The following article came to our attention via MercatorNet , which stands for reframing ethical and policy debates in terms of human dignity, not dollars and cents or political calculation. They specialise in navigating modern complexities with a focus on human dignity and the family. Cardus Law is a research body that is particularly interested the role of religious freedom in sustaining an ordered society where citizens’ faith informs a vibrant public debate and where the public and private expression of religious faith helps to shape our common life.
In a truly pluralist democracy, acceptance of difference must include the right to hold different theological and different ethical and moral positions even when they go against the prevailing spirit of our age. So long as these views are held and advanced peacefully and do not advocate physical violence that would violate human dignity, they must be allowed to inhabit the public space.
We must reject an illiberal totalitarianism that seeks to establish socially correct and acceptable beliefs treating any peacefully held contrary view as deviant and something to be silenced. There must be no totalitarianism of accepted belief or accepted opinion in our country.
It is not by sheer accident that freedom of religion or conscience appears as the first fundamental freedom in s. 2a of the Charter. If a citizen does not enjoy the foundational freedom to live and exercise religious beliefs both publicly and privately, and to have this freedom vigorously defended by all of our institutions, then we cannot build a truly pluralist and diverse society where difference is viewed in a positive light.
A true pluralism must embrace and enable difference, but not simply a subset of differences that may be permitted and emboldened by a given set of elites at a given moment in our history. This is an illiberal pluralism that embraces a closed secularism where the state imposes values and dictates what religious beliefs are publicly permissible.
To paraphrase a prominent Catholic bishop:
Democracy has many merits, but it does not determine the truth.
The freedom to practice one’s deeply held religious faith both publicly and privately is a freedom that implicitly advances and supports this true pluralism by protecting and continually upholding difference. To champion religious freedom is also to implicitly accept that there are those in our common life who will hold and will promote beliefs, theological and philosophical, moral, and ethical, that many of us will vehemently reject. And that’s okay. It is the proper role of the State to ensure that no one religious belief system, or for that matter a secular belief system, dictates what one must believe and what one must do.
All faith communities along with political and ideological communities must commit to inhabiting the public space in peace. They must commit to engage in activities that have as their ultimate goal the promotion of human flourishing, recognition of human dignity, and an acceptance of different beliefs co-existing in the public square.
Freedom of religion or conscience is essential in the development and defence of a diverse society where human beings are able to flourish and have their dignity acknowledged. How then does religious freedom reveal human dignity? Freedom of religion relates directly to the metaphysical need of every human being to freely contemplate and adhere to beliefs that answer these questions: “Who am I? Who am I in relationship to you? Who am I in relationship to the country and world in which I live? And, who am I in relationship to God, or to a particular philosophy to which I choose to adhere?”
It can be argued that these questions define the relationship between religious freedom and human dignity. If our concept of freedom is purely one of economic, social, and/or political freedom divorced from this existential freedom then our participation in society will be frustrated. How we understand ourselves in a metaphysical sense cannot be divorced from our political, social, and economic selves. Indeed, in most of the world religious faith defines political, social, and economic action. All of these freedoms speak to human freedom itself and its defence so as to enable human flourishing.
If Muslims, Christians, Sikhs or Jews…are constrained in living out their faith through practice, they will become increasingly marginalised and our society will be increasingly atomised. The marginalisation of people of faith and the diverse beliefs they profess can have two consequences, both of which hamper the further strengthening of our common life:
Firstly, such a marginalisation impoverishes our public debate by pushing out valuable perspectives drawn from deep wells of religious tradition. In so doing, people who profess these traditions will view themselves as being undervalued within our political life, and the religious beliefs they deeply hold as being unworthy of public consideration. Their ability to full exercise their citizenship is diminished as a result.
Secondly, as people of faith and their communities feel increasingly vulnerable and believe that they can no longer participate in the common life due to unreasonable constraints placed upon their faith and conscience, they may choose to check out of mainstream society altogether. While this may allow them to live their faith and support their faith-based institutions more-or-less independently, it represents a grave loss to our common life and is essentially a failure of our political society to embrace these citizens.
