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HoBBES & Secularization: Christianity and the Political Problem of Religion Paul Dumouchel Université du Québec à Montréal Leviathan (1651) marks an important turning point in Hobbes's thinking about religion. For the first time he becomes fully aware of what may be called the political problem of religion. Already in the De Cive (1642) Hobbes had dedicated one third of his book to that topic, the last section entitled "Of religion."1 But in the De Cive the treatment of the question remains, to a large extent, superficial. The political difficulties surrounding religion are not seen in their full theoretical depth and Hobbes will, at times, refuse to address some issues because they are, he claims, too obscure (231). In the De Cive the analysis of the problem remains shallow and the solution proposed is overall inadequate. There, Hobbes conceives of the problem as the difficulty of following both the law of God and the laws of men should they come to contradict each other. His solution consists in asserting that both laws rarely contradict each other and that when they do, the subject should patiently endure the harsh rule of his temporal master. Such a "solution" has often suggested that Hobbes could not be sincere, that he had no understanding of religion and considered it little more than a bothersome complication in his purely rational scheme of politics. His writings on religion, seen from this 1 In The Elements ofLaw (1640) Hobbes had given even less attention to the problem, essentially two chapters out of 29, or 21 pages out of 182 in modern editions. 40Paul Dumouchel point of view, are no essential part of his doctrine, but (largely unsuccessful) attempts to appease the anger of querulous clerics.2 Leviathan indicates an important departure from such an insufficient view of the problem. Here religion does not merely appear in the fourth and final part of the work, as an afterthought—"by the way let me show you that my political philosophy is consistent with revealed religion"—but intervenes right from the beginning in part one, "Of Man." It should be remembered that Hobbes's typically modem, philosophical project here is to rest a normative science of politics on a purely descriptive science of man. That is to say, to constitute a science of "Commonwealths as they should be" on the basis of "Men as they are." In consequence, the inclusion of religion in Book I indicates that the religious dimension of men is one of the fundamental elements of mankind which the philosopher, and the sovereign, must take as building blocks for the Commonwealth, blocks which they may perhaps somewhat refashion, but which they cannot reject or abandon. The political problem of religion, it follows, is not historically limited to the irksome question of the consistence of revealed religion with rational politics. It is as old as humankind, for, Hobbes will argue, religion is forever inseparable from the question of politics. In Leviathan, Hobbes will conceive of the difficulty of obeying both the law of men and the revealed law of God as a particular case of the problem of the coherence of two systems of authority, the religious and the political. The particularity of Hobbes's answer to this problem of coherence is that Christianity, according to him, constitutes a solution to the political problem ofreligion which, for the first time in history, may lead to the establishment of a purely rational, that is nonreligious, form of politics. In other words, according to Hobbes, secularization in politics is the normal3 outcome of the action of Christianity in history. In that sense, his political philosophy is encompassed in what, John Milbank argues, can be seen as a form oftheological reflection.4 But before we come to that, we should first see what is, according to Hobbes, the political problem of religion. 2 There are, it is true, in the De Cive intimations of what is to come, like the analysis of the fall or of Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians, but overall Hobbes neither perceives the extent of the problem, nor senses the nature of its solution. 3 "Normal" should be understood here in a normative sense...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1930-1200
Print ISSN
1075-7201
Pages
pp. 39-56
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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