George F. Will on Religion and Politics

Former Blogger Jed Baer sent me an email New Year’s Eve with a link to a recent speech given by George F. Will at St. Louis’ Washington University for their John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics.  I respect Mr. Will quite a bit, having quoted him numerous times on this blog including the entire text of his keynote speech at the Cato Institute’s biennial Milton Friedman Prize dinner from May of 2010.  I won’t do that again, even though I have much better PDF version of this speech from which to work than I had of the previous one.  No, this time I’ll just embed the video.

Mr. Will explains that he is “secular,” by which I assume he means small-“a” atheist or agnostic, but his defense of religion in America had me nodding along throughout the speech.  If you’re interested in this topic, I highly recommend the speech and Q&A that follows:

I will excerpt a short bit, though, to whet your appetite:

When people today speak of nature, they generally speak of flora and fauna, of trees and animals and other things not human.  But the Founders spoke of nature as a guide to and and a measure of human action.  They thought of nature not as something merely to be manipulated for human convenience, but rather as a source of norms to be discovered.  They understood that natural rights could not be asserted, celebrated and defended unless nature, including human nature, is regarded as a normative rather than a merely contingent fact.

This was a view buttressed by the teaching of biblical religion,  that nature is not chaos, but rather it is the replacement of chaos reflecting the mind and will of the Creator.   This is the creator who endows us with natural rights, that are inevitable, inalienable, and universal, and hence the foundation of democratic equality.  And these natural rights are the foundation of limited government, government defined by the limited goal of securing those rights so that individuals may flourish in the free and responsible exercise of those rights.

A government thus limited is not in the business of imposing its opinions about what happiness or what excellence the citizens should choose to pursue.  Having such opinions is the business of other institutions, private and voluntary institutions, especially religious ones that supply the conditions of liberty.   Thus the Founders did not consider natural rights reasonable because religion affirmed them, rather the Founders considered religion reasonable because it secured natural rights.

There may, however, be a cultural contradiction in modernity.  The contradiction is that while religion can sustain liberty, liberty does not necessarily sustain religion.  This is of paramount importance because the seminal importance of the Declaration of Independence.

And he goes on to explain why.

Worth your ninety minutes.

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