Paris Peace Accords 23 Oct. 1991

Sunday, September 24, 2017

A WORLD SAFE FOR DIVERSITY: Os Guinness discusses Religion and Pluralism

Freedom of thought and conscience protects BELIEVERS, it never protects BELIEFS.  As soon as you shift to protecting BELIEFS, you silence debate.
Civility is not a search for the lowest common denominator unity.  Nonsense, because the differences between us on the faiths are ultimate and irreducible, e.g. the difference between a Jew and a Hindu; a Muslim and an Atheist. 

 A World Safe for Diversity:
Os Guinness discusses
Religion and Pluralism

Key to the human future.

Issue:  (abstract-sounding but underlies so many other issues that humanity have to answer) How do we live with our big differences?    

Answer:  SOUL FREEDOM: freedom of thought and conscience for everyone.   

To make that possible: soul freedom plus CIVILITY.  

 To make that practicable:  PUBLIC SQUARE.


3 sources of problems:

1.       Ethnic and Sectarian Violence – a humanitarian nightmare

2.      Government repression (a greater problem)

3.     Mounting violations and discrimination (not persecution) in the Western world, e.g. US culture war, i.e. religion and public life


Issues exacerbating the problems:

1. Now a GLOBAL issueEntire worldviews elbow to elbow.  Roman Empire had diversity, but not in this explosive form today.

2.   Many of earlier settlements of religious life are floundering.  Earlier, shaped by a particular year in their country’s history.  But today, under immense stress.  Ex. French, English, American.


-   1789 French Revolution.  French Jacobin: “We want to strangle the last king with the guts of the last priest.”  A corrupt church and a corrupt state , in collusion and highly oppressive.  Revolution threw off both of them.  Mindset today, laicite.


-  In England, 1688 no blood, no massacre, no militant anti-clericalism, today Church of England is only there for the “hatching, matching, dispatching of citizens”, to baptize them, marry them and to  bury them, and that’s all it’s for.

-  US, 1791, year of first amendment to the Bill of Rights.  Dis-establishment of religion; faith flourished despite of it, because faith is now voluntary.

3.   Emergence of a rudimentary, but nonetheless real, GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE, a metaphor  (Agorra in Athens, Forum in Rome, Westminster in England, etc. a physical place)– to debate, liberate, and decide the common issues

-  Internet era: even if we’re not speaking to the world, the world hears and can respond, a virtual public square.

HOW DO WE LIVE WITH OUR DEEP DIFFERENCES TO A NEW LEVEL?  Are we to be content with little sound bites and limited character tweeting, or anonymous names on blogs issued in degrading speech?  Or, are we to work out how we live in the public square globally in ways that do justice to our humanity and the greatness of our democratic past we may have?

Why freedom of conscience and thought, i.e. religious liberty, is so important:

I.  Clarify WHY freedom of thought and conscience is so vital.  3 reasons:   

1.      Freedom of thought and conscience was always the first liberty.  No hierarchy of rights, that would be invidious.  Freedom of Conscience, Freedom of Speech and Assembly – inseparable and interlocking.  Freedom of assembly assumes and requires freedom of speech.  Freedom of speech assumes and requires freedom of conscience. 

According to philosophers, Freedom of conscience (you’re bound) is different from freedom of choice (you’re sovereign). 

Thus, Framers of US Constitution saw Freedom of Conscience is first liberty.  It is only as it is guaranteed, the others came along , too.  And it is as only so long as it is guaranteed that the others are protected.

2.    Freedom of thought and conscience and religious liberty is the KEY TO CIVIL SOCIETY.  Hitchens: “Religion poisons everything” –complete rubbish.  One of the West’s distinctive features is its commitment to REFORM movement – against infanticide, banning of gladiatorial games, Wilberforce abolitionist, MLK, Jr. and civil rights movement. 

“Civil Society": Between individual citizens and the govt, society is healthy if it has a thick layering of organizations in which people can volunteer and give and participate and engage, and bring their generosity, their sacrifice, and their time, etc.  What makes it thriving is the faith-based initiatives.  When you dis-establish faith, you have this entrepreneurialism that America represents and the First Amendment is closely linked to that.

3.    Religious liberty is key to SOCIAL HARMONY.  Harmony in China.  No big deal; yes, China has diversity with relative harmony – by COERCION.  The real challenge is to have diversity WITH LIBERTY and still achieve harmony.  US has done better than any other in history.  How?  First Amendment: strong religious convictions and strong political civility Other parts of the world has one or the other.  E.g. Western has strong civility; the Middle East strong religious convictions.

