In the first event resulting from a partnership between Regent College and Hong Kong University’s Faith and Global Engagement Initiative, Paul Williams (Executive Director of the Marketplace Institute) gave an insightful lecture regarding the nature of public discourse and Christianity’s role in the public sphere. Williams argues for a religious secularism in which the state serves humanity, in part, by helping to set the tone of public debate. Such an environment would enable religious faith to be freely expressed in the public arena and therefore allow it to contribute to the common good.
While some Christians may argue against pluralism, Williams shows how public secularism has its roots in Christianity and can function in a positive way. Indeed, a society such as the one Williams is describing would allow Christians to operate freely in public as they:
- Serve the common good of humanity by helping all parts of creation flourish
- Persuade others of the Christian vision (but not violate the individual’s God-given freedom to choose their own way)
- Serve Christ by serving the weak and the vulnerable
Furthermore, Williams shows the benefit not just to Christians and other religious groups but to society as a whole. Williams particularly identifies how our inability to address many modern day trials lies in a lack of not technical or scientific expertise but wisdom. As such, allowing religious voices into public sphere debates can ally the forces of religious wisdom with scientific and religious expertise. Indeed, as the members of society deserving equality, the voices of the religious deserve to be heard. So, while some desire to suppress conflicting views out of the desire for peace, it is only through genuine debate that we will regain the moral vision and moral reform necessary to face the world’s enormous challenges.
The lecture was followed by a series of incisive questions which further draw out Williams’ understanding of how the public arena should function.