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Richad Mouw - Religious Conviction and The Common good: Challenges and Opportunities

From: Chautauqua Institution
Series: Department of Religion Interfaith Lecture Series
Length: 01:00:41

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An election year provides a compelling opportunity for assessing issues that govern the contexts and the quality of life for citizens both for now and for the generations to come – a time for discerning what is most important for the common good of all. In this week we will hear from multiple voices committed to raising awareness of current needs and hope-filled possibilities for shaping the future. Read the full description.

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Mary Desmond | Staff Writer

Richard John Mouw drew inspiration from John Calvin, the Hebrew Scriptures, the Quran, the Bible, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the ancient Greek philosopher Anaxagoras and many others during his 2 p.m. lecture at the Hall of Philosophy.

In Thursday’s Interfaith Lecture, Mouw addressed the Week Two theme, “2012: What’s at Stake for the Common Good,” with a lecture titled “Religious Conviction and the Common Good: Challenges and Opportunities.”

Mouw is an evangelical Christian and the president of Fuller Theological Seminary. He has authored 19 books, including the recently revised Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World . On Thursday, he discussed the value of religious convictions and how they can ultimately benefit the common good when paired with civility.

Mouw began his talk with a story of a recent trip he took to China. There, he met with a communist official who traced the changing attitude of the Chinese government toward religion. In the early years of communism, the government sought to rid the country of religion. As time progressed and the efforts proved futile, the government passively allowed religious worship. Now, religion is encouraged.

The Chinese realized religion is an integral thread in the fabric of societies. In an era when United States politics and society are veering toward increased polarization, it is important that U.S. citizens and politicians embrace that philosophy, Mouw said.

“Religion can be a divisive force that does not promote the common good. But we need to be thinking together about the ways in which religion is not only a part of the problem, but it can be a part of the solution,” he said.

Many positive ethical and civic values are rooted in people’s personal faith traditions. Religion can foster virtues of citizenship, virtues that compel individuals to sacrifice their lives for their country, Mouw said. Additionally, the language used in churches, synagogues, mosques and temples is language that calls people to a commitment to good, he said.

In 1990, when Mouw first wrote his book, Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World , he was motivated by a book by Martin Marty, a Lutheran scholar. Marty said that the people with convictions were often uncivil, and those who were civil often lacked convictions, Mouw said.

“That’s where I want to start. There’s nothing wrong with having deep convictions,” Mouw said. In fact, faith traditions often provide spiritual resources that instruct human beings to engage in interfaith dialogue, he said.

One example can be found in Chapter 29 of the Jewish Scriptures. In that section, the Prophet Jeremiah wrote a letter to the exiled Jews living in Babylon. The Jews struggled with understanding how best to praise their Lord while living in foreign territory with nonbelievers and idolaters. They were given three steps; the first was to build houses, the second to plant gardens and the third to marry off their children, Mouw said. Jeremiah also wrote that the Jews were to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare,” Mouw said.

“The word ‘welfare’ there is the Hebrew word ‘shalom’ — sometimes it’s translated ‘peace,’ but it has a much richer notion of justice, a justly ordered peaceful pattern of living together as fellow human beings,” Mouw said.

That lesson from the prophets about living together peacefully and respectfully with human beings of different faith traditions is one Christians and Jews of today should adopt, he said.

The Quran teaches a similar message, Mouw said.

In the Quran, it is written “the righteous give sustenance to the destitute, the orphan, the captive, saying we feed you for God’s sake only,” he said.

“We don’t have to say that there is a tension between civility and conviction, but rather civility itself arises out of our convictions, Mouw said.

For more than a decade, Mouw has participated in dialogues with leaders from the Mormon faith. He wrote the book Talking with Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals . His openness to interfaith dialogue catalyzed controversy in the evangelical Christian world. Mouw said his inspiration for participating in conversations with practitioners of other faiths comes directly from the commandment, “you shall not bear false witness.”

“It’s the worst thing in the world to tell people they believe things they really don’t believe,” Mouw said. “In order to understand what another person from another faith tradition believes, we need to ask that person, and we need to engage in dialogue lest we bear false witness against our neighbors.”

He stressed that humans need to develop a “Godly seeing.”

