(Say the Jesus Creed morning and evening during Lent.)
What is the “true remedy”, an expression from founder James Madison, for the relationship of religion and the state? Os Guinness, in The Case for Civility, explores this question — and it derives from an idea he expressed in chp 1: what divides us is deeper than what unites us.
This book is valuable not only for public issues; it is also valuable for thinking our way through the battles of faith the divide many of us. If you haven’t seen it, there is a bit of a scuff-up between Os Guinness and Franky Schaeffer. Civility is being tested here.
Guinness begins with three issues that aren’t going away:
1. Will Islam modernize peacefully?
2. Which faith will replace Marxism in China?
3. Will Western civilization sever or recover its Jewish and Christian roots?
And a pointed observation from Andre Malraux: “The twenty-first century will be religious, or it will not be.” Wow, good point.
Here Guinness pokes and prods and placards the folly of the secularization theory. In short, it goes like this: religion is irrational; what remains in religion is the leading source of our conflicts; politics is designed to curb the illiberal power of religion. And he then returns to one of his favorite sources, Peter Berger: “What is out of step, Berger notes, is not the religiosity of the world but the secularity of the observers” (31). He speaks of the tone deafness of elites and jabs with this quote from William Lee Miller: “Millions of those people,” he winks, “out there believe what nobody believes anymore” (32). Which is the point: religion is here and it is here to stay and no amount of enlightenment is washing it away. The perch on which the secular prophets sit has already broken and fallen and they are hanging in mid air.
As stated in our previous post, though Os Guinness is a European, he thinks the best future for civility in the public and global sphere can be found in the USA. He charts then the three decisive dates: France’s 1789 French Revolution led to radical secularization; England’s 1688 Glorious Revolution led to a near radical secularization, but America’s 1791 First Amendment created what amounts to a pre-market enterprise for religion. It has not been smooth sailing, and the 14th Amendment was needed, and States needed to have some power, etc., but he thinks this situation is optimal for engineering public civility about the state and religion. (This reminded me at times of Randy Balmer’s God in the White House, though Balmer was coming at this from a different angle; both believe separation is good.)
The first liberty is religious liberty: it wins freedom, it orders freedom and it sustains freedom.
Religious liberty unleashes competition in both market and faith.
It creates robust social harmony — though this is strained today. We have a society in which religious convictions and strong political views can go hand in hand.