Much of the news about religion around the globe is not good.
* We see antisemitism resurgent not just across Europe, where the Holocaust happened, but in many places around the world.
* Oppression and persecution of Christian minorities in many countries seems to be growing.
* Fundamentalism of various kinds infects religious traditions and leads to human suffering and wars in many places.
* And as the annual reports from the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom document, many governments oppress people of different faiths. (The author of the book I write about below here misidentifies the USCIRF as the U.S. Commission on International Human Rights, which doesn't exist.)
None of this is to deny all the good done in the name of religion. Indeed, I and many others argue that the good far outweighs the bad. But it is to say that we have yet to figure out for our time how to assure religious freedom.
Author and social critic Os Guinness takes a look at religous freedom and diversity in his new book, The Global Public Square. It's worth a read, despite the fact that at times his language is imprecise, resulting in a mistiness of meaning and at times he's so certain of his position that he overstates his case.
Drawing on Roger Williams' term "soul liberty," Guinness pushes hard for what he calls soul freedom, a state in which every individual is free to make religious choices without evil consequences and governmental pressures. It's the right goal, but much of the world is far from achieving it, and Guinness doesn't offer clear ways of getting there.
Guinness correctly identifies one of the problems of international religious tension, and that is that leaders sometimes forget that their words -- even when not spoken to the whole world -- quickly get communicated to the whole world. Thus we get violent reactions to such speeches as Pope Benedict's clumsy 2006 speech in Regensburg, Germany.
Guinness is at his best when he's promoting the values contained in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which he asserts could not be passed today) and the 2012 Global Charter of Conscience.
If people on this planet are to live into their true destinies, they must be free to make choices, including religious choices. Many are not. Guinness leads us into a useful discussion about why and urges us to ponder what we can do to change things.
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LOOK WHO'S PLAYING DEFENSE FOR FAITH
Speaking of freedom of religion, here's a nice change: The agnostic who wrote this piece is defending religion, at least in part. He clearly understands that very little is completely this or completely that.