Bwog Lecture Hop editor Pierce Stanley observes as religion is reconciled with just about everything, for once.
Coming on the heels of a Super Duper Tuesday that saw former Arkansas governor turned evangelical preacher Mike Huckabee decisively win five Republican primaries in the South and the recent dropping out of Republican contender Mitt Romney—a figure previously under the heavy scrutiny of the public eye for his devout Mormonism—the intersection of religion and politics has never been more apparent than in the current election cycle.
Yesterday’s nationwide Veritas Forum proved to be a well-timed and informative event for the throngs that showed up in Roone to flesh out the tensions between religion and politics. Washington Post columnist Dale Hanson Bourke led Columbia professors Andrew Delbanco (director of the American Studies program) and Religion and Humanities professor Mark Lilla, as well as the Senior Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church Timothy Keller in a discussion about the tensions between religion and pluralism.
The always dapper and bespectacled Lilla, author of The Stillborn God, kicked off the night by arguing that society faces a continuous struggle of trying to reconcile different spheres into an integrated whole that he termed pluralism. Moreover, Lilla suggested that exclusive religion was very simply orthodox religion, in which someone has very comprehensive views about what God, life, reality, and the world are that they are unable to reconcile with others.
The discussion quickly moved to the presidential campaigns and the question of whether candidates are going too far in their use of religion to win votes. Lilla suggested that a balance needs to be kept between religious rhetoric and politics. Delbanco, his usual wry spunk in place, chimed in by wondering if politics are even more humane because of religion. “I think not,” the American Studies professor suggested.
When the discussion of the political exterior was exhausted, the speakers tackled a more nuanced discussion of the internal later in the night as they tossed around questions of conversion and evangelism. While many entered the evening believing that Delbanco and Lilla would clash heartily with Pastor Keller on the more technical issues of Christianity, the men seemed to agree about most of the topics they discussed. Delbanco even suggested that he is an evangelist to some extent in the classroom, arguing that the fervor to which he puts forth his ideas in the classroom and professes his faith about certain ideas that he believes to be true is in a sense an “evangelic transaction.” Keller agreed that evangelism is a two way street. He criticized Christians that he believed to be unwilling to accept other viewpoints and “exhibit enough humility to think in someone else’s shoes.”
The Veritas Forum provided for brief a moment some keen insights into the role of exclusive religion in a pluralistic society while commenting deeply on the nature of American democracy. More importantly however, last night’s event showed that the debate over the role of religion in politics will be something we will have to confront for years to come.