Competing Schemas Within the American Liberal Democracy

An Interdisciplinary Analysis of Differing Perceptions of Church and State

by Shannon Holzer (Author)
©2016 Monographs XIV, 180 Pages


Competing Schemas Within the American Liberal Democracy is a compelling book that dispels many of the common myths concerning Church and State. This book shows that how one approaches the subject of religion and politics largely determines what types of conclusions one will draw. Shannon Holzer is not concerned with creating a polemic. Instead, he shows that the subject of Church and State is much wider in scope than strict separationists would have one believe. When most scholars write on the subject of religion and politics they do so from a single academic discipline. The strength of this book lays in the fact that Dr. Holzer is an accomplished scholar in many different academic disciplines and can approach this complex subject from several different areas of inquiry. In doing so, Dr. Holzer offers a more comprehensive approach to the subject. This book makes use of the many relevant disciplines regarding Church and State, including: history, political theory, philosophy of religion, epistemology, legal theory, and history. As such, this text can be used in a multitude of subjects. Scholars will find Competing Schemas Within the American Liberal Democracy to be intellectually stimulating while clearly written and easily comprehended. Whether in the classroom or in one’s personal library, this book is necessary for those who are interested in the highly contentious and often misunderstood subject of Church and State.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Competing Schemas Within the American Liberal Democracy
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter One: Introduction
  • 1.1 Schemas: Perceiving As Versus Perceiving That
  • 1.1a Schema of the Theologico-Political Problem
  • 1.1b Schema of the Secular-Political Solution
  • 1.2 Rawlsian Schema of Liberal Democracy
  • 1.3 Purpose of This Book
  • 1.4 Methodology
  • 1.5 Chapter Breakdown
  • Chapter Two: The Courts’ Perception of Religion
  • 2.1 Religious Reason as Irrational and Subjective
  • 2.1a James Hitchcock
  • 2.1b Francis Beckwith
  • 2.2 Religious Reason as Divisive and Dangerous
  • 2.3 Religious Reason as Coercive Indoctrination
  • 2.4 The Courts’ Interpretation of the Establishment Clause
  • 2.4a Religious Reason as Private
  • 2.4b Secularism as the Default Position
  • 2.4b.1 The Principle of Neutrality
  • 2.4b.2 Secularism Enforced: Lemon v. Kurtzman
  • 2.5 Summary
  • Chapter Three: Historical Schemas: Original Intent and the Lenses of Separation and Accommodation
  • 3.1 Separation vs. Accommodation
  • 3.1a Separation
  • 3.1b Accommodation
  • 3.2 Jefferson as a Secularist
  • 3.2a Kramnick and Moore’s Construal of the Origins of Separation
  • 3.2b Roger Williams
  • 3.2c John Locke
  • 3.2d A Separationist Construal of Jefferson’s Conclusions
  • 3.2e Separationist Construal of Religion
  • 3.2f Accommodationist Concessions
  • 3.3 Jefferson as an Accommodationist
  • 3.3a Jefferson’s Public Religion and Truth
  • 3.3b Jefferson’s Rejection of the Social Contract
  • 3.3c Jefferson’s Perception of Government as a Guide Towards Virtue
  • Chapter Four: Autonomy, Neutrality, and the Diminishing of Religious Conviction
  • 4.1 Federal Courts, Strict Separationism, and the Autonomous Self
  • 4.2 Federal Courts, Autonomy, and Neutrality
  • 4.2a Protecting the Garden from the Wilderness
  • 4.2b Protecting the Wilderness from the Garden
  • 4.2c Adoption of Neutrality
  • 4.2d Neutrality to Avoid Civil Strife
  • 4.3 Autonomy, Choice, and Coercion
  • 4.3a Necessity of Coercion and the Presupposition of the Objective Good
  • 4.3b Doxastic Voluntarism and the Notion of the Good
  • 4.3c Has Neutrality Delivered Its Promise?
  • 4.4 Religious Conviction and Religious Choice
  • 4.4a Sandel on Conviction, Choice, and Original Intent
  • 4.4b Autonomy and the Depreciation of Religious Claims
  • 4.5 Applying Neutrality
  • 4.5a Categorizing the Debates: Public Reason or Sectarian Squabbles
  • 4.5a.1 Pro-Life: Theological Debate or Different Answer to the Same Question
  • 4.5a.2 Marriage and the De Re/De Dicto Distinction
  • 4.5a.3 Diminishing Religious Conviction
  • 4.6 Summary
  • 4.6a Equivocal Language
  • 4.6b Points of Agreement
  • Chapter Five: Rawlsian Liberal Democracy, Religious Reason, and the Disputed View of the Good
  • 5.1 Rawls and the Natural of Liberal Democracy
  • 5.2 Rawlsian Principles and Their Detractors
  • 5.2a Stephen Macedo and Public Reason
  • 5.2a.1 Macedo’s Schema
  • 5.2a.2 Macedo’s Religious Restraint Applied
  • 5.2b George and Wolfe on Macedo’s Public Reason Criteria
  • 5.3 Ronald Dworkin and Justificatory Liberalism
  • 5.4 Robert Audi and Nicholas Wolterstorff
  • 5.4a Robert Audi
  • 5.4b Nicolas Wolterstorff
  • 5.4c Agreement Between Robert Audi and Nicolas Wolterstorff
  • 5.4d Disagreement Between Robert Audi and Nicolas Wolterstorff
  • 5.5 Summary
  • Chapter Six: Intellectual Revolutions
  • 6.1 The Structure of Intellectual Revolutions
  • 6.2 Paradigms Within the American Liberal Democracy
  • 6.2a Traditionalism
  • 6.2b The New Intellectualism
  • 6.3 Is Kuhn Correct?
  • Chapter Seven: Analysis of Two Competing Schemas
  • 7.1 The Schema of the Federal Courts
  • 7.2 The Legal Culture’s Version of Liberal Democracy
  • 7.3 Religious Reasoning as Irrational?
  • 7.3a Theistic Reasoning Is Wider in Scope
  • 7.3b Theistic Schemas Solve Internal Conceptual Problems
  • 7.3c Theistic Schemas Solve External Conceptual Problems
  • 7.3d Theistic Schemas Possess More Explanatory Power
  • 7.3d.1 Grounding Human Rights in the Imago Dei
  • 7.3d.2 More Qualitative and Quantitative Explanations
  • 7.4 Does Religious Reasoning Lead to Civil Strife?
  • 7.4a Religious Reason as Unifying
  • 7.4b Morality and Justice
  • 7.4c Secular Reasoning and War
  • 7.5 Summary
  • Chapter Eight: Conclusion
  • 8.1 Summary of Goals
  • 8.2 Findings
  • 8.2a Legal Culture’s Perception of Religious Reason
  • 8.2b Differing Historical Schemas
  • 8.2b.1 Separationist Schema
  • 8.2b.2 Accommodationist Schema
  • 8.2c Sandel and Original Intent
  • 8.2d Rawlsian Unreasonableness
  • 8.2e Power and Reason
  • 8.2f Confronting the Myths
  • 8.3 Implications: Two Liberal Democracies in One
  • 8.4 Suggestion
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Series index

