What makes monotheism a potential ally of humane liberalism is its high anthropology. Historically, of course, this liberal tradition grew up and out of a Christian monotheistic context; so its admiration of human dignity is no coincidence. Nor is it a coincidence, therefore, that Habermasâ new-found appreciation for religion comes at a time when he is struggling to articulate reasons against genetic engineering for non-therapeutic purposes, which he deems an assault on the fundamental dignity of the human individualâs freedom. Certain versions of monotheismânot least, certain versions of Christian monotheismâ support the idea of human dignity; which is why humane liberal philosophers on both sides of the Atlanticâif not yet on both sides of the English Channelâhave been edging toward it in recent years.
Some philosophers, however, go further. They see in monotheism not only a support for equal human dignity, but perhaps the only support. In his recent study of John Locke, the legal and political philosopher, Jeremy Waldron, observes how silent modern philosophers have been in explaining the equal dignity that they assume all human persons share. He then goes on to demonstrate how Lockeâs understanding of such dignity is irreducibly theological; and he ends up by stating that âI actually donât think it is clear that weânowâcan shape and defend an adequate conception of basic human equality apart from some religious foundationâ?.
Niger Biggar’s Inaugural Lecture at the (Oxford) McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics and Public Life