In this episode, Kurt interviews Dr. Richard Park on his recent publication, which seeks to provide a model for constructing civility in a pluralistic society.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. Yet again, so nice to be with you here on Saturday afternoon here in West Chicago. Last week, I predicted or observed that spring was here. Chris laughed me and Chris was right. Spring hadn’t quite come, but it’s close isn’t it Chris?
Kurt: I hope it’s around the corner. I hope. It was nice, I didn’t have to wear a coat. It was just very nice. At any rate, spring is around the corner.
Chris: It’s somewhere.
Kurt: It’s somewhere. Chris is pleasantly, Chris walked here to the office today.
Chris: I did. It’s beautiful.
Kurt: Yes. I drove and it’s still cold. Speaking of cold though, April 14 in Connecticut, the Defenders Media team will be doing apologetics and evangelism, a one-day seminar there in West Hartford, Connecticut, and I say speaking of cold because it’s probably colder in Connecticut than it is here in West Chicago, so that was the shameless transition for those that were wondering. If you want to learn more about that event, you can go to the Defendersconference.com. Ted Wright will be there. I’ll be there. David Montoya and Richard Porter and we’ll be speaking on not just regular areas in apologetics for training purposes, but also the theme there is apologetics and evangelism so talking about the importance of integrating apologetics in how we share the gospel with people and doing so in a winsome way, not in a way that is demeaning to people or belittling, but a way that really engages people and wins them over to Christ. I know our guest today has spoken on that topic, but that’s not what he’s here to talk about today, and before I introduce him let me say this, if you are following the livestream you can share the livestream and win this book, Constructing Civility: The Human Good and Christian and Islamic Political Theologies by today’s guest, Dr. Richard Park. He is the assistant professor of religion and ethics at Vanguard University and he also runs the Renaissance group. I like to at least consider him my friend, Rich Park, thanks for joining us on the show today.
Rich: Good to be with you, Kurt. I also definitely consider you a friend.
Kurt: Great. Glad that we got that out of the way. We are set to go. Let’s just call the show to an end shall we?
Rich: Well done.
Kurt: Constructing Civility. This was a project you spent many years on. I was one of the few people to even copy edit it for you and so I’m very excited that we could after a few months of making sure we could schedule this episode, I’m very happy that the day’s finally arrived where we can talk about this book.
Rich: Absolutely. So glad to join you. If there are any typographical errors in the book therefore…
Kurt: Blame me.
Rich: No. Not at all.
Kurt: Okay. First, I know having read the book cover to cover myself, I already know what it’s about, but help explain to those that are unfamiliar with your work and your scholarship here, give us the origin story. What got you interested in studying Catholic social thought and Islamic political ethics, specifically in the Philippines. What got you interested in that?
Rich: Yeah. First, let me just start of by saying, Kurt, thank you really for this opportunity to share about this book and about the research there. I know we’ve been friends for a long while now which I’m blessed by but also really good to see how much of your work has launched there with Veracity Hill and Defenders Media, the similar work that you’re doing, and I was privileged to be a part of your conference last year and it’s really cool to see all that you’re doing there. May God keep it up.
Kurt: Thank you.
Rich: But as far as my interest in Catholic and Christian/Islamic relations, it really started because I was more interested in understanding why it is that societies modernize, they also tend to secularize. Is that a necessary sort of trend? I began with that in mind, trying to understand religion in society, known as the secularization theory, but I quickly realized that the theology faculty at Oxford wanted us to do a case study, right, in a particular area and so I chose an area that I had some familiarity with and some experience with in the Philippines and as it began looking at the Philippines I noticed that a much more pressing issue in addition to secularization was Muslim-Christian relations. It had the second longest-running conflict in human history just next to the Sudan and because of that, I thought this is an issue I would love to look at as well. It turns out that secularization impacts Muslim-Christian relations just as much as anything else, just as much as their own theology. It turned out I was able to use both in my work, but yeah. I was in the southern Philippines once, about a month before they had a citywide siege by militant Muslims and doing some research there and interviewing Muslim imams and Catholic bishops and all the rest, just a month later the whole city was under siege and I just thought, “Wow. What a challenge and yet what an opportunity to draw from these experiences and the wisdom of Phiippino experts on this area”, and you don’t hear that much about that sort of thing because that’s the way the world is, but I’m thankful to…and[NP1] many other people that I’ve had a chance to interview. Broad picture is we need to think about how Muslims and Christians can actually co-exist peaceably in a political context.
