Actually, it is Peter Leithart offering up some Habermas with some Peter Gordon thrown in. The post concerns the burden that secular societies place upon religious citizens. Leithart quotes Habermas on the burdens that modern societies, in trying to bracket religious convictions, place upon both believers and secularists:
Religious citizens who regard themselves as loyal members of a constitutional democracy must accept the translation proviso as the price to be paid for the neutrality of the state authority toward competing worldviews. For secular citizens, the same ethics of citizenship entails a complementary burden. By the duty of reciprocal accountability toward all citizens, including religious ones, they are obliged not to publicly dismiss religious contributions to political opinion and will formation as mere noise, or even nonsense, from the start. Secular and religious citizens must meet in their public use of reason at eye level.
Leithart doesn’t believe the burden is equal and grabs support from Peter Gordon:
Does it even make sense to say they are both burdens? Consider the analogy of translation between profane languages: If a Frenchman is asked to express his claims in public where English is the only language in principle intelligible to all participants, then of course the Frenchman can be required to obey the rules of English grammar. That is surely a burden, and it may be a great challenge for someone who has spent his entire life thinking in French. But it makes no sense to say that the Englishman bears a symmetrical burden because he cannot think of himself as a “judge” concerning the comprehensive merits of France. There is nothing about speaking English that makes such a judgment plausible, let alone necessary. Habermas, I suspect, is trying to dress up the unidirectionality of the burdens of translation in a way that promotes a more favorable vision of reciprocity. This may be diplomatic—and, given the frequent intolerance of both parties, religious and secularist, some diplomacy may be called for—but the notion of a shared burden in translation does not accurately capture Habermas’s deeper commitments to profane reason.
According to Leithart, who continues to invoke Gordon, Habermas’ notion of translation is weak and invalid because the very idea of translating religion into the secular public sphere is — I guess — unequal. Gordon writes: “Translation, after all, is a linguistic event of semantic transfer, from a language of origin to a target language—from religion to the secular public sphere. The analogy thus reveals how Habermas’s earliest ideas concerning the character of public reason have not lost their validity.”
I am not interested exactly in Habermas’ or Gordon’s points, but I am intrigued that Leithart finds the idea of translation to be revealing of the difficulties that believers confront in secular societies. Is it the case that Christians do speak a different language of government, or law, or public policy from non-Christians? Do Christians even have their own language? This is particularly important since the Reformation sought to put the Bible, the liturgy, and theology into the vernacular. That included indirectly Luther’s translations of the Bible setting the agenda for modern German and Calvin’s French functioning as an important stage in the development of modern French (so I’ve read; I don’t presume to be a historian of language).
In other words, language is a common human activity. When the Holy Spirit regenerates Christians they don’t and shouldn’t speak in new languages (at least cessationist ones don’t). When Christians talk about politics, nations, and laws, they use the same words, syntax, and punctuation as other citizens. They may use words like morality, justice, king, Lord, or law. But non-Christians don’t have any trouble understanding what those words mean. They may disagree about the virtue of a monarchy, since they live in a republic (or an empire that in its “aw shucks” moments pretends to be a republic). But the words that Christians use, even the words to describe Christ as king of kings, or the magistrate’s duty to enforce the entire Decalogue are not foreign to non-Christians. Just because someone disagrees with you does not mean you are speaking a foreign tongue. To think that a difference of opinion is really a problem of translation is bizarre.
But it does indicate the lengths to which the application of the antithesis between believers and non-believers may run. In the haste to assert that Christianity goes all the way down and claim a victim status for believers who live under oppressive secular governments, Federal Visionaries, transformationalists, and neo-Calvinists make the world safe for thinking that Christians are so different that they speak in ways that other people can’t understand. In other words, they pave the way for those Christians who really do think they have a Christian language — Pentecostals.