Craig Calhoun thinks Christianity has something important to offer the public conversation.
What does Christianity have to offer public conversations today?
Well it offers lots of different language, that’s a first thing. And we draw on a history of religious metaphors and images and poetry. For example, the idea of exodus and the exodus story, of moving into freedom from slavery, mattered for those who fought actual slavery in the early 19th century and still fight slavery around the world today. But it matters also metaphorically for people who imagine a better life, free from some ways in which they’re being dominated. And there are other examples of how the poetry of religious language matters.
But religion also matters because it calls attention to the nature of our relationships with each other and our relationships to the world. Sometimes we could think of these as secular, but we could see a religious meaning to the secular – for example, a moral obligation to act with stewardship towards nature and to say it’s not just a bunch of stuff that’s there with no value, it has value as part of God’s creation and we have obligations to use it carefully and to take care of it, to steward it for the future.
And that extends into ideas about relationships with each other. Religion informs being able to think better about our obligations to those who are less well off; to be able to think better about our obligations to those who have not yet been born, and to the future. Do we use up all the natural resources, do we damage the planet irrevocably, or do we feel that we have a kind of moral obligation to the future? Well, we gain an ability to be articulate about these things in part from religious traditions. And we see this exemplified, for example, in the popularity of the Pope and his ability to not only write encyclicals about these things but in a sense touch people, and move them.