For Dworkin, the meaning of religion consists in “two central judgments about value” that he believes religious people -- theists and some atheists -- regard as objectively true. First, “each person has an innate and inescapable responsibility to try to make his life a successful one: that means living well, accepting ethical responsibilities to oneself as well as moral responsibilities to others, not just if we happen to think this important but because it is in itself important whether we think so or not.” Second, “what we call ‘nature’ -- the universe as a whole and in all its parts -- is not just a matter of fact but is itself sublime: something of intrinsic value and wonder.”
If this is what Dworkin maintains, then his characterization of religion leaves a lot to be desired, to put it mildly. This is obviously NOT what the meaning of religion consists in on any adequate understanding of religion. Religion cannot be reduced to axiology. True, the religious will accept that there are objective values and disvalues. But such acceptance, even if necessary for being religious, is not sufficient.
All or most of the following are beliefs essential to anything that can be legitimately called a religion:
1. The belief that there is what William James calls an "unseen order." (Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 53) This is a realm of absolute reality that lies beyond the perception of the five outer senses and their instrumental extensions. It is also inaccessible to inner sense or introspection. It is also not a realm of mere abstracta or thought-contents. So it lies beyond the discursive intellect. It is accessible from our side via mystical and religious experience. An initiative from its side is not to be ruled out in the form of revelation.
2. The belief that there is a supreme good for humans and that "our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves" to the "unseen order." (Varieties, p. 53)
3. The conviction that we are morally deficient, and that this deficiency impedes our adjustment to the unseen order. Man is in some some sense fallen from the moral height at which he would have ready access to the unseen order. His moral corruption, however it came about, has noetic consequences.
4. The conviction that our moral deficiency cannot be made sufficiently good by our own efforts to afford us ready access to the unseen order.
5. The conviction that adjustment to the unseen order requires moral purification/transformation.
6. The conviction that help from the side of the unseen order is available to bring about this purification and adjustment.
7. The conviction that the sensible order is not plenary in point of reality or value, that it is ontologically and axiologically derivative. It is a manifestation or emanation or creation of the unseen order.
In a word, Dworkin's characterization leaves out Transcendence; it leaves out what is absolutely central to religion, namely, the conviction that there is a transcendent dimension, an "unseen order," (see #1 supra) and that adjustment to this order is essential to human flourishing (see #2 supra).
What Dworkin has delivered is a miserable leftist substitute for religion. Being a leftist, he of course cannot value or perhaps even understand the genuine article; but he at least could have had the intellectual honesty not to try to redefine something whose definition is tolerably clear. Berkowitz has it right:
. . . Dworkin redefines religion to conform to his progressive sensibilities. What he presents as the offering of an olive branch to believers may seem to a person of faith, with justice, as a hostile takeover attempt. The steps by which Dworkin appropriates the religious label for his own left-liberal and atheistic outlook provide a case study in how the progressive mind, under the guise of conciliation, seeks to command the moral high ground exclusively and discredit that which differs from it.
"Hostile takeover" is right. Berkowitz also perceptively notes that
Dworkin also overlooks a formidable problem latent in his sanctification of the progressive perspective. If progressivism counts as a religion, then enacting the left-liberal policy agenda would seem to represent an establishment of religion in violation of the First Amendment.
But of course progressivism is not a religion, but an anti-religious political ideology. Nevertheless, one can and must ask: if it is wrong for the State to impose religion on its citizens, why isn't it also wrong for the State to impose leftist ideology on its citizens as it now doing here in the USA?
I take a stab at this question in Separation of Leftism and State.