The State that acknowledges and respects religious freedom as being intrinsically linked to human dignity is a State that upholds true religious freedom. It respects the sovereignty of religious bodies and faith communities to exercise faith freely and in good conscience in both public and private lives. Likewise members of all faith communities must respect the values of our liberal democratic society, in particular, the rule of law exercised by the state insomuch as those laws are just, do not counter the moral law, and are ordered towards the common good and the flourishing of all members of society.
A true pluralism respects disagreement, often profound disagreement, between people of different faiths, ideologies, and backgrounds. In building our common life we must seek to build a society in which people flourish and are able to live their lives of faithfully, both publicly and privately. In building this common life there must be the space to differ and not to defer, to have the freedom to live a public faith and not be driven to privatise one’s faith in order to be accepted in the public square.
A liberal democracy needs to be strong enough in its embrace of the rule of law, freedom, and human rights to guarantee that religious differences and differences in belief more generally – differences that often have sharp edges – can exist.
A liberal democracy protects and opens wide the public square for these disagreements to exist. The public square also beckons us, calling us to meet each other there, in our differences and our diversity, and to there encounter our shared humanity in solidarity with one another.
Andrew Bennett is Senior Fellow at Cardus and program director for Cardus Law. Reproduced with permission from Convivium.
Christians feel that they are being forced to hide their religion because of “silly” interpretations of equality laws, a senior MP has said.
Sir Alan Beith, the former deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats and chair of the Commons Justice Select Committee, has likened the misunderstandings to those surrounding health and safety regulation, where the rules can be overzealously applied for the wrong reasons.
Referring to recent high profile cases involving people being told not to wear religious symbols in the workplace, Sir Alan said that many Christians feel that they have to keep their faith “under wraps”.
But rather than being an issue of the law, the 70-year-old MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed said that an ill-informed sense of what it means for the state to be secular often led officials to try and hide anything relating to religious views while in “civil society”.
Sir Alan is the longest-serving Lib Dem since David Lloyd George, and has announced that he will step down at the next general election. He is also a Methodist lay preacher, and runs a group known as the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum.
Speaking at the party’s conference in Glasgow, where he is also launching a book of essays called Liberal Democrats Do God, Sir Alan said: “I think that what a lot of people feel now is that they are being asked to hide their religion, that secularism requires not wearing religious symbols.
“I think that what has arisen is that people feeling that not only does the State have to separate itself from religion under secularism, but they are being asked really to hide and keep under wraps their religious views in civil society.
“Sometimes the completely false interpretation of laws, regulations and changes leads to that happening, when it wasn’t even the intention in the first place – a bit like health and safety. You get silly things happening, which were not the intention of any legislative change.”
The MP’s comments come after the case of Nadia Eweida, a British Airways check-in attendant who was sent home from work for wearing a crucifix.
In January, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) upheld her complaint, ruling that the 60-year-old’s religious rights had been violated by the airline.
The ECHR has ruled that Ms Eweida, a Coptic Christian, was discriminated against under freedom of religion laws.
What do you think? Do we have a similar situation here? Please share your comments below.
Have you ever asked a young atheist why he or she doesn’t believe? Well, one researcher did. And the answers may surprise you.
It’s something most Christian parents worry about: You send your kids off to college and when they come back, you find they’ve lost their faith. The prospect of this happening is why many parents nudge their kids towards Christian colleges, or at least schools with a strong Christian presence on campus.
But in many ways, the damage has been done long before our children set foot on campus. That’s the message from a recent article in the Atlantic Monthly.
My friend Larry Taunton of the Fixed Point Foundation set out to find out why so many young Christians lose their faith in college. He did this by employing a method I don’t recall being used before: He asked them.
The Fixed Point Foundation asked members of the Secular Students Associations on campuses around the nation to tell them about their “journey to unbelief.” Taunton was not only surprised by the level of response but, more importantly, about the stories he and his colleagues heard.
