Transcript for Roundtable II: Faith and Politics
whether we are leaders in government or business, or spreading the word, it's to spend our days with open hearts and open minds. To seek out the truth that exists in an opposing view and to find the common ground that allows for us as a nation of the people to take real and meaningful action and we have to do that humbly, or no one can know the full and encompassing mind of god. And we have to do it every day. Not just at a prayerreakfast. President obama at this year's prayer breakfast on the search for common ground. We're going to take up that challenge now. Discuss the role of religion in our civic debates. With our roundtable of jim wallis, reza aslan, reverend calvin butts and dr. Richard land. Welcome to all of you. Happy easter to those of you celebrating. Jim, I read your book this week and you are a political activist, a preacher, and a writer, but you took some time off during the last election and saw politics as a spectator and you write that a lot of the motivation for this book came out of your depression from watching our politics. I wrote the book on sabbatical. So, every day, I wrote and parade. At night, I watched the news cycle and it was depressing. I realized that we lost something very important, an ancient idea called the common good. It says that we can't take care of ourselves, our party and our side, we have to take care of each other and our neighbor. That's the foundation for everyone. That's the common good. This common good idea, I think, will bring us back together. And I see it happening. It comes at a time where we have more polarization than ever, it seems, in our politics. On most issues, yet you have come together on -- immigration. On the issue of immigration, how does that work? Well, I think, first of all, when you're looking at issues of common good. Jim is a christian. I'm a christian. We may have different perceptions of parts of scripture. We both understand that there's a difference between authority of scripture. And our understanding of scripture. And we have to be humble in our understanding of scripture. We both agree that immigration reform is tearing the social fabric of the country, it needs to be done. The lack of doing it is causing havoc that will be difficult to repair in the social fabric of the country. And there is a way to do it and a way to do it that's fair and a way to do it that will heal the country. We found that evangelicals and catholics and orthodox and jews and muslims, have come together in what I think is a pretty impressive coalition to say that our -- it's time for our leaders to stop acting like politicians who are concerned about the next election, and start acting like statesman who are concerned about the next generation. And get comprehensive immigration reform done. And dr. Butts, another major issue in the news, this week gay marriage, your normal political allies have been strongly supportive of gay marriage, something your faith don't believe in. In terms of what we learned from the bible. But in terms of men and women having their rights as citizens and human beings, we certainly affirm that. You should have every right as a citizen of this nation, and every right as a human being, to enjoy the freedom that we believe god has given you. The choice is yours. And I should not stand in the way of you making that choice. However, I have to extol what i believe my religion teaches and it does not teach that a marriage between a man and a man or a woman and a woman is god's divine imperative. I can't stand in the way of that. I think the supreme court shouldn't stand in way of that. Strict separation between what you practice inside your church and what you believe should happen in society. I have to support that in civil society. Otherwise, I wouldn't be a great citizen of my great nation and a participant in this great experiment in democracy. However, I choose to believe the book upon which I build my life. Some of that is music to your ears. You wrote a fascinating article, susan jacoby, coming out of newtown, the blessings of atheism, atheists often feel intimidated on speaking out. We heard almost nothing and no secular chaplain asked to be at the newtown ceremony. I asked several of them about it. And they felt they were kind of afraid to, they felt that it would be taken the wrong way. As if atheists were trying to horn in this ceremony. That was basically religious. What dr. Butts said was music to my ears. If they could separate what they teach and preach in church, every religious institution and person has the right to state their convictions, just as I do. But the problem is, newtown was a perfect example of it. There wereeople sitting in that audiee, obviously, if we believed the polls that 20% of people don't belong to any church and some of those people are atheists or not, because it is -- but president obama, some would tell you they objected to him mentioning religion many that speech. Which I think was ridiculous. But, he could very easily have expanded that to say whether we're religious or nonreligious, he could have said that we're all united in our grief and not made exclusively -- and he should not have been talking about jesus christ when people lost children don't believe in jesus. He often has done that. He did that at the national prayer breakfast. Talking about the nonbelievers, that's the fastest growing group, people not affiliated with any particular religious group. I want to bring in reza aslan, get you to respond to a notion that jim brings up in his book, the rise of islamophobia. The need to surprise our enemies with act of good will and grace. This is a fact. Anti-muslim sentiment in this country is at unprecedented levels. About two-thirds of americans believe that muslims shouldn't have the same first amendment rights, as other americans. That's 