Monday, January 25, 2010

What Sustains the Freedom of the Republic?


The Very Rev. Samuel Lloyd III

If you're interested in human rights, you might want to watch the latest Sunday Forum, a lively 45-minute interview recorded and linked here at the Washington National Cathedral last Sunday, January 24, 2010. The Very Reverend Samuel T. Lloyd III spoke to Os Guinness about "A World Safe for Diversity: Living with our Deepest Differences in an Age of Exploding Pluralism" and was asked about his insight on the church and the civility in China.

Dr. Guinness has challenged his friends at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences that a "harmonious society" with "diversity" (and coercion) is "not good enough."

Os Guinness

Guinness says China needs:

1) integrity for each faith
2) diversity of all faiths
3) liberty for each faith, and
4) harmony of the public order.

He says that there are now twice as many Christians in China as there are party members. It's the fastest growth in the Christian church in 2000 years, although some fall away.

Guinness has written many books on "what America is about" in the words of The Very Rev. Sam Lloyd.

Dean Lloyd is concerned the infighting in the country appears to be getting worse and wonders what can be done?

Guinness offered several ideas:

1)"We have to know how to live with our differences"

2) "E pluribus unum" Latin for "out of many, one" (author unknown) is a motto on American coins and what Guinness calls "America's greatest achievement."

3) Guinness says there has been an explosion of pluralism although America has long been one of the most diverse countries in the world, and has increased diversity in its population after the Second World War and in the 1960s.

Guinness says that there has been a rise in the notion of the separation of church and state. Civility has broken down, now that almost anything is up for litigation.
But he says that:

1) strong leadership is essential, and
2) we need to articulate the vision of a civil public square.

"Civility" is a tough republican virtue and a prime democratic necessity, Guinness says. Every faith is free to enter and engage in public life. Freedom of conscience is key. Religious liberty happens when the rights of the smallest communities and religions are respected. Respect for freedom of conscience must be educated in children until it becomes a matter of the heart.

Guinness thinks civic education should be taught to know what it is to be American - the "unum" in "e pluribus unum".

Guinness says it's better to be tolerant than intolerant, but says that tolerance can be condescending, from the strong to the weak, and says the higher value is "free exercise" to have faith. Madison changed the word "tolerance" to "free exercise" in the Virginia Declaration to stress the values of freedoms of all kinds.

Dean Lloyd asked what effect civility has on polarization?

Guinness replied that there is currently an escalation of extremism and says the danger is "it's a deficit of democracy." He claims extremism mounts until an innocent victim is scapegoated and hopes it doesn't happen in this country.

With civility, Guinness says everyone has the right to their opinion. In the historical context, the First Amendment shifted the discourse from coercion to persuasion.He says the framers of the Constitution were realistic, but that the dark side could bring down the American Republic in the next 50 years. The falling off of ideals which will bring freedom, if abandoned, will bring destruction.

He referred to Machiavelli's golden triangle of freedom: freedom requires virtue, virtue requires faith and faith requires freedom.

Guinness thinks Americans are consumed by the near future, in comparison to the Chinese who take the view of thousands of years. He says, the important question that must be asked is: "What sustains the freedom of the Republic?"

Dean Lloyd asked Guinness about the international scene, and how can Americans approach other nations with this idea of civility?

Guinness replied that freedom of conscience is the key to living with our differences. He says that human rights efforts parallel this effort to live with civility. [We know from my earlier post that President Obama's Administration has elevated internet freedom as one of the freedoms associated with human rights around the world.]

Guinness says that the civil public square is a framework in which people are free to be different but know how to negotiate these differences civilly and persuasively, not violently.

Guinness was questioned from the audience: how can one teach civility? Guinness replied that it should be taught to children at the earliest ages, and parents and leaders must be good examples of civility. He thinks there should be "double transmission": the old teaching the young, and those who have been here longer should teach civics lessons to new immigrants.

Guinness was also questioned, is the U.S. a nation in decline in its sustaining values, and what other countries have the most civility? Guinness thinks that of all the countries in the world, America has the greatest capacity for renewal. It can be turned around with understanding of "first principles". He cites De Tocqueville, a French writer in the 1700s who said that "in a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end". He says that some issues now being dealt with are in repudiation of the framers of the Constitution. He says "sustainable freedom" should be discussed more. How we live with our differences must be done right or the consequences will be with our children.

Os Guinness, D.Phil., is a Fellow at the East-West Institute in Washington, D.C. ." His latest book is "The Case for Civility and Why the Future Depends on it." Guinness, who is a descendant of the Guinness Irish beer brewers, calls himself "an unashamed follower of Christ" and believes Christians should be in the vanguard leading forward. His grandfather was a physician in China where his mother was also a surgeon. He says he compared Camus, Sartre and Russell on one side to Pascal, Dostoevsky, G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis and decided the Christian faith must be true. He came to faith in the 1960s and also studied Hinduism in India with a guru. He quotes George Whitefield: "I am never better than when I am on the full stretch for God" as this conversation echoes.

Guinness Brewery celebrated its 250th anniversary last year and has a proud history of philanthropy, helping the poor and homeless.

[I listened to this conversation three times - my apologies for any inaccuracies in this unsolicited post. You are encouraged to watch the talk.]

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