Religion, Secularism, and the Future of Liberalism

by | Mar 11, 2024 | Announcements

A Rabbi, a Christian, and two Objectivists walk onto a stage . . . to discuss the future of classical liberalism.

They agree on its core tenets—the sovereignty of the individual; his need for freedom to think, act, and speak in accordance with his judgment; the need for separation of church and state; and the need for economic freedom.

But they disagree about the deeper ideas that undergird and support classical liberalism. Specifically, they disagree about whether the supporting ideas are religious or secular.

Why does this matter?

It matters because classical liberalism is under attack on multiple fronts: It’s attacked by “woke” warriors, who oppose individualism and freedom of speech—by religious nationalists, who oppose separation of church and state—and by pragmatist politicians, who oppose principles as such and will say and do whatever it takes to gain and keep power.

If we can’t support and defend the ideals of classical liberalism, we will lose them, one and all. 

Hence this vital discussion at LevelUp 2024 (Atlanta, GA, June 19–22).

David Wolpe (a Rabbi) and Ayaan Hirsi Ali (a Christian) will argue that these ideals require a religious foundation. Craig Biddle and Timothy Sandefur (both Objectivists) will argue that they require a rational secular foundation.

David Wolpe is a visiting scholar at Harvard Divinity School and the Max Webb Emeritus Rabbi of Sinai Temple. He is also a rabbinic fellow with the ADL and serves as a senior advisor to the Maimonides Fund. He previously taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the American Jewish University, Hunter College, Pepperdine, and UCLA. His books include Why Faith Matters, Why Be Jewish? and Teaching Your Children About God.

David has debated leading atheist intellectuals, including Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. And he’s been called the most influential rabbi in America by Newsweek and one of the fifty most influential Jews in the world by The Jerusalem Post.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is one of the most outspoken classical liberals today—and a recent convert from atheism to Christianity. Her reasons for converting include her view that Western civilization is under threat from “the resurgence of great-power authoritarianism and expansionism in the forms of the Chinese Communist Party and Vladimir Putin’s Russia; the rise of global Islamism, which threatens to mobilise a vast population against the West; and the viral spread of woke ideology, which is eating into the moral fibre of the next generation.” She argues that “we can’t fight off these formidable forces unless we can answer the question: what is it that unites us?”—and, she says, the only credible answer “lies in our desire to uphold the legacy of the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

In addition, she says, “I ultimately found life without any spiritual solace unendurable—indeed very nearly self-destructive. Atheism failed to answer a simple question: what is the meaning and purpose of life?”

Craig Biddle is the executive director of Objective Standard Institute and the author of two books, Loving Life and Rational Egoism, along with many articles arguing for the rational secular foundation of morality, spirituality, individual rights, and political freedom.

Craig’s father is an Episcopal minister, and Craig went to church and even sang in the choir until he was twelve. That’s when rejected religion on the grounds that he saw no evidence for a god. He later rejected it more strongly when he discovered Objectivism, which, in his view, provides everything good that religion claims to provide (objective morality, purpose, spirituality, rights)—but does so on the basis of evidence and logic. He advocates rational secular philosophy because he thinks it alone upholds the values of human life, individual happiness, and social harmony—while unequivocally rejecting human sacrifice, whether self-sacrifice or the sacrifice of others.

Timothy Sandefur holds the Duncan Chair in Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute, where he is the vice president for legal affairs. He is the author of several books, including The Right to Earn a Living: Economic Freedom and the Law; The Conscience of The Constitution; Frederick Douglass: Self-Made Man; and Freedom’s Furies: How Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and Ayn Rand Found Liberty in an Age of Darkness.

In addition to writing, teaching, and arguing in defense of individual rights and Constitutional law, Timothy has written about and applied the principles of rational secular philosophy to a vast array of other subjects—music, poetry, architecture, film, sculpture, paintings, history, and more. In his view, it is not only possible to support and defend individual rights and limited government on secular grounds; it is also possible to be a spiritual atheist and to have grandeur without magic. 

Does this sound like an interesting discussion to you?

Secure your spot for this historic debate and the whole powerful program at LevelUp now—while you can save 50% with early-bird pricing. (Ends in less than a week!)

On Solid Ground is a community blog where we publish articles by guest contributors as well as by the staff and officers of OSI. The ideas offered by guest contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the ideas of the staff or officers of OSI. Likewise, the ideas offered by people employed by OSI are their own, and do not necessarily reflect those of others in the organization.

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