Kurt: And just to clarify here, what your project is is traditionally an apologetics, when we think of Christian apologetics to Islam, it’s looking at the worldview, it’s criticizing its merits and such. That’s not your intended goal here, to clarify at the outset. Your intended goal is to come up with a theory for how Christians and Muslims specifically, although it applies broader than that, can peaceably coexist together in a society and what are those joining beliefs, what are those overlapping beliefs where we might be able to find that common ground. Is that right?
Rich: Yes. That’s absolutely the case. I’m not interested in the cases of religious pluralism or theological pluralism. I have a view on that, but I’m particularly interested in political pluralism. How do we, aside from antagonizing one another on, I won’t name the news outlets or the Facebook folks, but rather than antagonizing, how do we actually construct a civility, because at the end of the day, there will continue to be many Muslims, many Christians, and many other religious adherents, so how do we actually construct some framework for peace. I want to suggest both Christians and Muslims as well as secularists, atheists, naturalists, humanists, they want to talk about the common good as a way forward. I found after reading dozens and dozens of books and articles and so forth that there doesn’t really seem to be a common good. At least if nothing else…[NP2] to the fact that there are multiple claims to the common good, and yet how could a common good exist if all such claims are somewhere close to the truth. I suggest another route.
Kurt: Yeah. Okay. We’ve already used a few terms here and we might have to backtrack and clarify what we mean when we use these terms. You mentioned the word, secularization. What is secularization and how do you see it in our modern societies today, specifically with regard to say Western civilization.
Rich: Sure. As one of my mentors likes to suggest, there’s really an important difference between secularism, secularization, and secularity. Secularization is something that happens as countries tend to modernize they also undergo this pluralization. When Augustine used the word secular, we talk about secular music and so forth, it’s actually not a bad thing at all. Secular just means plural. It doesn’t mean profane. When we say “This is secular music”, it doesn’t mean songs that have cuss words in it. Secular just means of this age and so if that’s true, and as Jesus said among wheat and tares. There’s always going to be a plural existence. Secularization just means that there’s a country that goes from one particular religious worldview to multiple religious worldviews. Secularization does take place as countries modernize because of immigration and migration and so forth. Secularism, that’s a whole different animal. That’s something whereby you’ve got a political doctrine that’s looking to put all religious thought, action, and beliefs into the private sphere. That’s where we find trouble in secularism. Secularity is just the social fact that we live in a plural existence. That’s all.
Kurt: So one example here to sort of bring this point home in our country today might be the distinction between the freedom of religion vs. the freedom of worship where some people are implying by freedom of worship that that’s something that you do in that building once a week and don’t bring that over to this sphere of society. Is that a good example? Are there other examples where this might be contrasted?
Rich: No. I think that’s probably the best case scenario. It’s sort of like “As long as you keep what you believe in between one ear and the other and the doors of the sanctuary, temple, whathaveyou, then you’re free to do what you will,” but freedom of religion is actually a much more robust whole life approach to here’s what I believe. It should inform where I shop to how I vote. Freedom of religion, you’re right, it’s a far different thing from freedom of corporate worship.
Kurt: And it was Abraham Kuyper who noted that there’s not an inch on the Earth that God doesn’t claim “That’s mine.” Something like that. Right?
Rich: That’s right. Not one square in the whole of human existence over which Christ Jesus does not cry out, “Mine.”
Kurt: That’s that principle there that when Christians go to church on Sunday, it’s not something that they just do and they leave it at the door. In fact, the apostle Paul talks about being transformed by the renewing of our mind and that applies into everything that we do and how we live our lives. Alright. Secularism is a growing phenomena, especially over in Europe, moreso than here in the United States. Nevertheless, we do see it encroaching in our halls of power, in our news reporting, and in our music. What are your concerns with secularism though? How do you believe that secularism fails to provide good grounds for retaining the religious ethos of a society? That’s kind of a complex question.
Rich: I appreciate it. If we want to keep religion in public life, we’re going to have to do the work of actually recognizing that secularism is, in fact, a dogma. It’s a doctrine. It’s not neutral. Secularism has teeth and it bites.