II.  Examine some of the common mistakes of those trying to defend religious liberty today:  Here are 3 reasons why they are misguided and will never win:

1.      Those who think we can rely on law alone.  Increase litigation, deeper schism, no answer.   The law by itself will never protect freedom, it must also have “habits of the heart”.  Fatal mistake of the Christian Right. 



2.    Fight for my interests, rather fight for the interests of the common good.  The Christian Right talk about “justice”, but what they mean is “just us”.  


The essence of religious liberty – freedom of thought and conscience – is that it’s mutual; it’s reciprocal; it’s universal.  Christians should have reason of their own for this, e.g. the Golden Rule.  But we don’t practice this; and it’s fatal.

The fact is: the right for one is always the right for another, and the responsibility for both.  The right of a Christian, is the right for the Jew, the right for the Muslim, the right for an Atheist; and the responsibility of all.  Rights are best protected when the tiniest community feels safe.  And when the most unpopular community knows their rights are guaranteed.  For those of us who are followers of Jesus, not to fight just for ourselves, but to fight for the common good, and above all, for the last and the least, because there’s no one else to fight for them.  

3.    Fighting the negative with a negative (mistake of Liberals, exploited by Muslims): Phobia-rizing of disagreements.  Harmony-phobia; Muslim-phobia.  Christ-phobia.  Yes, Christians are the most persecuted people, but as Christians we should expect this and see as a badge of pride: our symbol: Jesus, naked, tortured on an executioner’s instrument.

Freedom of thought and conscience protects BELIEVERS, it never protects BELIEFS.  As soon as you shift to protecting BELIEFS, you silence debate.

We should disagree persuasively, civilly.  But those who try to fight the negative with the negative makes thing s worse, when you have to teach the positive which is FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE and knowing the “three Rs”: rights, responsibility, respect.

Ways to lead us forward: 2 competing models, on how religion should enter public life, if at all.

1.       Sacred Public Square: to prefer one faith over another at the expense of all others.

2. Civil Public Square

3.  Naked Public Square: to exclude all faiths from public life, and unintentionally favors Secularism.

There are variations of all these.  Church of England (mild and innocuous) at one end, Iran at the other extreme (harsh, exclusive).   

Either one is unjust and unworkable.

CIVIL PUBLIC SQUARE: a vision of public life where everybody is free to enter the public life on their basis of their faith (i.e., freedom of conscience).  BUT within the framework of what is understood and agreed and passed on from generation to generation… emphasizes persuasion.

CIVILITY has no powerful backing at the national or international level today.

Some simple misunderstanding of CIVILITY:

1.      Civility is not niceness.  Civility is the classical word for the virtue and the duty that allows citizens of the same society to negotiate differences with others peacefully

2.     Civility is not a search for the lowest common denominator unity.  Nonsense, because the differences between us on the faiths are ultimate and irreducible, e.g. the difference between a Jew and a Hindu; a Muslim and an Atheist. 

But how then do have unity?  It is not unity at a religious unity.  If you achieve that, each faith would have to be unfaithful to what it believes.  The unity, then, is at the level of the political framework of the 3 Rs (rights, responsibility, respect). 

Queensberry Rule of Boxing
(put in a ring and battle it out) -- a tough, robust debate. 

Civility is not a game of niceness, lowest common denominator, ecumenical unity.

3.    Civility is not a form of moral indifference, a toleration that accepts everything.  Not at all.  The right to believe anything [freedom of conscience] does not mean that anything anyone believes is right.  God allows us to choose eternity without Him rather than “raping our conscience”. The right to believe anything is absolute.   But that does not mean that anything one believes is right.  That’s sheer nonsense.  Some ideas are muddle-headed, some socially disastrous, some are profoundly evil; we have the right to engage them, to argue against these ideas, but not their right to believe these ideas; we respect their right to believe.

Sadly, if we look at 2,000 years of Christian history, much of the church did not follow the way of Jesus.  Much of the aggressive secularism is a reaction against the corrupt church practices of the past.  The Christian Right maybe small peanuts in comparison with the crimes of the church past (eg. The Inquisition), but by its unwisdom and its rhetorical extremism, to many people today, they sound like the echo of the church past.  

We can take courage from the history of human rights.  From Magna Carta to UDHR...

Human Rights has developed in 3 steps (also true of religious liberty):

1.      First step is a “DECLARATION”;

2.    IMPLEMENTATION – taking those principles and implementing them into laws;

3.    CIVIC EDUCATION (the most important step)– when principles which are declared in ringing form are then put into laws and  translated into the habits of the heart.

Tocqueville: With a revolution, as with a novel, the hardest part to invent is the ending.  Your generation (people in college in their twenties) is the crunch generation. 

