May 3, 2016
“Living With Our Deepest Differences” – Dr. Os Guinness and Mr. Abdu Murray
In a world ravaged by conflict, there is a real threat to human dignity. While some face persecution and sectarian violence, others question whether religion has any place in public life. We were pleased to host Dr. Os Guinness and Mr. Abdu Murray for a luncheon where they insightfully addressed the question “How do we live with our deepest differences?”
“If our worldview…is afraid of competition…of meeting with others in the public square, because it might be toppled over too easily, then we have to reassess whether or not our worldview is made of steel that we think it is, or whether it is made of straw that we fear it might be.” – Abdu Murray
From Victor J. Stenger’s statement, “Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings,” one may conclude that religion is inherently bad. Yet John D. Steinrucken, a secular atheist, wrote,
“It is rational to conclude that religious faith has made possible the advancement of Western civilization. That is, the glue that has held Western civilization together over the centuries is the Judeo-Christian tradition. To the extent that the West loses its religious faith in favor of non-judgmental secularism, then to the same extent, it loses that which holds all else together.”
Abdu Murray concluded with these thoughts, “If our worldview…is afraid of competition…of meeting with others in the public square, because it might be toppled over too easily, then we have to reassess whether or not our worldview is made of steel that we think it is, or whether it is made of straw that we fear it might be.”
Dr. Os Guinness
Os Guinness is an author, a social critic and renowned international speaker. Great-great-great grandson of Arthur Guinness, the Dublin brewer, he was born in China in World War Two where his parents were medical missionaries. A witness to the climax of the Chinese revolution in 1949, he was expelled with many other foreigners in 1951 and returned to Europe where he was educated in England. He completed his undergraduate degree at the University of London and his DPhil in the social sciences from Oriel College, Oxford.
Os has written or edited more than thirty books, including The Call, Time for Truth, Long Journey Home, Unspeakable, A Free People’s Suicide, The Global Public Square, and Renaissance. His latest book is Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion, which was published by InterVarsity Press in June 2015.
Before moving to the United States in 1984, Os was a freelance reporter with the BBC. Since then he has been a Guest Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Studies, a Guest Scholar and Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Senior Fellow at the Trinity Forum and the EastWest Institute in New York.
From 1986 to 1989, Os served as Executive Director of the Williamsburg Charter Foundation, a bicentennial celebration of the First Amendment. In this position he helped to draft “The Williamsburg Charter” and later “The Global Charter of Conscience,” which was published at the European Union Parliament in 2012. Os has spoken at dozens of the world’s major universities and spoken widely to political and business conferences on many issues, including religious freedom, across the world. He is currently a senior fellow at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics and lives with his wife, Jenny, in the Washington, DC, area.
Mr. Abdu Murray, J. D.
Mr. Abdu Murray is an international speaker and is the author of several books, including Grand Central Question – Answering the Critical Concerns of the Major Worldviews and his soon-to-be released Saving Truth: Finding Meaning and Clarity in a Post-Truth World.
Abdu has spoken to diverse international audiences and has participated in debates and dialogues across the globe. He has appeared as a guest on numerous radio and televisions programs all over the world.
Abdu earned a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Michigan and his Juris Doctor from the University of Michigan Law School. As a commercial litigator, Abdu was a partner at two of Michigan’s largest and most prestigious law firms and was named several times in Best Lawyers in America and Michigan Super Lawyer.
Abdu lives in the Detroit, Michigan area with his wife and their three children.
Dr. Os Guinness’ Transcription
Thank you very much. It’s an enormous pleasure to be here. Meeting some of you as you came in and seeing where many of you are from, is a great honor for me. Several of your countries I’ve had the privilege of visiting and some of them are on my bucket list to finish visiting while I’m still on the earth. As many of you can tell from my name, I’m Irish. I was born in China, educated in England, lived in Switzerland, now living in the United States. […]
Let me start with a story that has triggered a lot of my thinking. The great German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck was dying at the end of the 19th century and a friend asked him, “Otto what will be the decisive factor in the 20th century?”
