Discomfort Zone: Os Guinness

Os Guinness talks freedom, human rights, and why the 1960s counterculture was the best moment to come of age.

“In Europe, you could go to any crossroads – we lived in Switzerland then – and there’d be six hitchhikers. One would be reading Nietzsche, one would be reading Siddhartha, one would be reading Robert Heinlein, and one would reading C. S. Lewis, and they’d say ‘hey man, you should read this’, or ‘you should go there’. People were really thinking.” 

Os Guinness is an author and speaker with a keen eye for how culture works. He was born in China during World War II, survived a famine and the Cultural Revolution, and came of age in the midst of the counterculture of the 1960s. “I’m so glad that I’m a child of the 60s”, he tells Simon Smart. “It was wild, but I’m glad it forced me to think through my faith, and to relate my faith to all that was going on.” 

In this episode of Life & Faith, Guinness talks about some of his influences – and most outlandish experiences! – from that time, and the importance of going out beyond your comfort zone. He considers the many meanings of freedom, as well as why free societies are rare – and rarely last. He talks religious freedom and weighs the options: the sacred public square, the naked public square, or the civil public square. 

And in case that’s not enough big ideas packed into a short time, he also canvases the last 3000 years of Western history and tackles the question: are we now living in a post-truth and post-human-rights world? 

“A worldview is like a lens through which we see reality, and we will not only see certain things if the worldview is clear and accurate, there will be things, if it’s not, that we don’t see. Take a simple example: you see a mountain. The Greeks might well have worshipped the mountain. A South African engineer will look at the mountain: can I mine it and make a lot of money out of it? The 19th-century Englishman would have wanted to climb the mountain, because it’s there. … So, you see certain things and you simply don’t see others. Contrast is the mother of clarity.” 

Os Guinness’ latest book is Last Call for Liberty: How America’s Genius for Freedom Has Become Its Greatest Threat.