← x | xi →



I am deeply grateful to all those who encouraged me throughout the process of writing this dissertation. I specifically want to thank Suzanne Sellers for goading me on to finish. I also want to thank Alexandra Coolidge for her confidence in me when my own confidence was absent.

I am especially thankful to William Mitchell for the help and support he gave me in moving through the final phase of my degree.

Finally, I want to express my thanks to Francis Beckwith for inspiring my work throughout the program. I hope to continue that which you began in me. ← xi | xii →

← xii | 1 →




1.1    Schemas: Perceiving As Versus Perceiving That

Psychologists use the term schema to represent the different ways individuals perceive the world around them. There are two possible analogies of schemas; first, a schema is like a type of filter that allows certain beliefs to enter one’s noetic structure while disallowing other beliefs to enter. Second, schemas can be likened to a doxastic sieve that strains out certain beliefs while retaining others. These filters or sieves affect one’s beliefs about the nature of noetic structures as well. Schemas are epistemically prior to as well as included in comprehensive worldviews. More importantly, schemas are psychologically prior even to one’s philosophical assumptions, and they often go unrecognized. Schemas can sharpen the focus on one philosophical position and blur it out on another. These are not worldviews; they are dispositions by which one develops his worldview. One’s worldview, however, can reinforce one’s schema.

While schemas influence how one perceives the entirety of the world and one’s place in it, psychoanalysts are often more concerned with how their clients perceive society and people, and in what relation they are to these two. The analyst recognizes that his client’s schema causes him to focus on certain features of the world, ignore or reject other features, and to draw inferences from his skewed ← 1 | 2 → perception. Because of this, the client perceives the world around him inaccurately; this wrong perception causes many of the client’s troubles.

The therapist’s job is to show the client that the perceptions of his relations to other people as such and such are not necessarily perceptions that such and such. The therapist asks the client to attend to that which he had ignored or rejected and to amend his conclusions. The therapist’s goal is to align the client’s perceptions of the world as such and such as closely as he can to perceiving that about the world. Individuals may go to psychologists to help them with this; however, societies do not.

1.1a    Schema of the Theologico-Political Problem

Leo Strauss framed the discussion of church and state as a problem. The majority of literature on the subject works from this perception. This perception of the interaction of church and state as problematic focuses on certain correlatives, such as civil strife, irrationality, close-mindedness, and oppression. According to Pierre Manent, much of the history of liberalism has been the attempt to escape “decisively the power of the singular religious institution of the Church…”1 Much like a beat reporter who knows that controversy arouses the passions and is much more likely to hit the front page than the fact that society as a whole is intact, those who tell the story of church and state often tell the sordid tale of crusades, inquisitions, and witch trials. Whereas these direct the focus towards division, power plays, and irrational beliefs, they equally direct it away from religion’s ability to unify, encourage charity, demand justice, and provide hope. It is very rare indeed that one hears the positive accounts of religion’s interaction with the state. This is especially true inasmuch as the issue comes in contact with the American federal courts.