Of course we can look back a hundred odd years later and see if he’s right. Bismarck surprised his friends by saying, “What will be decisive is that the Americans speak English.” […] [He meant] the world would not be led by European power, but it became the American century.
In the same way people are saying today, “What is the decisive factor in the 21st century?”
I’m moved by the fact that three of the great questions inevitably, inextricably involve religion and the challenge of religion.
One question (and I’ve debated this in China), which faith will replace Marxism in China? As they openly say the parties in power, the ideology is increasingly hollow and they’re looking towards, will it be Confucianism, Nationalism, Buddhism, or maybe the majority emerging faith, the Christian faith…hugely important for China and for the world.
The second question very obviously, “Will Islam modernize peacefully in the end?”
And the third question, “Will the West restore, or sever forever its Jewish and Christian roots?”
How do we live with deep differences, especially when those differences are religious and ideological?
Because they go to the heart of our understanding of who we are, how we tackle ethical questions and how we proceed in many of the practical and the political problems of our world. How do we live with our deepest differences?
Or as President Kennedy put it, “How do we make the world safe, not for democracy, but how do we make the world safe for diversity in a way that gives us free, open, stable and harmonious societies and a free, open, stable, harmonious world?”
That is the challenge.
As you know well, one of the greatest questions today is the search for a New World Order. The whole Westphalian approach–balance of power, equilibrium and so on–has largely broken down. Will we move towards new claimants-to-be-empires, or will we degenerate into cataclysmic failed states as we’re seeing sadly […] in some parts of the world?
As that question goes on, you can see that the religious issues become explosively prominent. Not long ago, there was a theory called the Secularization Theory, that held very simply, the world gets more modern, the world grows less religious. In the last 50 years, that has proved incredibly wrong. Philosophically biased, factually out to lunch.
The world is explosively religious still and the question is how do we handle it? In the social sciences it’s said, because of travel, the media and mass migration, everyone is now everywhere. And you can think of how many of the world’s leading cities are an incredible example of diversity. And the challenge of living with deep differences is pronounced.
Global Public Square
At the same time, many of the older settlements of handling these things are breaking down. And in the age of the internet and satellite television, we can see how this is becoming the whole world’s issue. The Greeks talked about a Public Square, the place where citizens come together to deliberate and decide issues of common public life. Their idea, the Public Square, went to the Romans–the Forum. Went to England–Westminster. France–the Assembly. America–the U.S. Congress. Here in Ottawa–down the road.
The Public Square has shifted from being a physical place, to also being a metaphor. Wherever citizens come together…to discuss common public life, you have a public square.
But the Public Square has shifted from being a physical place, to also being a metaphor. Wherever citizens come together–it could be the newspaper, it could be the television–to discuss common public life, you have a public square. But of course, the significance of satellite television and the internet is that now the public square is beginning to go virtual. And you can see in the response to say, Salman Rushdie’s novel, or the Danish cartoons publication, or Pope Benedict’s speech at the University of Regensburg. Now in today’s world, we can speak to the world and be heard by the world. And the world can organize its response–often violent.
The question today is how do we live with our deep differences, when we have the rudimentary beginnings of a Global Public Square? You can see, for example, that any notion of civility has broken down when you move to blogs with anonymous screen names. And when people are not responsible for what they are writing–with their names behind it–often it descends quickly to barbaric discourse and really degrading ways of treating people with anything but respect and civility.
How do we live with our deep differences? I would argue there will be no answer to this, until more of our countries establish and protect religious freedom for people of all faiths.
Now I would argue there will be no answer to this, until more and more of our countries establish and protect religious freedom for people of all faiths. We all have different settlements in our countries because of our different histories, our different values. But there needs to be, in every country, a core of protected, guaranteed rights and at their heart, religious freedom based on freedom of conscience.
