(Say the Jesus Creed morning and evening during Lent.)
Some of my finest moments of exhilaration in study have emerged out of visions for what public discourse has been and could be. But we are presently mired, largely in the wake of America’s culture wars, in bombastic and apocalyptic ruts. We have Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter and Sean Hannity and Michael Moore and Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, and just naming them embarrasses public discourse. I despise TV news talk shows where folks talk over one another. So, I’m thrilled to be reading Os Guinness, The Case for Civility.
Why, I keep asking myself, can’t the church be more civil in the disagreements and “dialogues” within? Guinness provides a model upon which we might construct a case for Christian civility, a case for Christian conversation.
Guinness, author of more than a few books (see his Amazon page here), is a European, born in China to missionaries, a one-time leader at L’Abri in Switzerland, and a literary savant for Christian thinkers. He’s also gifted at social shifts and the history of ideas. Well, this book is about civility.
We need a book like this. And in my mind constantly is not only our culture wars but how those culture wars have invaded the church. I can remember days when pulpits may have been less than civil, but I’ve not seen days like we have now. Whether in books or blogs, or in announcements or the formation of theological groups, we’ve not been able to avoid acting like our cultural warriors. It’s sad. So, I relish Guinness’s proposal.
Guinness quickly dismisses the simple blame of all bad things on religion; he doesn’t deny the problem but he knows (and he’s right) the problems are deeper.
Guinness believes America has the best resources and the greatest chance for restoring public civility. Nice to see someone from Europe say something nice about us.
But there are two problems: recent American policies have alienated us; the USA is not performing its own ethos well.
1. Living with our deepest differences is one of the world’s greatest issues. “What divides us is deeper than what unites us” (10).
2. The perspective that has dominated perceptions of religion, secularization theory, is empirically and demonstrably false. Modernization does not entail the inevitable end of religion.
3. We now have a global public square.
4. Many aspects of the American way are under severe stress and hardly capable of being exemplary.
Quote of the day: “The current style of discourse in the American culture wars forms a black hole into which the fundamental principles and striking successes of the republic are being drawn and destroyed” (16).
And this runs a close second and it haunts me personally — how do we respond to the vitriol we are now seeing in the church? Do we just hope it will go away? Do we enter the fray? — anyway: “To remain passive before the bullying of the cultural warriors on issues such as these is both foolish and dangerous” (16).
5. America faces a watershed moment — we are facing a backlash against religious conservatives.
Guinness calls for the truce of God — to drop hostilities and to return to genuine dialogue.