Sunday, March 02, 2008

REPOST - Os Guinness Lecture

I've been posting on personal matters lately versus the ID/evolution debate because, as I noted in an earlier post, I'm grown tired of debating the same issues over and over. I've been working on a post in regard to an audio I listened to recently featuring Ken Miller, but I just get so irritated with the man that I can't seem to stick with it.

So, I thought instead of addressing Miller's rhetorical nonsense just yet, I'd repost a lecture review I wrote in October of '06. Os Guinness was speaking at KU, and he was very insightful in regard to the culture war our country has found itself in. It's a shame that there isn't a way to bridge the deep chasm that seems to be growing between religion and secularism, but at this point, I don't see that happening...

I just returned from listening to the Os Guinness lecture, and I’m sitting here wondering where to begin. This gentleman gave one of the most insightful lectures I’ve ever had the opportunity to listen to. It was a wake up call of sorts.

In the last 20-30 years the United States has found themselves in an increasingly volatile culture war. We find ourselves in an “age of exploding pluralism” and we need to find a way to agree to disagree peacefully.

Os reminds us that in the age of the internet, when we speak, our voices are heard around the world. The internet has become the “global public square”. How we treat one another regarding issues of faith is vitally important. We need to come together to “find the common vision for the common good”.

He spoke of the two extremes in this culture war. We have fundamentalist Christianity on one end of the spectrum and on the other side we find the extreme secularists. Christian Reconstructionism as well as radical Islamic groups would prefer to show favoritism to a particular religious ideal. But, what they don’t realize is that what they are working toward, which is imposing their beliefs on others, is exactly what they fear from other groups.

He mentioned that our 1st amendment law provides the opportunity for social harmony. It allows for strong religious convictions and strong political stability, unless it is abused. He mentioned that the fundamentalists assert that the framers of the constitution did not separate church from state, and at the other end, the extreme secularists put forth that there should be a strict barrier between church and state.

Os submits that neither view is accurate. He believe that faith and reason are part of the same thing, and should intermingle. Faith is a part of who we are and it affects how we view the world. He believes that we should not keep our faith hidden in the private sector while only allowing a secularist point of view in the public square.

But, he is quick to remind us that when we are talking with people of various faiths, we should be focusing on the matter at hand and the common good. We should not be debating who’s faith beliefs are correct or how they affect the subject at hand. Neither should we be forcing our religious beliefs on others.

He believes that the reason we find ourselves in this increasingly volatile “culture war” in the last 20-30 years is due to the fact that during the 1900’s most people in the United States by and large held loosely to biblical teaching. In 1959, we saw an increase in secularism (approx. 2%), and by 1969 that percentage had increased to approx. 9-11%. We also saw an increase in Buddhist and Muslim religious beliefs. While the churches and faith community used to be extremely important in peoples lives, we now find that Uncle Sam is the powerful consideration in our lives.

He also feels that both extremes in this “culture war” are not communicating properly with one another. Both sides tend to preach to their own choir, and Americans tend to hold a grudge against someone who doesn’t agree with them. The better option would be to robustly debate our differences, but not let that affect our friendships with one another.

Our objective should be to debate our differences in opinion, with respect toward one another, in order to find the common good. He believes the way to achieve the common good for all people is through dialogue and persuasion rather than coercion.

Os suggested an alternative to what he sees happening in American today. He supports a “civil public square” where people are free to enter and engage public life on the basis of their faith but with respect toward those of other faiths and philosophies. But, we should leave the roots of our differences in the private sector which means we shouldn’t debate, for example, Christianity versus atheist ideals, but look at the consequences and implications of our differences and how we should work together for the common good.

Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris were brought up in the Q&A session. Os was asked what he thought about Sam Harris’ opinion that faith should be abandoned for the common good. Os’ reply was that nothing is more irrational than the idea that we are going to see the end of faith. Humans need meaning and a sense of belonging in their lives, and whether that comes from religious or secular faith beliefs, it’s not going to come to an end. Throughout history, religion has always played a vital role in the lives of people everywhere.

In reply to the question he was asked about Dawkins, he suggested that if Dawkins believes that religion is at the root of the problems in this world, he should persuade us that this is true by ~showing us~ that atheism would provide us with a better option. He mentioned that the Katrina flood was a good indication of which groups are working for the good of others. Faith communities were the strongest support for flood victims, and they are still involved in the effort.

Os also reminded us that for those, like Sam Harris, who are constantly pointing a finger at religious groups being the cause of war and violence, we should bear in mind that in the 20th century, secularist regimes were responsible for more blood shed than any other group.

The lecture really made me think and reevaluate how I am approaching this debate. I decided to start a blog because I thought it would help me think through various issues of this ID/evolution debate and some of the aspects of this ensuing culture war.

Now, I’m finding myself wondering if that is the best option (I'm also wondering if my last blog entry could have been less volatile). I've always believed that we need to be involved in respectful dialogue with those who hold opposing views to our own. We won’t learn anything about what the other side is thinking and feeling if we are constantly preaching to the choir. It’s certainly something I’m going to have to consider. I spent a lot of time in a pro-evolution forum recently, and I learned so much about other philosophies and faith beliefs. The one thing I found was that it helped me become much more accepting of those who do not hold the same faith beliefs that I do.

Anyway, Os’ lecture was extremely enlightening and as soon as it is available on the internet, I will post the link. I encourage everyone who is involved in the ID/evo debate or political debates of any kind to listen to this gentleman’s wisdom regarding these matters.