“It is important to see other people even in their brokenness as children of God, as valued by God and to share in God’s loving concern for other human beings,” Mouw said.

Aristotle said that the first bonds human beings make are with family members. As we grow older, we learn to form friendships with those who are similar to us, close to our family circle. The last step of maturity is signaled by a human’s capacity to extend friendship to those who are unfamiliar, foreign or different. That is civility, he said.

“We need a lot of work at civility in our increasingly pluralistic society and unfortunately in our increasingly polarized and divisive culture,” Mouw said.

During his lecture, Mouw told the story of Anaxagoras, an early Greek philosopher who lived before Christ. Anaxagoras once engaged in a question-and-answer exercise with followers. When he was asked the age-old question, ‘Why are we here?’ Anaxagoras answered, ‘To behold.’

“I think that our spiritual resources that we can draw upon ought to be generating in us a kind of ‘seeing’ in other people — a seeing that goes beyond the surfaces, a seeing that goes beneath the ideologies, a seeing that goes beneath the conflicting lifestyles and value systems to the common humanity that we share,” Mouw said.

In a time when dividing lines are drawn in the sand, it is important that people who belong to religious faiths build a beholding community that sees with love, Mouw said.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a Carmelite nun, kept a spiritual diary while she lived in the convent. In one part of the journal, Thérèse wrote to Jesus and told him of a nun living in the convent whose personality annoyed her. In the passage, Thérèse went on to say that even though she found the nun irksome, every time she saw her she loved her and prayed for her as if she were a close friend or family member. In the diary, Thérèse wrote, “I was sure that this would greatly delight you, Jesus, for every artist likes to have his works praised,” Mouw said.

“She’s talking there about treating that sister, that fellow nun, with the categories of art appreciation,” Mouw said.

If we believe that God has created, designed every human being on Earth, as an artist creates a masterpiece, then we must appreciate and see with love everyone for the beauty and value God has instilled in them.

Mouw is a Calvinist. Calvin wrote that civil governments are responsible for maintaining and keeping peace within societies.

“Governments are called by God, and citizens in a democracy are called by God to form the kind of manners — we need a “Miss Manners” for public life today — to form the manners that can help us create concord, or peace, among us, and to maintain and preserve a common peace and tranquility,” Mouw said. “We must draw upon the deep places in our faith traditions to create and to nurture the kind of spirituality for justice.”

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Piece Description

Mary Desmond | Staff Writer

Richard John Mouw drew inspiration from John Calvin, the Hebrew Scriptures, the Quran, the Bible, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the ancient Greek philosopher Anaxagoras and many others during his 2 p.m. lecture at the Hall of Philosophy.

In Thursday’s Interfaith Lecture, Mouw addressed the Week Two theme, “2012: What’s at Stake for the Common Good,” with a lecture titled “Religious Conviction and the Common Good: Challenges and Opportunities.”

Mouw is an evangelical Christian and the president of Fuller Theological Seminary. He has authored 19 books, including the recently revised Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World . On Thursday, he discussed the value of religious convictions and how they can ultimately benefit the common good when paired with civility.

Mouw began his talk with a story of a recent trip he took to China. There, he met with a communist official who traced the changing attitude of the Chinese government toward religion. In the early years of communism, the government sought to rid the country of religion. As time progressed and the efforts proved futile, the government passively allowed religious worship. Now, religion is encouraged.

The Chinese realized religion is an integral thread in the fabric of societies. In an era when United States politics and society are veering toward increased polarization, it is important that U.S. citizens and politicians embrace that philosophy, Mouw said.

“Religion can be a divisive force that does not promote the common good. But we need to be thinking together about the ways in which religion is not only a part of the problem, but it can be a part of the solution,” he said.

Many positive ethical and civic values are rooted in people’s personal faith traditions. Religion can foster virtues of citizenship, virtues that compel individuals to sacrifice their lives for their country, Mouw said. Additionally, the language used in churches, synagogues, mosques and temples is language that calls people to a commitment to good, he said.

In 1990, when Mouw first wrote his book, Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World , he was motivated by a book by Martin Marty, a Lutheran scholar. Marty said that the people with convictions were often uncivil, and those who were civil often lacked convictions, Mouw said.