Kurt: I like it. I like what you’re saying.
Rich: And it tends to neglect the fact that we by nature are religious animals. Since the beginning of humanity we can see that there’s been a religious bent towards the divine, the transcendent that we’ve all exhibited. It’s the case today. What secularism is tend to cut off those religious resources. The resources on one hand as one of our friends and a mentor of mine, Dr. Os Guinness says, we’ve got this whole thick layering of civil society, everything from hospitals actually to universities and then this plethora of NGOs, who just think, International Justice Division, there’s so much that religion offers in terms of resources, but if you’re a secularist, you also tend to be someone who actually is undemocratic, because you don’t allow religious voices to be heard. There’s a deep danger there as well.
the secularist, like you said, secularism isn’t neutral. Inasmuch as someone
might think that they’re being neutral, they are still putting forth an ethic,
a morality, and what do secularists say is the ground of that morality? Where
do they get that sense of morality? Where does it come from?
Rich: Right, for secularists, arguably there may not be such a ground. Sam Harris does some work in trying to argue for something there. Moral theory’s a huge area that I’m not necessarily going to go down for the show, but it’s worth pointing out that not just ethicists but folks like Steven Pinker who talks about the stupidity of dignity. It’s very difficult to talk about human dignity and equal rights on a purely naturalist, secularist framework. We have someone like Peter Singer, I actually once had a chance to meet him during my doctoral program. He came to an ethics seminar that I was a part of and I had one question I wanted to ask him and so our professor asked us to come up with a question and so when he came over at Christchurch there in Oxford, I remember asking the question. I said, “Dr. Singer, with all due respect I understand you hold to some utilitarianism, some kind of view that as long as everyone gets their preferences, everyone’s happy.” We live in a flourishing world. I asked him this hypothetical, but just to make the point as sometimes philosophy does, I said, “Suppose we had a world in which 50% of all of humanity were what we call sadists, people who take pleasure from inflicting pain on others, and then the other 50% of the world were then masochists, they take pleasure in receiving pain from other people. Do we now have a flourishing world because we’re maximizing our preferences?” He paused for a bit and there was a bit of a pin drop moment there and he said, “I would have to say, yes, this is a morally flourishing world.” That’s just staggering. One thing we can say about Peter Singer is that he’s consistent. This sort of consistency is tragic, but he is consistent. That’s sort of the road we head down I believe when we talk about the grounds of equal rights. There’s another author in the U.K., there’s a couple, but one person in particular, his name escapes me, but he’s a pretty famous philosopher, would also talk about you just can’t have equal rights on this kind of framework. He at least admits it…[NP3] he’s an Italian philosopher, says the same thing. There are some people who are consistent in admitting about this, but, yeah.
Kurt: It seems that it leads them to what we would view as absurd conclusions. Before I talk about or ask you about maybe human rights and things like that. Let me first get this question out of the way. The claim of secularists is that bringing religious beliefs into political discourse is harmful. Who are you to impose your morality on someone else? What should be the Christian’s response to an accusation like that?
Rich: Yes. I think there’s a couple things we could point out. One is let’s look at the facts and the other one is let’s talk about the danger. Right? On the facts, whenever a state, regime, seeks to repress religious belief, what happens is there’s usually a backlash. One of two things happen. One is a marrying of church and state and then all minorities get persecuted, or there’s such a backlash from the religious population that it seeks to overthrow the state. There’s some very good statistics. There’s a book by Monica Duffy Toft and a couple of others, Dan Philpott and Tim Shaw, the three authors, it’s called God’s Century and they just map out all of this sort of thing and I used that book in my research as well. They have statistics on that. On the other hand, the concept of what a democratic state. If we have a democratic state what does it mean for someone to live authentically democratically? It means they vote their conscience first and foremost and if they vote their conscience, what is their conscience, but what’s informed by their religious convictions. I believe in the crucial of pointing out the facts. We’re going to be talking about religious wars or persecution, and on the other hand we have conceptually a reason to be careful of an undemocratic religious repression.
Kurt: I see Jonathan who’s following us here online. He notes that this is self-defeating for the secularist to say that because he writes, “Aren’t they just imposing their morality onto you?” Jonathan, I think that’s a good point because as we previously noted, even the secularist has an ethical framework, or a worldview. What’s the good old German word for worldview? Weltanschauung? I think.
