, too, religious people have contributed their distinctive language and activities to political proceedings that deal with the past. Religious language appears especially strong when these proceedings are sanctioned as acts of reconciliation.
That is the problem, some critics say. Several commentators on the [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] have echoed the misgivings of Tutu's colleagues, reflecting even broader complaints that certain liberal philosophers have expressed in recent years about the political activities of the religious. These criticisms are of a piece with liberal skepticism of reconciliation's appropriateness and effectiveness. [The Historian Timothy] Garton Ash sympathetically quotes the complaint of Marius Schoon, whose wife and daughter were killed by the South African security forces, about the TRC's "imposition of a Christian morality of forgiveness." Liberal critics call for a far wider separation of religion and politics and many of them for an ethic demanding that religious concepts be translated into secular language before they enter public debate.
Religion's integral role in the ethic of political reconciliation demands that such skepticism be confronted. . . . [The f]irst [task of] religious traditions [is to] provide a ground for the ethic. It is in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that the concepts of justice, peace, mercy, and reconciliation that form the core of the ethic are expressed most fully and enduringly. Adapted to modern politics, these concepts yield a potent medicine for societies who are dealing with troubled pasts and pursuing stable, legitimate political orders. Fittingly, the Latin word root of religion is religare, meaning "to reconnect, to bind together."
The second task is to provide a method for building a principled consensus on the ethic in religiously plural societies. It is with respect to this task that the role of religion evokes the strongest objections among liberal skeptics. Even were they to concede that religion contains potential for reconciliation, they charge that bringing religion into politics is disrespectful and divisive, not binding, reconnecting, or reconciling. ...
A Balm for Restoring Societies
Because of the nature of religion's claims, skeptics fear, it is likely to sow divisions and possibly violent strife among fellow citizens who do not share the same beliefs. If such a wind is allowed through the door of public life, it will destroy the whole house. The most rigorous representatives of this fear are a family of critics who propose a common solution: that religious believers should only support those political policies for which they can provide a "public justification"—that is, a justification that does not rely solely on a religious rationale…. When enactors of political reconciliation deploy religious language, they claim, as when they interfere in matters of the soul, they transgress boundaries that are necessary to liberal democracy….
If religion breeds disrespect and discord, then obviously it cannot act as a reconciling force, however appealing its distinctive concepts of justice, peace, and mercy may be. Are the arguments for public justification correct? Is religion unfit for reconciliation? My answer begins by taking issue with proposals that would forbid or restrict religion's role in the politics of dealing with the past. Not only are such strictures unjustified, but they suppress a balm for restoring societies that have suffered political wounds….