Monday, June 10, 2019

This Isn’t About You: A Comment on Smith’s Pagans and Christians in the City

Andrew Koppelman

Steven Smith’s recent book, Pagans and Christians in the City, is a marvelous study of the struggle between ancient Roman paganism and early Christianity. In its final chapters, however, Smith claims that today’s culture wars are a renewal of that zero-sum struggle. It is a misdiagnosis that repeatedly leads him astray. He misunderstands the culture wars, he misunderstands antidiscrimination law; he misunderstands the recent resistance to state Religious Freedom Restoration Acts; he misunderstands the contraception mandate; he misunderstands the basis of religious liberty; and he misunderstands the possibilities for achieving the Rawlsian ideal today. Torn from their original context, the categories of “pagan” and “Christian” are too crude to offer any diagnostic help. Similarly with immanence and transcendence, the fundamental division on which Smith builds his analysis. Each is open to such a huge variety of specifications that neither has any definite practical or political entailments. Rome is fascinating, but it does not tell us much about contemporary America.

I elaborate in a new article in the San Diego Law Review, here.

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