Faith at Altitude

Religion and spirituality in the shadow of Pikes Peak

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Land of Os

Grace Episcopal Church was packed to the rafters tonight to hear British author Os Guinness discuss Christianity, Islam and the Culture Wars.

Guinness' lecture, "Islam and the Challenge of a Civil Public Square," was sponsored by the John Jay Institute, a conservative philosophical organization located in Colorado Springs that is, in some respects, concerned about what it perceives as Christianity's diminishing role in public discourse.

But Guinness -- certainly a philosophical conservative -- told the audience that the Christian right, in its efforts to smudge the line between church and state, may be "part of the problem, not part of the solution."

Guinness said America's forefathers showed particular genius in drafting the First Amendment, of which "freedom of religion" was its primary clause. It unshackled the church from the state and allowed a curious but reasonably civil free marketplace of faith, in which a host of denominations could vie for market share. As a consequence, religion has flourished here even as it diminished in Europe, where people often rebelled against the church because it was seen as corrupt.

But Guinness sees in the current Culture Wars the seeds of religious revolt: That the religious right, in its efforts to make Christianity a de facto American faith, has actually "stoked the very repudiation they fear."

Ironically, Guinness spoke little about Islam, other than the religion's idealism and, he says, insistence on integration into all aspects of a believer's life, which is a particular challenge for a "Civil Public Square." He didn't outline exactly how that public square should look -- only that it would be rooted in civil discourse in the midst of irreconcilable differences, and that if we don't find out how to do it, the American republic will be "doomed."

Audio of the lecture will soon be posted on the John Jay Web site, I am told.


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