The usual excellence from Mark Kingwell on religion in public life.
Posted by Bill Stilwell at September 06, 2000 12:00 AM
A greater role for religion in public life is all very well -- as long as (1)
you're religious in the first place, (2) it's your religion that has the role, and (3) it's your
public life that is affected.
Justice, the great Scottish philosopher David Hume argued two centuries ago, is an
artificial virtue. We create it ourselves, not through singular impulses to do good but
through ongoing negotiations with fellow travellers on the mortal plane. We strive for
justice not because God wills it, or because we want this life to resemble as closely as
possible some fantasy of contentment described in a religious text, but because the
alternative is abhorrent to us.
That means surrendering any illusions we have about what the purpose of human
society is. We are not doing God's will, just our own -- which means we are answerable
to others, imperfect in our efforts, and constantly at risk. There is no eternal reward
waiting for us, just the fleeting and uncertain rewards of what we achieve here and
now. Life offers no certainty at all, in fact, just the complicated uncertainty of our
natural urges in constant (and usually unfair) tension with our capacity to reason.