1.1b    Schema of the Secular-Political Solution

Given the aforementioned schema, many have perceived the secularization of government as the solution to this problem. Secularists imagine a government that operates independently of the notion that God exists, that there is “no Heaven…, no Hell bellow us, above us only sky”; from this they “imagine living life in peace.”2 Just as one has areas of focus and neglect when perceiving issues of church and state, the same is true for the one’s perceptions of the secular and the state. Whereas a secular state may be perceived as freeing the autonomous individual from oppression, the granting of liberty, and the protection of matters of conscience, it could also be perceived as fragmenting, encouraging selfishness, and stripping one of hope. ← 2 | 3 →

I do not believe either of these schemas contains the whole picture. Many who are unaware of their schematic disposition claim to perceive that such and such is the case about issues concerning church and state when in fact they merely perceive as such and such about these issues. This is not to say that perceptions as cannot be perceptions that; it is merely to say that those who are unaware of the distinction between the two are more likely to make inaccurate judgments.

1.2    Rawlsian Schema of Liberal Democracy

John Rawls perceived liberal democracies as social contracts among individuals who use public reason to enact coercive legislation. Rawls perceived public reason as the overlapping consensus of comprehensive worldviews among reasonable citizens.3 The social contract depends on people treating other citizens as “free and equal.” In order to do this, citizens are required to withhold support of legislation that is dependent upon reasoning that is exclusive to one particular comprehensive worldview.

Rawls believed that one can see his justification for adopting his theory by conducting a thought experiment from behind what he called the “veil of ignorance.” The citizen is to imagine himself stripped of all his knowledge of what position he holds politically, economically, and socially in life. From here, he is to imagine what coercive legislation best serves his interests. Not knowing whether he will be born into a wealthy or poor family or a religious or non-religious family, the citizen embraces a system that affords equal treatment to all. This is much like the mother who assigns the older child to cut the one piece of cake into two pieces and allows the younger child to have first choice. The older child wants to maximize his cake eating liberty, so he cuts the cake as evenly as he can. In the same way citizens should operate from the “original position” when enacting coercive legislation since this maximizes everyone’s liberty.

Rawls argued that there are beliefs over which citizens will never agree; thus, they should not use these beliefs to enact coercive legislation. The citizen is free to act on these divisive beliefs—inasmuch as they do not interfere with the primary goods of other citizens—in private, but he should not ask the government to make others do the same. To do so would violate the respect of others as being free and equal. Rawls perceived religions as comprehensive worldviews; thus, citizens should refrain from using them to form coercive legislation. Rawls also included philosophical comprehensive worldviews that are independent from religious reasoning in those sources that should be left out of coercive legislation.4 ← 3 | 4 →

If legislators evenly applied the foregoing to all legislation, the legal landscape would be very different indeed. For example, there is much legislation that uses certain comprehensive doctrines of science that are quite controversial; yet, there is no attempt at a separation of science and state. For that matter, I do not advocate that there should be a separation of science and state. History is replete with doctrines that originate from within larger comprehensive paradigms, and yet there is no suggestion that these doctrines or the comprehensive worldviews from which they come should be held at bay.

Those who subscribe to Rawls’ schema often perceive knowledge claims originating from religious sources differently than knowledge claims from other comprehensive doctrines. It is certainly possible to perceive science as a divisive doxastic practice from which the enactment of coercive legislation has violated the treatment of humans as free and equal. One can point to the correlation between Darwinian theory and Hitler’s master race, or to the American eugenics movement to show that governments have used scientific theories in violation of these Rawlsian principles.5 Yet, legislators and jurists rarely perceive science in such a negative fashion. Neither Congress nor the federal courts have called for the American citizenry to separate science and the state.6 People perceive science as a positive enterprise, as progress towards a better life, and convergence upon the truth; I agree with this.


XIV, 180
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (September)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XI, 178 pp.

Biographical notes

Shannon Holzer (Author)

Shannon Holzer has earned degrees in the areas of religion, philosophy of religion and ethics, and religion, politics, and society. He received his undergraduate degree in religion from Wayland Baptist University in Hawaii. His area of interest was biblical studies. Dr. Holzer then earned his M.A. in philosophy of religion and ethics from BIOLA University’s Talbot School of Theology. He received his Ph.D. in religion, politics, and society fom Baylor University’s J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies. He has published as a public academic in popular journals as well as in legal journals and peer reviewed publications. Dr. Holzer is a sought after speaker on the subject of church and state, just war theory, and natural law. During his time as a professor, he has taught graduate level and undergraduate courses on world religions, religion and politics, epistemology, religious epistemology, Christian history and thought, philosophy of god, ancient philosophy, analytic philosophy, logic, and ethics.


Title: Competing Schemas Within the American Liberal Democracy
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195 pages