Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Os Guinness Lecture

So, today the SCIO students got to be lectured to by Os Guinness! Pretty exciting. I had heard of him before, but not really read any of his work, so I was coming in without any expectations really. Wow. Hands down the best lecture I've been to while here. I am definitely going to try to read some of his books now.

He talked a bit about three things: calling, challenge of combating religious voices, and the notion of the public square. He spent the most time on the last point, talking about three different kinds of public squares: the sacred public square, the naked public square, and the civil public square. The sacred public square (one that prefers one religion over all others) and the naked public square (one that completely strips all religion out) really don't work in the long run, he said. The ideal would be the civil public square: a distinct political set up where different beliefs and ideologies are free to be who they are religiously, but where there are agreed upon certain political rights, responsibilities and respect. He made it clear that while it's the ideal, it's also the most difficult and is certainly not going to happen quickly, because it would take a lot of cooperation from people of incompatible world views. I'm not explaining it nearly well enough, but it was an amazing idea.

He also talked about some of the really great things that America has going for it, saying that the U.S. might possibly be the only place where a Civil Public square could even be possible at this point, if we don't wreck things further. He talked about how some of the ideas our country preserve are very good. I of course now cannot remember them all, but it was a really important thing for me to hear. I have kind of harbored a mindset that American is pretty much gone down the tubes and we've done so many terrible things as a country that we've got nothing to be proud of, but Mr. Guinness pointed out some of the really great political ideas that our country was founded on. He also made sure to point out that he was by no means saying that the founding fathers had everything right. Their views of African Americans, Native Americans and Women were abysmal. He just said "let's not throw out everything they established because they had serious blind spots in some areas." He is also one of the first people I've heard speak about having an American culture as not a bad thing. He said that in some ways the 'melting pot' idea is not bad. While saying that a person has to forget their old culture completely isn't good, the idea of saying something like "Well, in America there are certain cultural ideas, such as freedom of conscious that might not be familiar to you. That's part of what it means to be American" isn't bad, it's actually important. Maybe that doesn't seem like such a big deal, but it was rather revolutionary for me, because I've always been wary of being supportive of an 'American culture.' I don't like the idea of saying "do it our way, or get out" but I don't think he was saying that. I think he was saying, there should be certain things that people can't make a stink about. It seemed like he was advocating for there to be an Americanism beyond just legislature, because culture changes things more than legislature does. I'm probably explaining it very badly, and I still kind of need to wrap my head around it, so I may not have understood him completely, but it was something very new for me.

He also said that we were the "Crunch Generation," that how our generation handled the problems and issues arising today in the next 40 or so years would determine the course of the world. So he told us that we need to be people who think deeply and consider things carefully, to know what we believe and stick to it, none of this wishy-washy 'post-evangelicalism' ("What is that? he said, "A big bunch of nothing." Either you are or you aren't, don't put yourself in the evangelical camp if you think you're 'beyond that.').

There was a question and answer time after, and most of the questions were kind of technical, like what did he mean by this or that, or how exactly would a civil public square work, etc...I only had one question. I just wanted to ask him, "Mr. Guinness, you said we're the Crunch you think that we can do it? Do you believe in us?" I guess maybe it sounds a little hokey, but while what he said was very inspiring, it also kind of scared me. Can we be what he said we needed to be? and what happens if we can't?

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