Rich: Yeah. It’s kind of Greek to me, but I know what you’re talking about.
Kurt: That’s right. Whether it’s the devout religious Mormon or whether it’s the secular agnostic, each person still has a worldview wherein they have ethical beliefs and so as Dr. Park is pointing out here, if we’re going to have a truly democratic society, we have to be comfortable and recognize that people are going to vote based upon their ethical framework. I don’t know what you think, Rich, but maybe we should just try to modify the language game. Right? Instead of imposing religious beliefs, we’re just voting our ethical framework. Maybe that would stave off some of the objections?
Rich: Yeah. I like that. Some might say to that, “That’s being disingenuous. You’re trying to be deceptive”, but actually what I think is going on there is you’re being one, diplomatic, but two, you’re actually engaging with language that people can actually access and grab a hold of and at the end of the day, we don’t go around all the time talking about in religious terms, I’ll order a Big Mac. We don’t say “I’ll take part of God’s creation that’s been manufactured in a way that’s edible.” Why should we do that? Let’s invite rather than repel. I like that, an ethical framework.
Kurt: Nice. Write it in your next book then.
Rich: You might have to help me copy-edit that again.
Kurt: Right. I want to ask what are, to me that seems to be the biggest concern against secularism. It’s sort of self-defeating and it doesn’t come to the solution, at least, it supposedly wants to. What do you think are some of the other shortcomings of secularism?
Rich: Well, there’s quite a bit. Right? But I think as far as it concerns the purposes of my book here, I think that the main concern is that there seems to be no in principle reason why a purely secularist society wouldn’t lead to some sort of micro or macro anarchy. Again, there’s arguments on both sides of this. I actually know a real-live anarchist myself.
Kurt: They exist!
Rich: He’s actually a very thoughtful one. I think he’s over at Oxford, in fact. I kid you not. I think he’s still there, I believe. My point being the reason that we have, give you an example slightly outside our area of conversation. Many years ago, maybe ten years ago or so, there were some Christians and conservative thinkers and political thinkers on the issue of homosexual marriage. Without even going into all the details, in short, it wasn’t just Christians, it just happened to be Christian thinkers as well as some other conservatives, and they wrote against gay marriage. Soon after that, there were a couple folks in our neck of the woods down here in California, these liberal scholars were writing in favor of gay marriage. In response, they would say, “Look. There’s a difficulty here because if we allow for gay marriage, we’re then going to allow for all sorts of marriages” and they would say, “Oh no. Don’t get carried away, you Christians. You conservatives, you always get carried away. We’re just asking for two people who have consensual relations and mutual love and exclusive love for them to be married.” Well, fast forward a few years later to the Supreme Court Obergefell decision a couple years ago and the day after the Obergefell decision, you may remember, I believe there were three different cases in the courts seeking to allow for Thruples. Robert George and a few others wrote back saying to these scholars in San Diego, “What did we say about this gay marriage idea leading to many other types of marriages?” Their response in an article titled, The More, The Merrier, was, as you can imagine, very telling. They owned up to it. The simple point is when you don’t discriminate so to speak or don’t differentiate between marriages that are of a authentic kind and then marriages that are of our own devising, then how can we in principle stop others from maximizing their happiness if their preference happens to be polygamy or homosexuality or for that matter sadly and tragically, bestiality?
Kurt: It has consequences and we are witnessing those consequences. As you noted, you’ve got an acquaintance who is a full-out anarchist and secularization, when taken to the extreme, gets to that position, but I think these manifest examples really prove the point that we are living and witnessing the secularization of the west and this is troublesome and problematic and we need to learn an alternative, we need to relearn, an alternative perspective for what you call seeking the human good. That’s my teaser. We’ve got to take a short break here, but in the second half of the show we’re going to talk about what is this human good and what does that mean? What about rights? Those sorts of things, and getting more into Catholic and Islamic thought. Before the break here, don’t forget share this livestream video and you could win this book, Constructing Civility by Dr. Richard Park, so stick with us through this short break from our sponsors.
