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The declining importance of religious freedom and civic education in society is a reflection of the decline of society as a whole. This was the underlying message from Os Guinness, author and social critic, during his On Topic session with President Ken Starr Tuesday night.
Guinness has authored and edited more than 30 books, worked as a freelance reporter with the BBC and served as executive director of The Williamsburg Charter Foundation. This foundation’s focus is celebrating the First Amendment, a passion clearly shared by Guinness as displayed during his discussion with Starr.
The world is made up of many differences, differences that can make other people uncomfortable, Starr said. The task at hand for society is learning to live in harmony with those differences. Guinness’ newest book, “The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity,” describes the necessary steps to acquiring harmony, religious freedom and soul freedom for all, Starr said.
“It’s the right to reach, to hold, to exercise, to change and to share what you believe based on the dictates of conscious,” Guinness said in explanation of soul freedom.
Guinness said the idea of freedom to worship is weakly founded and has little meaning considering people do not need permission to worship. Worship is acted out in our minds and hearts and requires no rights. The tangible liberties of worship are what need protecting, Guinness said.
This protection and action towards widening the religious conversation in pubic forums has most greatly been demonstrated by America. However, because of the emphasis on the word “strict” in “strict separation of church and state,” America is losing its place as a global leader in the realm of religious freedom, Guinness said. Strict separation of faith along with the establishment of church is a misunderstanding of the First Amendment by America and has separated the United States from its virtuous roots.
“Freedom requires virtue, virtue requires faith of some sort, and faith of any sort requires freedom,” Guinness said.
This “golden triangle of freedom” was the purpose of America’s constitutional framers. The understanding that faith in public life is necessary for a productive is a universal truth, Guinness said. Guinness went on to explain his disappointment, namely with universities in America, that have taken steps to remove religion from the public discourse. He then commended universities like Baylor that have taken steps to assure faith is not left behind in the civic development of the next generation.
Starr, remarking that Guinness is a well-known European observer of American policy and world issues, took the time to ask Guinness about his opinions regarding issues being faced today.
“What is unfolding in the Middle East, Egypt and Syria is on everyone’s minds,” Starr said. “One of the issues now for the President of the United States, the Congress of the United States and the American people is what should we be doing in that part of the world?”
Guinness said the answer depends in part on whether or not reports of what has happened recently, such as reports of sarin gas used in Syria, are true. If they are, then the problem facing President Barack Obama is that a lack of action will make him seem weak, but any other action will make him seem rash.
Engaging in learning rather than war, Guinness said, is the ultimate solution.
“We need a much, much greater understanding of Islam and of Middle Eastern culture,” Guinness said.