[The Third Section]
If the established thesis of the separation of religion from the state is in difficulty, this does not mean that the state should revert to religious control. No important contemporary theologian supports the theory of disguising the state in religious cloth.
Whoever reads John Dewey’s article,The Ethics of Democracy (1896), keeps in mind the distinction between conceiving democracy as a simple form of governing (narrowing down to the periodic election of representatives and leaders), and conceiving democracy as a “form of life”. “Democracy is a form of moral and spiritual association”. Only a democracy which is constantly nurtured by a social ideal and does not let itself be reduced to procedures will be sufficiently different from other forms of government and will avoid its own dissolution, caused by the corruption of power. John Dewey considered necessary a sort of “unity (to be one)” between “the church and the state, divine and human organisation of society”[^53] (The Early Works 1882-1998 , Illinois University Press, 1969, pp. 248-249). Certainly, in John Dewey, this does not mean a return to the oldrepublica christiana , but simply the making of an ethical soul, nourished by religious beliefs, among democrats. And this has always been a weighty matter throughout history.
The topic is not ignored today, but it is not decisively re-discussed either. The 2004 debate, between Habermas and Cardinal Ratzinger, rightfully began with the question asked in 1967 by Ernst Böckenförde: does the state based on individual liberties draw its vigour from normative presuppositions (cultural resources, we could say) which it cannot guarantee itself? Habermas himself asserted that the state needs “cultural resources” and that “it is in the constitutional state’s own interest to adopt and conserve all cultural resources from which it nurtures the norms’ conscience and the citizens’ solidarity”. Religion is not the only support for democracy, but, out of the resources which democracy does not highlight, religion remains by far the most profound, most long-standing and most ample. Habermas approaches it as such.
In today’s Germany, the debate on religion, the Church and theology is ongoing. Here, not only the theological debate is, as always, at a high level, but also the current debate over religion, which is, undoubtedly, among the most advanced. In the context of the latter debate, at a reunion in Sibiu (Romania), Herbert Schnädelbach, considering my argumentation[^54] in favour of the idea of looking at procedural democracy from the point of view of democracy as a form of life, drew my attention to two aspects: Ernst Böckenförde truly questioned the cultural resources of democracy, but would not have brought into debate religion as a source; some theologians would have rushed to “instrumentalise” the question asked until then. I, then, immediately read Ernst Böckenförde, finding at hand the “extended edition” (of 2006, from Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main) of his texts. What can be observed when reading his works?
InDie Entstehung des Staates als Vorgang der Säkularisierung , Böckenförde re-constituted with precision the genesis of modern states in Europe, between the 13 th-18th centuries, not only as a “historical
constitutional” process, but also under the “spiritual-religious” aspect of breaking off from legitimation by appealing to transcendence. He observed that the state based on individual liberties always needs “a binding force (eine Bindungskraft)”[^55] This binding was at first ensured by religion, but “secularisation” changed the situation. Later on, the nation, energised by “the tradition of Christian morals”, ensured the tie, as “national state”. In the meantime, this tie, in its turn, eroded away under the pressure of “the individualism of human rights”. After World War II, in particular, there was an appeal for a re-binding by adhering to “values”, but the subjectivism and positivism of their understanding are always considered dangerous[^56] As such, we must ask ourselves: which will the “binding forces” be?
Böckenförde asserts that that “binding force” does not have to be searched for outside “the state based on individual liberties”, and will not be imposed by means of “coercions of the legislation and authoritarian commands”. The appeal to “state ideologies”, as well as “re-affirming the tradition of the Aristotelian polis” or “the proclamation of “systems of objective values” are not conclusive in this case. The state can try to balk at the need to find “binding forces” by stimulating “the citizens’ life expectations”, but this cannot last. Ernst Böckenförde’s solution is this: “We should ask ourselves again - along with Hegel - if the secularised mundane state shouldn’t, per chance, live out of those inner stimulations and binding forces which religious faith makes for its citizens”[^57] Obviously (many other quotes confirm it, as well), the eminent German jurist brought into the debate “religious faith” as a horizon for his puzzle. I was, therefore, right to dwell, in my turn, on the problem signalled by Ernst Böckenförde by bringing into discussion the importance of religion, since the binding is made in his very works, even if Herbert Schnädelbach does not want to admit it.