Instead of would-be Richard Dawkins’, the typical respondent was more like Phil, a student Taunton interviewed.. Phil had grown up in church; he had even been the president of his youth group. What drove Phil away wasn’t the lure of secular materialism or even Christian moral teaching. And he was specifically upset when his church changed youth pastors.
Whereas his old youth pastor “knew the Bible” and made Phil “feel smart” about his faith even when he didn’t have all the answers, the new youth pastor taught less and played more.
Phil’s loss of faith coincided with his church’s attempt to ingratiate itself to him instead of challenging him. According to Taunton, Phil’s story “was on the whole typical of the stories we would hear from students across the country.”
These kids had attended church but “the mission and message of their churches was vague,” and manifested itself in offering “superficial answers to life’s difficult questions.” The ministers they respected were those “who took the Bible seriously,” not those who sought to entertain them or be their “buddy.”
Taunton also learned that, for many kids, their journey to unbelief was an emotional, not just an intellectual one.
Taunton’s findings are counter-intuitive. Much of what passes for youth ministry these days is driven by a morbid fear of boring our young charges. As a result, a lot of time is spent trying to devise ways to entertain them.
The rest of the time is spent worrying about whether the Christian message will turn kids off. But as Taunton found, young people, like the not-so-young, respect people with conviction—provided they know what they’re talking about.
Taunton talks about his experiences with the late Christopher Hitchens, who, in their debates, refrained from attacking him. When asked why, Hitchens replied, “Because you believe it.”
I don’t know what that says about Hitchens’ other Christian debate partners, but it is a potent reminder that playing down the truth claims of the Christian faith doesn’t work. People don’t believe those they don’t respect.
Here’s something that one of the students told Larry Taunton; he said,
“Christianity is something that if you really believed it, it would change your life and you would want to change [the lives] of others. I haven’t seen too much of that.”
Folks, that’s pretty sobering. This puts the ball in our court. Are we living lives that show our children that we actually believe what we say we believe? And here’s another question—do we actually believe it? I have to say, as a parent I’m taking this very seriously. If possible, join me in reading Taunton’s excellent article here…
Christians need to have courage to talk about the Bible in public life, a leading academic told a gathering in the British parliament this morning.
Professor John Lennox from Oxford University was addressing around 600 people in the Houses of Parliament at the annual National Prayer Breakfast organised by the Bible Society.
Professor Lennox described atheism as a “delusion” and a “fairy tale for those afraid of the light”.
He urged Christians to have the courage to speak out about their faith in the public sphere and cited the example of Tyndale’s translation of the Bible into English 400 years ago.
Professor Lennox regularly speaks out against an atheistic worldview, calling Richard Dawkins “wrong”. He blamed new atheism for “the moral drift” in today’s society and rebutted claims that science and religion are opposed to each other.
“God is not the same kind of explanation as science is,” he said. “God is the explanation of why there is a universe at all in which science can be done.”
He added: “The playing field is not level since atheism has become so dominant – and is often regarded as the default position in the media.
“If we teach people that morality is an illusion, they will begin to believe it. Many already have with the result that our institutions are awash with scandal, families are increasingly fractured, people are lonelier than ever and trust is at an all-time low.
The Evangelical Alliance’s (UK) general director Steve Clifford, who attended the prayer breakfast, praised the organisers for another sterling event and added: “It was fantastic to be there in Westminster with hundreds of people. The highlight for me was hearing John Lennox’s unapologetic defence of the Christian faith. It was one of the best talks of its kind I have ever heard.”
Earlier this morning, in a statement, prime minister David Cameron, said: “It is encouraging that Christianity still plays such a vital role in our national life. We are a country with a Christian heritage and we should not be afraid to say so.”
Matthew van Duyvenbode, head of campaigns, advocacy and media at Bible Society, said: “In a society searching for deeper meaning, a compelling witness to hope is required. Within the Scriptures, we find a tantalising vision of hope one which stimulates, provokes and invites us to become the signs of hope for others.”
John Anderson’s message at the Brisbane Lord Mayor’s Annual Breakfast highlights the significance of the Christian faith in Australia (much the same as it is in New Zealand) and exposes a reluctance by the media to reporting on the faith of high-profile Christians