In Sophocles’ tragedy, Antigone is caught between her religion and her state. After her brother is killed assaulting the city, her uncle Creon forbids her to bury him. But according to the tenets of her faith, if Antigone does not bury her brother, she will have disobeyed the gods and forfeit her own afterlife. Eventually, she kills herself.
Martha C. Nussbaum tells the ancient Greek story in “Liberty of Conscience,” her grand and penetrating discourse on religion and American law, to illustrate how an unbending state can impose a “tragic burden” on a member of a religious minority. This demonstrates two of Nussbaum’s prodigious strengths. As a teacher and scholar of law, philosophy and religion at the University of Chicago, she brings the insights of each discipline to bear on the others. And because she’s attuned to the “springs of conscience” that well up from faith — Nussbaum left the Episcopal Church for Reform Judaism when she married — she can analyze some of the Supreme Court’s recent jurisprudence on religion with sympathy rather than disdain for the enterprise of accommodation. She’s no atheist, she’s no evangelical, and she’s still worried.
more from the NY Times Book Review here.