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The Veritas Forum: Religion and the Public Sphere

June 23, 2013

From Harvard Gazette:

1886_10151568465488060_712950993_nWith a nod to that venerable religious tradition, the Veritas Forum, a nonprofit founded at Harvard by a group of students, faculty, and ministers in 1992 to explore “life’s big questions,” asked two renowned political philosophers on Tuesday to discuss the hot topic: “Does religion have a role in public life?”

Harvard’s justice guru Michael Sandel and Jean Bethke Elshtain of the University of Chicago Divinity School explored how the teachings of myriad faiths can help inform civic discourse. In his remarks, Sandel suggested that a public discourse that disregards moral and religious convictions is “a mistake.” Ignoring such input, said the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government, means we “cut ourselves off from a range of considerations that ought to matter in the way we govern our lives together.”

Critics of the notion of a firm separation of church and state, he said, miss the point. “One of the strongest arguments for the separation of church and state is precisely to allow free scope for pluralist argument and engagement from all traditions — secular and faith traditions — in politics.”

While welcoming competing voices and opinions encourages a “clamorous and contentious” debate, it also encourages a “morally more robust one than the kind we have become accustomed to,” said Sandel. “Rather than aspire to a toleration of avoidance,” he added, “we should aspire to a pluralism of engagement about hard moral, spiritual, and religious questions.”

Sandel, whose most recent book is “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets,” offered the nation’s widening income gap as sobering proof of the need to include the “habits and attitudes and virtues that often find articulation and expression in various faith traditions.”

He fears that those who are well off increasingly accept the assumption that they alone possess the talents and gifts that society values, and therefore they alone deserve the rewards. “That leads to a warped attitude toward one’s own success,” he said, “that is corrosive and overreaching.” [More]

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