Archive for May, 2010

Think Different

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Christian virtue and the “wider world”

Something that’s been on my mind for a while now is the subject of Christian witness — virtue, character — and its relationship (reaction to, impact on) “secular” society.  Do people of faith really have anything significant to add to efforts for peace and justice when so many of the non-faithful are already out there in the trenches? I say we do. In fact, I maintain that the struggle for human rights and justice are based in issues of faith — the world is not as it should be, humans have dignity and beauty, we should seek to bolster the well-being of others, love, etc.  I’m not entirely convinced that humans would come to these conclusions were it not for faith and religion.

This is (partly) the argument N.T. Wright makes in his new book, After You Believe. The following passage gets us down the path a ways in the discussion of Christian witness in “secular” societies:

Those who are called to reflect God’s image through their own work must give attention to the task of working out, in a highly contested contemporary world, what that restorative justice ought to look like and how we might help bring it about. This will mean engaging with political debates and processes of various sorts, campaigning on key issues, and highlighting oppression and injustice wherever they occur. The Western world has supposed, for two hundred years and more, that splitting off questions of social justice from questions of God and faith would give us a more just society. The revolutions, totalitarianisms, and all-out wars of that period have proved us wrong. But to put God and human justice back together again will require a sustained effort, not only by individuals but by the church as a whole, developing the corporate virtues of justice-work that will become habits of the church’s heart and will appeal to the conscience of the wider world. (Wright, p. 231)

Put another way, to eliminate religious speech and expression from the public square (as we’re seeing in many European countries) is to cut off the branch on which human rights rest. Christian witness has a place at the table in conversations about justice and the betterment of society. A crucial place.