Saturday, February 28, 2009


Faith needs a freedom agenda (My contribution to the Convention on Modern Liberty). Genuine faith – in God, in the good, in people and in the future of our planet – grows through freedom, depends upon freedom to keep it honest, and can contribute to the shared openness and strived-for equality that is part of our free flourishing.

More on Christianity and the limits and opportunities of 'rights'-based discourses and practices here.


Anonymous said...

"Where, then, are we starting in terms of faith? The reality is that we now live in a mixed belief society..."

One place we're pretty much all starting from is identifying faith with belief. I've found that faith and other major aspects of spiritual life such as love and ego can be known and understood as experiences independent of doctrine. And I think that this is where, potentially, the interfaith movement could really come together.

Simon Barrow said...

I can sympathise with this view, but I think your understanding of 'doctrine' is pejorative. There is a negative here, from which the term 'doctrinaire' emerges. But the codifying of experiences of faith as belief is also about cohering different experiences with one another and with larger pictures of the world. This is very desirable if an arbitrariness of individual experience (which can be equally oppressive to the collective versions) is to be avoided. I think both those who divide religion and spirituality struggle to see this, because their paradigm is that of the autonomous individual; whereas those who collapse the two too readily lose the personal in the institutional. We need a conversation and dialogue, not a confrontation or separation.

Anonymous said...


Your approach on this issue has a lot in common I suspect with that of Chris Marshall. In the preface to his book Crowned with Glory and Honor: Human Rights in the Biblical Tradition.

Chris argues that human rights is deeply grounded in the biblical story and that it validates the modern quest of respect human rights. It also offers a corrective to the tendency to conceive human relationships as a negotiated truce in the battle of competing claims.

On the previous issue raised: I am not sure what an experience independent of doctrine would be ... surely we need ideas and assumptions about the character of the world if we are to name an experience?

Anonymous said...

To my mind there is an interesting and important distinction between those believers from every faith tradition who are capable of dialog and those who are not. For the former, belief is a positive; for the latter, it's often a negative and becomes doctrinaire, dogmatic or even fanatical. You might say that instead of seeking to identify themselves with God, such believers often identify God with themselves and their own positions without realizing it.

Such unconsciousness is the kind of thing that I find can be fruitfully addressed by codifying experiences of faith (and love and certain other essentials) as insights that organize and make sense of important aspects of our experience in the larger world. This can be done by means of concepts that stick close to experience itself, “packaging” it coherently without reference to doctrine.

To my mind this approach holds potential for real and substantial interfaith unity by pointing to significant areas of common ground that we share regardless of doctrine. The realities of individual human experience are not arbitrary if looked at closely enough – we have too much in common for that to be possible. And although here I’m speaking in abstract terms, I’ve addressed it in specific terms. Indeed, until recently I’d thought that this would be an aspect of my life’s work; however, my health situation seems to be closing down my possibilities.