I stated that the reason for carefully vetting Muslims who aim to immigrate into the USA is political rather than religious. I had several points in mind, one of them being that it is the theocratic character of Islam that renders it incompatible with Western values, but not its specifically religious character. Theocracy is a form of political organization whereas there is nothing in the nature of the religious as such that requires that a religion be theocratic. Theocracy is a political concept. Religious character is -- wait for it -- a religious concept. These are different concepts. That should be obvious. If it is not obvious, argument up ahead!
It struck me as important to make the distinction between the political and the religious because the political reasons for vetting or even excluding Muslims or some proper subset thereof, perhaps the 'Medina Muslims,' are consistent with the commitment to religious liberty enshrined in the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. According to this amendment, the government shall not interfere with the free exercise of religion. Now while the First Amendment applies only to citizens, not to would-be citizens, it expresses a value that is universal in scope, that of religious liberty. The value/right comes first; the amendment merely protects it.
Note also that according to the Article VI of the Constitution, there shall be no "religious Test" for would-be holders of public office. So it is not the fact that Muslims have a different religion than most of us that supplies a reason for carefully vetting them; it is because their religion is a hybrid ideology, a political-religious ideology, the political component of which is manifestly incompatible with American political principles. I hope it is obvious that a totalitarian theocracy is incompatible with limited government.
Canadian philosopher Jacques, however, questions my distinction between the political and the religious. He writes,
What are political grounds? I doubt there could be any kind of political theory that isn't ultimately based in some (implicitly) religious attitude. Consider the very idea that religion and politics are different realms, or should be or could be. It's an idea that Protestants find easy enough to accept, because of their peculiar religious beliefs. People in a Protestant-derived society such as the USA find it easy to accept because they have been shaped by Protestantism. But if Islam is true, there is no such distinction.
I am afraid I cannot agree with this. First of all, it is obvious that at the notional level there is distinction between the concept of the political and the concept of the religious. The distinction holds even if one or both concepts are empty. The first concept would be empty or uninstantiated if there were no states, just people organized in non-state or sub-state ways. But there are, we know, states. We don't know, however, if there is anything corresponding to the concept of the religious. Here are some typical religious 'objects': nirguna Brahman, saguna Brahman, Nirvana, The One of Plotinus, Deus qua ipsum esse subsistens (Aquinas), Allah, Yahweh, immortal souls . . . . Suppose that naturalism is true and that there are no religious 'objects' at all, where naturalism is the thesis that reality is exhausted by space-time and its contents. There would still be a distinction between the political and the religious. They are clearly distinct at the conceptual level. I hope Jacques is not denying the distinction at the notional or conceptual level.
Jacques appears to be claiming that every type of political theory is based in some implicitly religious attitude. That would be false for the political theory of a naturalist. I should think it is obvious that one could have a political doctrine that did not entail or presuppose any religious doctrine. A libertarian doctrine of the state as outlined in, say, Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia, is consistent with the view that religion is a purely private matter.
Jacques tells us that "if Islam is true, then there is no such distinction" as that between the political and the religious. But surely if two concepts are extensionally equivalent, it does not follow that they are the same concept. To borrow a Quinean example, x is a cordate iff x is a renate, but it doesn't follow that being cordate and being renate are the same property or concept. So even if Islam is true -- God forbid! -- there would still be a distinction between the religious and political character of Islam. And that is all I need for the points I am making.
But if we think about this carefully, we see that there is not even an extensional equivalence. Not every religious item in Islam is a political item. For example, take the following doctrinal item: There is no god but God! Call it Radical Monotheism. Consider it and all its entailments. Among the entailments: God/Allah exists, is radically one, is not a trinity, is radically transcendent of the world, etc. None of these metaphysical propositions has, by itself, any political implication. One could, in all logical consistency, accept all of these propositions and also accept American principles of government. Case in point: Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, a moderate Muslim who battles what he calls "political Islam" in A Battle for the Soul of Islam: An American Muslim Patriot's Fight to Save his Faith, Simon and Shuster, 2012. My tribute to Dr. Jasser here.
A reformed Islam that is consistent with American values is not only possible but also actual in the case of Dr. Jasser and a few others. So, obviously, the political and religious aspects of Islam can be prised apart. They are distinct. I should add that, while there are a few moderate Muslims, the vast majority are not. These are the ones that subscribe to Islamic law (sharia) and have no intention of assimilating to the West and its values. I am afraid that Dr. Jasser's noble attempt at a reform of Islam is bound to fail. But that is a separate issue.
Probably the same goes for Catholicism (on the most honest and coherent interpretation) and Hinduism or lots of Amerindian religions. It makes no sense, on these various religious views, to isolate some particular realm of human affairs as being just 'political' rather than religious. Just as it makes no sense, on most religious views, to isolate an area that is just 'ethical' or 'artistic' without also being religious. Just as it makes no sense for progressives to isolate an area that's just 'personal' and not political.
With respect to Catholicism, Jacques is on very shaky ground. Jesus himself provides the charter for temple/church - state separation with his "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's; render unto God the things that are God's." That saying presupposes for its very sense that the political and the religious are not identical. The saying occurs in all three of the synoptic gospels. It is of course subject to different interpretations, but the Catholic reading is something like the following. Although our main obligations are to God, we also have obligations to the political authorities, where 'Caesar' represents the political authorities of whatever time and place. So of course the political and religious spheres are distinguishable.
And surely it is false that the concepts of the ethical and the religious coincide, or that no ethics is possible that does not rest on religious tenets. This would have shocked old Aristotle whose eudaimonistic ethics rests on no religious bases. There is of course a primum mobile in Aristotle's system, but it has no religious meaning. The Prime Mover, just as such, is precisely NOT "what all men call God." (Aquinas, Quinque viae)
Jacques tells us that progressives or as I call them, 'progressives,' do not separate the personal from the political. But of course they have to, at the notional or conceptual level, if there are to be in a position to say something meaningful albeit stupid such as The personal is political. This is an informative identity claim only if the senses of 'personal' and 'political' are different -- he said with side-long glance in the direction of Frege. On the level of reference, however, it is true that the person is political for 'progressives.' But so what? They're wrong. Jacques concludes:
Protestant theology holds up individualism and autonomy as very important values, ultimately for theological reasons. Take away Protestantism, or some similar theology, and it's not clear why we should care so much about these things -- for example, why we should care that society has some tolerance for religious diversity or a non-religious conception of politics. So I'm suggesting that, if Islam is not a 'pure' religion then western liberalism or conservatism is not a 'pure' political theory.
Jacques seems to be saying that there are no non-theological reasons for caring about the toleration of religious diversity. Well, try this reason on for size: We tolerate religious diversity because we do not know which religion is true; nor do we know if any extant or possible religion is true. Given deep and intractable disagreement within religions, across religions, and between religion and anti-religion, toleration makes possible comity (social harmony) and prevents foolish, costly, and sometimes bloody conflicts. There is no need for a theology to underpin this commitment to toleration. Atheists and naturalists have no theology, but that does not prevent them from espousing toleration.
"So I'm suggesting that, if Islam is not a 'pure' religion then western liberalism or conservatism is not a 'pure' political theory." I can't agree with this either. Islam itself -- not Islam 'lite,' some Jasserian reformed, de-politicized Islam -- is as much a political ideology as a religion. It is very far from being just a religion. But much of American conservatism is mostly free of religious elements. Correct me if I am wrong, but nowhere in the U. S. Constitution or its Amendments is there any reference to God or to any religious doctrine.