“That’s where I want to start. There’s nothing wrong with having deep convictions,” Mouw said. In fact, faith traditions often provide spiritual resources that instruct human beings to engage in interfaith dialogue, he said.

One example can be found in Chapter 29 of the Jewish Scriptures. In that section, the Prophet Jeremiah wrote a letter to the exiled Jews living in Babylon. The Jews struggled with understanding how best to praise their Lord while living in foreign territory with nonbelievers and idolaters. They were given three steps; the first was to build houses, the second to plant gardens and the third to marry off their children, Mouw said. Jeremiah also wrote that the Jews were to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare,” Mouw said.

“The word ‘welfare’ there is the Hebrew word ‘shalom’ — sometimes it’s translated ‘peace,’ but it has a much richer notion of justice, a justly ordered peaceful pattern of living together as fellow human beings,” Mouw said.

That lesson from the prophets about living together peacefully and respectfully with human beings of different faith traditions is one Christians and Jews of today should adopt, he said.

The Quran teaches a similar message, Mouw said.

In the Quran, it is written “the righteous give sustenance to the destitute, the orphan, the captive, saying we feed you for God’s sake only,” he said.

“We don’t have to say that there is a tension between civility and conviction, but rather civility itself arises out of our convictions, Mouw said.

For more than a decade, Mouw has participated in dialogues with leaders from the Mormon faith. He wrote the book Talking with Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals . His openness to interfaith dialogue catalyzed controversy in the evangelical Christian world. Mouw said his inspiration for participating in conversations with practitioners of other faiths comes directly from the commandment, “you shall not bear false witness.”

“It’s the worst thing in the world to tell people they believe things they really don’t believe,” Mouw said. “In order to understand what another person from another faith tradition believes, we need to ask that person, and we need to engage in dialogue lest we bear false witness against our neighbors.”

He stressed that humans need to develop a “Godly seeing.”

“It is important to see other people even in their brokenness as children of God, as valued by God and to share in God’s loving concern for other human beings,” Mouw said.

Aristotle said that the first bonds human beings make are with family members. As we grow older, we learn to form friendships with those who are similar to us, close to our family circle. The last step of maturity is signaled by a human’s capacity to extend friendship to those who are unfamiliar, foreign or different. That is civility, he said.

“We need a lot of work at civility in our increasingly pluralistic society and unfortunately in our increasingly polarized and divisive culture,” Mouw said.

During his lecture, Mouw told the story of Anaxagoras, an early Greek philosopher who lived before Christ. Anaxagoras once engaged in a question-and-answer exercise with followers. When he was asked the age-old question, ‘Why are we here?’ Anaxagoras answered, ‘To behold.’

“I think that our spiritual resources that we can draw upon ought to be generating in us a kind of ‘seeing’ in other people — a seeing that goes beyond the surfaces, a seeing that goes beneath the ideologies, a seeing that goes beneath the conflicting lifestyles and value systems to the common humanity that we share,” Mouw said.

In a time when dividing lines are drawn in the sand, it is important that people who belong to religious faiths build a beholding community that sees with love, Mouw said.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a Carmelite nun, kept a spiritual diary while she lived in the convent. In one part of the journal, Thérèse wrote to Jesus and told him of a nun living in the convent whose personality annoyed her. In the passage, Thérèse went on to say that even though she found the nun irksome, every time she saw her she loved her and prayed for her as if she were a close friend or family member. In the diary, Thérèse wrote, “I was sure that this would greatly delight you, Jesus, for every artist likes to have his works praised,” Mouw said.

“She’s talking there about treating that sister, that fellow nun, with the categories of art appreciation,” Mouw said.

If we believe that God has created, designed every human being on Earth, as an artist creates a masterpiece, then we must appreciate and see with love everyone for the beauty and value God has instilled in them.

Mouw is a Calvinist. Calvin wrote that civil governments are responsible for maintaining and keeping peace within societies.

“Governments are called by God, and citizens in a democracy are called by God to form the kind of manners — we need a “Miss Manners” for public life today — to form the manners that can help us create concord, or peace, among us, and to maintain and preserve a common peace and tranquility,” Mouw said. “We must draw upon the deep places in our faith traditions to create and to nurture the kind of spirituality for justice.”

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