[Great Q&A!]

Os Guinness’s brilliant clarification on Respect and Toleration (at exactly 57 min.):

The difference between RESPECT and TOLERATION:  “toleration is always better than its opposite, intolerance.  But “toleration” is not the word to defend today. It’s John Locke’s word; it has a very basic weakness.  Tolerance is condescending; it’s always the powerful tolerating the weak; the majority tolerating the minority; the government tolerating us citizens.  No.  Freedom of conscience is alienable.  No govt, no scientific discovery, nothing has the right to come between an individual and his/her conscience.  That’s respect, CIVILITY.  Tolerance is far too weak a word.  We need to persuade our liberal friends to want something much tougher, because our human rights are at stake here.

John Rawls: overlapping consensus.

-    At the every level, at the roots of our faith (Atheist, Jew, Christian, Muslim), the difference is irreducible and ultimate; at the results or fruits of our faith, there are “overlapping consensus”.

Persuasion (or, in Christian term, apologetics).

Wilberforce and Abolitionist Movement: “Am I not a man and a brother?”


There’s no one you can’t speak to persuasively.

1 comment:

  1. If you are interested in some new ideas on religious diversity and the Trinity, please check out my website at www.religiouspluralism.ca. It previews my book, which has not been published yet and is still a “work-in-progress.” Your constructive criticism would be very much appreciated.

    My thesis is that an abstract version of the Trinity could be Christianity’s answer to the world need for a framework of pluralistic theology.

    In a constructive worldview: east, west, and far-east religions present a threefold understanding of One God manifest primarily in Muslim and Hebrew intuition of the Deity Absolute, Christian and Krishnan Hindu conception of the Universe Absolute Supreme Being; and Shaivite Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist apprehension of the Destroyer (meaning also Consummator), Unconditioned Absolute, or Spirit of All That Is and is not. Together with their variations and combinations in other major religions, these religious ideas reflect and express our collective understanding of God, in an expanded concept of the Holy Trinity.

    The Trinity Absolute is portrayed in the logic of world religions, as follows:

    1. Muslims and Jews may be said to worship only the first person of the Trinity, i.e. the existential Deity Absolute Creator, known as Allah or Yhwh, Abba or Father (as Jesus called him), Brahma, and other names; represented by Gabriel (Executive Archangel), Muhammad and Moses (mighty messenger prophets), and others.

    2. Christians and Krishnan Hindus may be said to worship the first person through a second person, i.e. the experiential Universe or "Universal” Absolute Supreme Being (Allsoul or Supersoul), called Son/Christ or Vishnu/Krishna; represented by Michael (Supreme Archangel), Jesus (teacher and savior of souls), and others. The Allsoul is that gestalt of personal human consciousness, which we expect will be the "body of Christ" (Mahdi, Messiah, Kalki or Maitreya) in the second coming – personified in history by Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu), and others.

    3. Shaivite Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucian-Taoists seem to venerate the synthesis of the first and second persons in a third person or appearance, ie. the Destiny Consummator of ultimate reality – unqualified Nirvana consciousness – associative Tao of All That Is – the absonite* Unconditioned Absolute Spirit “Synthesis of Source and Synthesis,”** who/which is logically expected to be Allah/Abba/Brahma glorified in and by union with the Supreme Being – represented in religions by Gabriel, Michael, and other Archangels, Mahadevas, Spiritpersons, etc., who may be included within the mysterious Holy Ghost.

    Other strains of religion seem to be psychological variations on the third person, or possibly combinations and permutations of the members of the Trinity – all just different personality perspectives on the Same God. Taken together, the world’s major religions give us at least two insights into the first person of this thrice-personal One God, two perceptions of the second person, and at least three glimpses of the third.

    * The ever-mysterious Holy Ghost or Unconditioned Spirit is neither absolutely infinite, nor absolutely finite, but absonite; meaning neither existential nor experiential, but their ultimate consummation; neither fully ideal nor totally real, but a middle path and grand synthesis of the superconscious and the conscious, in consciousness of the unconscious.

    ** This conception is so strong because somewhat as the Absonite Spirit is a synthesis of the spirit of the Absolute and the spirit of the Supreme, so it would seem that the evolving Supreme Being may himself also be a synthesis or “gestalt” of humanity with itself, in an Almighty Universe Allperson or Supersoul. Thus ultimately, the Absonite is their Unconditioned Absolute Coordinate Identity – the Spirit Synthesis of Source and Synthesis – the metaphysical Destiny Consummator of All That Is.

    For more details, please see: www.religiouspluralism.ca

    Samuel Stuart Maynes

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