EDITORIAL: Faith in public life

The 2010 electoral season has raised the profile of a commercialized version of religious debate in addition to the deluge of negative campaign ads from left, right, near and far.
Everyone will be glad when the avalanche of campaign advertising ceases, but a toning down of the moral-political hype seems less likely because faith-based bashing of people who differ from the loudest voices has become big bucks entertainment for some television personalities.
Those who make dollars and build fame aren’t the only people with religious opinions bearing on public policy, but most people with quieter voices can’t be heard over the din that passes for commentary.
In our free-speech democracy the best discourse about faith and public life should involve all views – those varieties within the Christian stream, the different Jewish traditions, the Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Muslims, Native American faiths, others – and those who define themselves as spiritual but not religious.
Jennifer Butler, executive director of an organization called Faith in Public Life wrote this week in the “On Faith” blog of The Washington Post, “Faith is not anathema to reason or in conflict with civic virtues that make for a healthy democracy. In fact, the teachings of diverse faith traditions serve as a powerful antidote to the angry tone and cynicism that characterizes much of our politics these days. Religion has long promoted civility and a commitment to the common good … Convictions grounded in faith’s call to love our neighbors, seek justice and walk humbly with God inspired historic efforts to abolish slavery and the civil rights movement. Faith now gives moral imagination to defending the dignity of immigrants, taking seriously the threat of climate change and ending global poverty. Listen to the sermons of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., read the inspired writings of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel or study the Catholic intellectual tradition illuminated so profoundly in Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical on economic justice and the notion that faith and reason are in conflict melts away.”
She also reminds all of us that religion and faith (right alongside atheism) through history have produced their own versions of hell on earth, falling prey to “hubris and the ignorance that defines the human condition.”
She writes, “The imperial faith of the Crusades and the totalitarian horrors of Stalin grew darkly from different roots, but their fruits were both poisoned. We are a nation of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and nonbelievers. None of us have a monopoly on reason or can claim to always walk the path of prudence. The question should not be whether we need more or less religion in politics. The challenge we must rise to meet together is how can believers, agnostics and atheists alike marginalize those who use religious rhetoric to divide us, set aside simplistic generalizations about each other, and together confront daily assaults on reason and the common good such as global poverty, preventable disease and war.”
Our national religious discussion in the public sphere needs a healthy dose of humility and a recommitment to human justice and tolerance – even in, especially in, disagreement.
Disagreement must not become the accepted equivalent of condemnation.

NEMS Daily Journal