Three Great Political Rights: Freedom of Conscience, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Assembly
Freedom of conscience has always been understood as the first right. Of the three great political rights–freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly–there’s no hierarchy, there’s no ranking, but they are interlocked.
Freedom of assembly–getting together with people that you want to–assumes and requires freedom of speech. Freedom of speech assumes and requires freedom of conscience. And freedom of conscience is not freedom of choice. Freedom of choice, consumer style, is easy, autonomous, choose what you like, prefer what you like.
Freedom of conscience is respected, because it is not free. Someone is bound by the dictates of their conscience. They can, in Martin Luther’s words, “do no other.” This is what they believe is true about the universe. This is what they believe is right, just and good.
There are other advantages. It’s the key to civil society. You know well the whole notion of civil society is that governments don’t need to grow bigger and bigger and bigger. And citizens can feel more empowered if there are voluntary associations, non-governmental things in which people can give time, money and pursue the dreams they have of charity, of education and reforms. Societies that are rich with civil societies, are societies that are rich in freedom and not overburdened by government. And the key to that is freedom of conscience that allows people to pursue those dreams and initiatives.
So we need to understand the fundamental importance of the human right of freedom of conscience. But of course the explosive question, the big question, “What is the best model of bringing that in in our world?”
You look all around the world, broadly speaking there are two dominant models and I will argue that neither of them does justice to today’s diversity.
Sacred Public Square
One model, sometimes in mild form, sometimes in very severe forms, is called the Sacred Public Square. A vision of public life where one religion is preferred, or established, or even dominant as a monopoly. And of course everyone who doesn’t share that faith, is therefore second class and in the extreme cases, in danger for their lives. You can think of the fate of minorities, say the treatment of the Bahá’i in many countries and many others like that. The Sacred Public Square, whether it’s a mild version as we have in England–probably the mildest in the world, the Church of England–or very severe versions, which you can think of yourself and I won’t name today. You can see it does not do justice to the diversity of those who don’t share the faith.
Naked Public Square
The other extreme is what’s called the Naked Public Square. Where people of a secularist persuasion, viewing religion as always troublesome, want to remove all religion from public life. Now of course what they do is smuggle in secularism through the back door very often. Once again you have mild versions, which are not that discriminating […] and you have very Draconian versions, take say, China or North Korea. Once again since most of the world is incurably religious–whatever the religion is–it just simply does not do justice to where most of the world is.
Civil Public Square
A vision of public life, where everyone of every faith–on the basis of freedom of conscience–is free to enter and engage public life on the basis of their faith.
I would argue–with those who are arguing–for a third way. Now you might say it’s Utopian. In the literal sense, Utopia means no place. In other words, nowhere so far has espoused this in a big way practically, although you can see many people pressing towards it. It is what is called not a Sacred Public Square, not a Naked Public Square, but a Civil Public Square. A vision of public life, where everyone of every faith–on the basis of freedom of conscience–is free to enter and engage public life on the basis of their faith. Free to be faithful and yet within an agreed political framework of what each citizen recognizes just and free for other people too.
A right for a Christian, is a right for a Jew, is a right for a Muslim, is a right for a Hindu, is a right for every different faith. A right for one faith, is a right for another faith and a responsibility for both faiths.
You can understand I am a follower of Jesus, a Christian. But a right for a Christian, is a right for a Jew, is a right for a Muslim, is a right for a Hindu, is a right for every different faith. A right for one faith, is a right for another faith and a responsibility for both faiths. And of course that requires civic education, so that people know how to respect people’s freedom of conscience and yet also know how to differ with them if they have disagreements, which of course politically and ethically we will do.
But it means that most of, say the religious differences, are things we discuss more in the private world, whereas public life is much more for discussing the social and practical implications. Of course in those countries that are democratic, the 51% will always prevail, but the discussions will be civil. In other words, persuasive, because people are free to be faithful to argue for what they believe, but they will abide by the majority opinion if they are in a democracy. But they will do so with respect for the dignity of the other person, which they needs to be taught. Now of course as you can see, that vision–very different from much of what we have today–requires a vision, it requires leadership–and we are sorely lacking on that at the global level–and it requires civic education.