100 million americans who believe that. Now the important thing is, and jim will tell you this, this isn't christian or jewish-based islamophobia, it has much more to do with right-wing fringe groups that have entered into the mainstream. The tragedy is jews and catholics who have done with this bigotry in this country in the past haven't been the ground swell for standing up against muslims in this country. Jim, of course, has been one of the leading voices condemning islamophobia. Regardless of where you play or how you worship is that we have to recognize that all people in this country have a right to worship as they please, to believe as they please. And if we don't stand up for each other, then we are not actually being true to the values of our faith. Jim, the search for common ground is about how we practice our politics. Right. The largest affiliation now growing in the country is none of the above, a lot of the young people, when people from the faith community -- when religious people do what their religions say, two things happen, people are surprised and then they're attracted. I wrote this book to spark a national conversation on the common good. It's in all of our traditions. The common good is the right question. It's about what does it mean to love our neighbors as ourselves? That's the golden rule. That's the foundation for the common good. Who is my neighbor? That becomes the question. Once we apply that to the economy the role of government, to democracy, even to our households, how we live as parents, kids, think this common good frework could change our politics. It's a lot easier to apply it to our household taking personal responsibility, than to translate those principles to actual public policy. Look, you can disagree with that without being disagreeable. As christians we're commanded to love our enemies. Not just our neighbors. But our enemies. But we can stand up for our convictions without demonizing those who are opposed to us and those who disagree with us. That's what america is about. We're supposed to be able to disagree and respect each other. Respect each ear's dignity and agree that -- one of to wonderful things about this country is, no issue is forever settled. If we don't like the way the issue is settled now, we can come back and make a better argument in the next election. Dr. Butts, that's the first thing lost you get online and you see all of the hateful political comments -- that's often because people don't practice what they preach. And it is difficult to translate your religious belief into public policy. I think what you have to do and one of the things that I'm eager to do is to apply ideas, our thoughts, our ideology in the marketplace. Paul argued for the gospel of jesus christ, and he won people to his side. But then he had the arguments for the unknown god. Or that is denied. Or the god that is rejected or not believed. But there are things that come out of this discussion that are helpful -- do you feel a need to -- to convert people to atheism? No. The mission, the mission if you can call it that, the mission of atheism isn't to convert people but to put forward our ideas in the public square. We have had some success. I'm not talking only recently but over 200 years to talk about the importance in science and public policy. There are many religious people who are opposed to fact and evidence-based thinking. Here's the problem with religion in politics, not just that t have an active view in religious groups shouldn't have an active view in presenting their viewpoints. All public policy has to have a rational that goes beyond the religious. Because, saying, for example, gay marriage is wrong because my god tells me so. Or, a certain kind of immigration policy is wrong because my god tells me so. Or, in the past, slavery is right because the bible upholds slavery. And as we well know -- there's no such thing as religion. There are only certain kinds of religion. How often it is people say, this needs to be in public policy, because god says so. Of course, you have to confront that in the islamic world. Jim writes it's important, the best way to fight that is by undermining it from the inside not trying to smash it. That's right. This goes back to the conversation that we have been having, beliefs and practices are important, but it's about who you are as a human being. How you see yourself in the world. Your relationship to god. I'll give you an example, the latest pew poll says, 7 out of 10 americans identify as christian. Think about this for a moment. Does that mean 7 out of 10 go to church on sunday, or 7 out of 10 can tell you anything about jesus except that he was born in a manager aned on a cross. That's actually mang a statement of identity. As a statement of identity it encompasses your world views. Your economic views, your social views. It's not what you believe, but it's how you understand the world around you. So, of coursoing to have a role in politics. In the world. It's problematic as susan said. But what jim was saying is absolutely correct. So, how do we then counteract the negative effects of religion? Not by removing it from politics but by making sure that those voices of moderation, dedicated to what america stands for, rise above. Jim, humility? The problem with religion is, a quote from lincoln that I put right on the cover of the book. My concern isn't whether god is on our side, my greatest concern is to be on god's side. And that flips the question. That leads us to that kind of humility, to ask, how we change our views, our values, our politics, our ideology, how do you move past the politics to find what's right and what works? On immigration. On gun violence. On so many issues. If we can come together, what does that mean? I want to have you all back. This is a fascinating
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