On Christian contributions in public

Nigel Biggar offers a couple of examples: the quest for truth, and the question of rights vs obligations. 



Nigel Biggar offers a couple of examples: the quest for truth, and the question of rights vs obligations. 

I think that Christianity can make lots of different contributions to the public good, and what that is will depend on the context. But here are a couple of examples.

Christians believe in one God, a rational, wise God. They believe that the world that God created reflects that rationality, that there is a coherence to it, that there’s a truth and reality to things. We may not grasp the truth whole, but we grasp it somewhat. So when Christians engage in public discussion, we are looking for the truth. And in public discussion, as a Christian, I may not think I have grasped the whole truth but I hope in the course of our conversation we might actually, you and I (let’s suppose I’m talking with non-Christians), that together we will reach a better understanding of the truth about what’s just and right in this situation. So public conversation is about the common search for the truth about important matters. It is not, in the Christian view, an arena for the assertion of my ego. The point of our conversation is not for me to win. The point is that we might actually be better enlightened.

In contrast, it’s quite clear that many people in public life don’t care about the truth. They care about power and they care about ego. Now, I’m not saying that all non-Christians are of that kind, and nor am I saying that no non-Christians recognise the authority of the truth and the need to deliver it together. I’m not claiming in this respect that Christians are unique, but I am claiming that it is characteristic of a Christian attitude to things that that is how we approach public conversation and that’s why we’re there. And insofar as society doesn’t always see things that way, I think that’s an enormously important contribution to rational, responsible public exchange.

That’s one example. I’ll give a second one. You’ll remember that Muslim terrorists burst into the offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in Paris and slaughtered most of the staff. Subsequent discussion in the press, certainly in this country and I think worldwide, conducted itself entirely in terms of rights – the reassertion against this outrage of the right to freedom of speech. And I found myself as a Christian thinking, well … and I believe in a right to freedom of speech. However, for me as a Christian, the question doesn’t end on the matter of rights. There remains the question of how we should morally use our right. And as a Christian, I’m aware that moral life doesn’t stop with rights, it continues. Because there is an issue that arises as to whether sometimes I should waive my right or, in this case, although I have a legal right to be gratuitously insulting to Muslims, I believe I have a moral obligation not to. And I actually think the Charlie Hebdo people didn’t have a good reason to do what they did. But I do notice that no one in public raised the issue of the morality of the use of rights. And as a Christian who believes that there are certain moral realities, and that there are obligations as well as rights, I found … I made that contribution and to my knowledge, I was the only person to make it.