Os Guinness: Liberals and Conservatives Are Getting Religious Freedom Wrong
"Diversity" is a dirty word for many conservatives who view it as a thin disguise for relativism or social engineering. What do you mean by "diversity," and why should conservatives—and liberals—champion it?
Many conservatives misunderstand and then twist the term "diversity." Diversity is simply a social fact. We are in a world where it is now said, because of the media, easy travel, and migration, that "everyone is now everywhere." What is dangerous is not diversity per se, but relativism—the claim that there is no such thing as truth. Freedom itself cannot be defended on the basis of relativism. So conservatives are wrong to dismiss diversity, just as liberals are foolish to celebrate it without working out its implications. E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many One) was once not just America's motto, but its greatest achievement. But today America is stressing the pluribus at the expense of the unum. The result can only be disastrous. The real question is, "How do we live with our deepest differences" when those differences are stronger and deeper than ever before? The answer, I believe, is to recover a principled vision of religious freedom for all and forge a civil public square in which it can flourish.
In what other ways does The Global Public Square challenge both liberals and conservatives?
People on both sides are making some crucial mistakes in the way they think they are defending religious freedom. The result is some very unconservative conservatives and some highly illiberal liberals. Among the unconservative errors is the way many people are fighting back against violations through law and lawsuits alone—whereas anyone with a knowledge of history knows that the secret of freedom lies in cultivating certain "habits of the heart" (through civic education) and not just resorting to law. Among the errors of the illiberal liberals is the current vogue for equality at the expense of liberty. From the French Revolution on, there are stark lessons about what happens when egalitarianism becomes the ruling principle. Yet the U.S. seems bent on repeating those errors as the sexual revolution wins the day and applies its vision of equality and non-discrimination everywhere. What happens, as a result, is that the state ends up discriminating against religious liberty and freedom of conscience—as with the misguided directives "de-recognizing" religious student organizations in the University of California.
You were born in China and have spent most of your adult life in England and the United States. How has your experience of three different church-state models shaped your thinking on these issues?
My own experiences have shaped me enormously. I grew up under the beginning of Mao Zedong's reign of terror. I went to college when it was obvious that aggressive anti-Christian secularism was in part a reaction to the corrupt and oppressive state churches in Europe's past. And now I am living in the U.S., where I am stunned by the lack of understanding of and dedication to one of America's core principles and greatest accomplishments: religious freedom for everybody. My travels, of course, have taken me to other places, such as the Middle East, where the lack of religious freedom for all is tearing nations to pieces. In short, religious freedom for me is anything but an academic issue. It is all about the freedom to be human and to create just, peaceful, and thriving societies.