You can lay down the structures easily and they’ll last for a long time, but the spirit of freedom which has to be passed from parents to children, teachers to students, that may easily go and needs to be kept alive from generation to generation.
You can lay down the structures easily and they’ll last for a long time, but the spirit of freedom which has to be passed from parents to children, teachers to students, that may easily go and needs to be kept alive from generation to generation. […] The European Union is heavy with laws, articles and conventions […] and there’s no spirit of freedom, no civic education, no vision, leadership, civic education. I passionately believe that these things are not Utopian, in the long run.
Are we to be content with controversy, conflict, violence, state oppression, sectarian violence? You know well, 100 million people were killed in the last century in war. Another 100 million people–human beings–were killed by their fellow human beings, under political oppression, many of them in the country in which I was born. And sadly yet another 100 million people were killed in sectarian violence.
How do we live with deep differences? Are we content to go forward with religion and ideology allowed to become controversial and a source of violence and oppression, or will there be leadership and courage and vision in many of our societies to go a better way? I hope that each one of your countries, however small, wherever you are in the part of the world, will be thinking courageously about a vision of a future of humanity.
Thank you and God bless you.
Abdu Murray’s Transcript
We are talking about the ideas of religious freedoms. One of the most important ideas that we need to focus on as a global society, regardless of our backgrounds, regardless of the political systems we come to. This is something we need to wrestle with so stridently.
Secularizations, or a secular government, is meant to be the kind of government that Civil Public Square fostering kind of a government that says that we are neutral towards any one religion so it doesn’t become the dominant force. But we are also promoting all religious ideas and expressions so that they can come and discuss their deep differences.
But there are those who want to sort of remove this idea. That we have to oust all things religious from public life, or even in some cases from private life. I think of the famous words of Victor Stinger, the famous atheist philosopher of the United States, he said, “Science flies you to the moon, but religion flies you into buildings.”
Now that is a stark statement. I think it is an unfair statement. But it’s a stark statement where he is trying to say that religion is inherently bad. And if we have laws that don’t allow for religious freedom, in some ways we are implicitly agreeing with that kind of a view. In some ways about certain people and we are devaluing those people.
But thankfully not all secular thinkers think this way. There are those among us who are secular thinkers, atheists as well, who say, “No, religion has done some wonderful things–different religions in general, and one in particular.”
Secularism’s Ongoing Debt to Religion
Because I come from a Christian background, let me espouse what one secular thinker thinks about the religious benefits that have come from Christianity. It’s from John Steinrucken, who is himself an atheist. He wrote an article that was called, Secularism’s Ongoing Debt to Religion, because that secularism has a debt to religion. This is what he says,
“Although I am a secularist, I accept that the great majority of people will be morally and spiritually lost without religion. Can anyone seriously argue that crime and debauchery are not held in check by religion? Is it not comforting to live in a community where the rule of law and fairness are respected? Would such be likely if Christianity were not to provide a moral compass to the great majority? Do we secularists not benefit out of all proportion from a morally responsible society? An orderly society is dependent on a generally accepted morality. There can be no such morality without religion. Has there ever been a more perfect and concise moral code than the one Moses brought down from the mountain?”
That is a statement by a secular person–by an atheist who does not ascribe to that moral code specifically as transcendent, but he says it has its value. It has done something in society and that can only come about through the freedom of religion that is born out of the freedom of conscience, that our states–our governments–can help to foster.
The very fact that we can have this kind of a lunch, with this diverse of an audience, with this august of an audience, is a ray of hope in an otherwise very disagreeable world. No one here has to be reminded of how disagreeable things are today, where it seems that having a contrary opinion is considered a personal offense to someone else. And we have to sort of fight about these things and immediately come to blows.
