April 22, 2011


Making religious beliefs positive instead of divisive

Notre Dame President

Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins.

"How can our religious convictions and our religious institutions be a vibrant, constructive force for good in our national life, rather than a source of acrimony and divisiveness?" asked Rev. John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame.

He began his April 14 lecture on "Faith in a Pluralistic Society" by describing the current political age. "Ideological differences seem more extreme, positions more entrenched, battles more acrimonious, compromise less common, friendly social relations among members of different parties more rare, and attacks on political opponents more personal," said Jenkins.

He noted that one of the many factors that have contributed to the current polarization is the rise of religious and moral issues in public debate. Jenkins says that when these debates focus on "the moral core of our lives," it becomes too easy for the debate to become unproductive.

Jenkins referred to Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, whose religious backgrounds brought positive social behaviors onto the world. He acknowledged that religious convictions correlate with less tolerance for differing views, but that abolishing it would also eliminate the positives it brings to our society.

So what do we do? Jenkins offered several recommendations:

• Religious convictions must not be co-opted by partisan political interests.

• Practice tolerant humility and tolerant charity.

• Recognize the central power of witness.

Jenkins' visit was part of a collaboration between Emory's Candler School of Theology and the Aquinas Center of Theology.

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