In recent months I've been giving speeches about the lack of civility in America's public discourse and what we might do to change that.
To help me with that, I've been drawing on the wisdom found in four different books, the oldest being The Political Meaning of Christianity, by Glenn Tinder. More recent books I'm using are The Case for Civility, by Os Guinness, In Defense of Civility, by James Calvin Davis, and You Don't Have to be Wrong for Me to be Right, by Rabbi Brad Hirschfield.
One of my main points is that civility is not just being nice or polite. It's listening to others with respect, even when we disagree profoundly. Another is that the true basis for civility is found in the idea (well fleshed out in Tinder's book) that each individual is of inestimable worth because each is a creation of God. Therefore we should treat each other as if we all were exalted, priceless individuals.
Well, I now have a new book (oh, OK, a revised and expanded 1992 book but new to me) to help me understand civility. It's Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World, by Richard J. Mouw, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary.
Yes, it's clearly written from a Christian perspective (Mouw identifies himself with the evangelical branch of the faith), but its message is broader than that. Indeed, his words can help people of other faiths know better how to engage Christians in interfaith dialogue.
Mouw seems to go out of his way to address the concerns of people who, he thinks, might be offended by the idea of holding civil conversations with people of faiths other than Christianity. He correctly notes that such dialogue often is a way of strengthening one's hold on one's own faith. And besides, there are things people of each faith can learn from people of other faiths, even if we reject many of the truth claims of those other faiths.
I hope Mouw's book is widely read, especially by Christians whose tendency is to demonize other religions and their adherents. He walks readers through many reasons why that tendency is counterproductive and why, instead, all of us need to act with civility toward all.
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WHY WE TRY TO SAVE TRAPPED MINERS
As those miners in Chili are close to getting out of where they've trapped, let's remember why we bother to rescue people in such trouble. It's because religion teaches us that each person is of inestimable worth, as I wrote above. It's because each person carries within him or her the image of God. It's because God loves each person, and so should we. Otherwise, on the grand scale of nearly 7 billion people in the world, why worry about just 33 common laborers? But if we cast them away as expendable, we're saying that none of us is worth much.