But this kind of a lunch is a ray of hope. It gives me a tremendous kind of hope that we have come together to discuss these things and see how we can discuss our deepest differences, and disagree maybe, without being disagreeable. It’s a wonderful thing.
The Golden Rule
It reminds me of one of the most famous phrases that anyone has ever heard of and has been spoken. The Golden Rule–most of us know the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.”
Now what is interesting is, if you go to the United Nations–as many of you probably have–and see the plaque and even the picture of the Golden Rule versions in different religious systems and different cultures.
Many of them say, “Don’t do unto others what you wouldn’t want done to you.”
Or, “Refrain from harming others because you don’t want to be harmed yourself.” […]
We have a shared common value. There is this undercurrent of respecting the inherent and intrinsic worth of human beings. We share that value.
Jesus uniquely expresses the same value of the Golden Rule. He doesn’t say, “Don’t do unto others what you don’t want done unto you,” because he is not trying to be self protective. He is saying, “DO unto others what you would want done unto you.”
But let me focus on–because of my background as a Christian and as a follower of Jesus–the way Jesus uniquely and I think particularly movingly, expresses the same value of the Golden Rule. He doesn’t say, “Don’t do unto others what you don’t want done unto you,” because he is not trying to be self protective. He is saying, “DO unto others what you would want done unto you.”
We are to do for others, before they do for us. We are to do for them, what we would hope they would do for us, because we recognize something: that they have an intrinsic and inherent worth.
As a specifically Christian thing, I think we all have that same value within our own systems of belief. It is embodied in the various charters that we all have either signed onto, or our governments have signed onto. The United States Constitution recognizes the inherent value of human beings. The UN Charter does. The Declaration of Human Rights specifically says that all people have equal dignity and the right to be free. We recognize this as a universal right. In order for us to foster that, that requires that we trust each other and I think that is very tough to do in this day and age.
Inherent Dignity, Intrinsic Worth
But I think and I have hope, that if we recognize that first principle–that all human beings have an inherent dignity, an intrinsic worth–then we will see them not as those people who have done such wrong to us but as people who, like us, are not perfect. People like us, who need that redemption, who need that work on our own spirits and their spirits as well. We can come together, look at our deepest differences and say, “How can we discuss this in a way that is civil?” In a way that says, “I value you so much, that I’m willing to respect the fact that you disagree with what I believe in, but I’m willing to respect that you have the right to disagree.”
The fact is that all people are equal. The ideas they have are not equal, but the people who have them are all equal and they deserve the right to be heard.
But here is the reality: not all ideas are equal. They are just not. They are certainly not equal. The Civil Public Square is where we can come and have disagreements on these things and see that maybe they are not all equal, but they do have equal right to be heard.
But if all ideas are not equal, that’s one thing. But the fact is that all people are equal. The ideas they have are not equal, but the people who have them are all equal and they deserve the right to be heard. That means they have the right to express their religion publically, no matter what that religion is. That means they have the right to express no religion, to reject religion and live publically that way. That also means they have the right to choose a religion other than the one they were born into and live that way publically, without fear of reprisal.
If our worldview, or religious system…is afraid of competition, of meeting with others in the public square because it might be toppled over too easily, then we have to reassess whether or not our worldview is made of steel that we think it is, or whether it is made of straw that we fear it might be.
If our worldview, or if our religious system, or whatever it might be–whether it is religious or non religious–is afraid of competition, is afraid of meeting with others in the public square, because it might be toppled over too easily, then we have to reassess whether or not our worldview is made of steel that we think it is, or whether it is made of straw that we fear it might be.
But the Global Public Square, the Civil Public Square, will allow us to find out what the truth is. And in the words of a famous Middle Easterner where I come from, if we do engage in that public square, then “we will know the truth and the truth will set us free.”
Thank you so much.
© Abdu Murray 2016
The opinions expressed by the speakers and commentators at our events and posted on our website are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Christian Embassy.