Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Religion and the Secular Conscience

Here is an interesting Newsweek article, and some bits I thought were interesting:

We often hear that some new scientific discovery has confirmed ancient religious teaching. It now appears that this hearkening back has gone full circle, and modern religion is coming around to ancient secular wisdom.

At the recent "Seeds of Compassion" event in Seattle, the Dalai Lama spoke of three paths to compassion and moral development in children: the theistic path of the Abrahamic faiths, the non-theistic religious path of Buddhism, and the "secular, scientific" approach. Surrounded by brain researchers and empirical psychologists, he recommended this secular way as the most promising. For some time he has held that if any tenet of Buddhism contradicts contemporary science, science must trump.

Religious belief has become optional. No longer is it the inevitable, default state. This is the major theme of "A Secular Age," the latest work by Charles Taylor, a renowned philosopher and believing Christian.

The realities of free societies in a globalized world make any given creed but one among many in a marketplace of belief. Unable to compel adherence to the One True Way, the many ways are compelled to compete for adherents. As the sociologist of religion Alan Wolfe observed recently, such encounters with modernity can have a profoundly moderating effect: "As religious leaders recognize that they are more likely to swell their ranks through persuasion than through coercion, they find themselves accepting such secular ideas as free will and individual autonomy."

What believers are rediscovering is the central moral priority of individuals' own uncoerced choices about what we have most reason to think and do. The future of religion, then, will depend on the oldest of secular traditions: the freedom of conscience.

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