Kurt: Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors. If you’re interested in learning how you can become a sponsor, you can go to our website veracityhill.com/patron. There are a number of different sponsorship opportunities there. You can get your logo, if you want to promote a book or a business, something like that, an event, upon the website you can do that. There are thirty-second ad opportunities. You hear a couple of those during ever program. We’d love to get your support for this program to help us reach more people week after week by offering them topics in all sorts of different areas of life, all falling within a Christian framework though. As our motto says, we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society, and to that end we are bringing you scholars from different areas to help us think through these difficult topics and on today’s show we have Dr. Richard Park who’s the assistant professor of religion and ethics at Vanguard University and we’re here talking about his recent publication Constructing Civility, and if you want to win a copy, all you have to do is share the livestream video and you will be entered to win this very copy. We’ve got a couple other ones available for a huge discount of $25 each and if you are interested in buying a copy, we’ve only got two others available at $25. You can get in touch with Dr. Park actually. You can go to his Facebook public figure page, Rich Stephen Park is the handle there on Facebook.
Rich. Before we get back to our discussion, we have a segment on the show that we like to call Rapid Questions.
Rich: Oh boy.
Kurt: Yes. This was a surprise wasn’t it? I didn’t tell you about this, did I?
Rich: I actually did listen to one other episode where you had this, but I don’t recall the types of questions.
Kurt: Great! We’ve got sixty seconds here. I’m gonna start the clock and when I do I’ll read off the first question. Are you ready?
Rich: Probably not, but I’ve got no choice it seems.
Kurt: Here we go. What is your clothing store of choice?
Bell or KFC?
Rich: Geez. Taco Bell.
Kurt: What school did you go to?
Rich: What school? Oxford.
Kurt: Where would you like to live? Socal?
Kurt: What’s your favorite sport?
Kurt: What kind of razor do you use?
Rich: I actually use an electric one.
Kurt: What is your spouse’s favorite holiday?
Rich: Holiday? Probably, it’s actually not Christmas.
Kurt: It’s a tricky one.
Rich: I’m gonna go with Valentine’s.
Kurt: That’s a safe bet. That’s always a safe bet. Alright. Do you drink Dr. Pepper?
Kurt: Occasionally, and last question, have you ever driven on the other side of the road?
Rich: I have in fact, in the U.K.
Kurt: I guess if you went to Oxford, yeah, you’d eventually drive on the other side of the road? Nice. Thank you for playing that round of Rapid Questions. I see you got a little tripped up there with the favorite holiday question.
Rich: That’s a good point. I know it’s not Christmas, because she doesn’t like the end of the year because it’s just a year passing kind of thing.
Kurt: We’ll just have to ask Christine.
Rich: I think we’ll have to do that. Yeah.
Kurt: That’s alright. You went with the very safe bet, Valentine’s Day. You can’t go wrong there. Alright. Next, I want to get back into our discussion here and while Rich is going to talk about the human good here, I want you first to help us understand what do people, in political philosophy there’s talk of doing the greatest good for the greatest amount of people, sort of the utilitarian approach. Usually the scope of that statement is for the common good, but you contrast the common good with the human good and I’m wondering if you could flesh that out for us. Give us maybe a backdrop here to what the common good is in political philosophy and why that is insufficient for your intended goal.
Rich: That’s a fair question. Thanks, Kurt. This gets a little technical, but I hope the folks on Instagram or here on Veracity Hill might appreciate a couple of distinctions here. There’s something known as the aggregate common good and this is where you just take something like a bunch of stock investors, you pull all their money together, you put that into the stock market, and you hope to make a dividend. That’s kind of like utilitarianism. We’ve got a bunch of people who want good things in their life, and let’s just bring them all together, aggregate them, and then try to push forward with that. There’s probably not too many, that’s one idea. The second idea is called the associative common good. Right? It’s like a string quarter. You can’t have the good of a quartet without having each member there, but once you have each of the members there, all four produce a sound that is far better than what they can produce on their own, so they are associated in that way and so it’s an associative common good. The problem I find, and I think like building highways is a type of associative common good because you’ve got the people actually laying cement and then you’ve got people who are actually paying for it and so forth. There’s nothing with that. We need highways and so forth, but I like to refer to these as common goods. These are goods that we hold in common and we can share them in that way. The problem comes when they move from mere kind of like cement and so forth to actual values. When you try to build a common good around values, the problem enters where Catholics or Christians or even secularists will say we’re the ones to tell you we’re aiming for the common good. Muslims talk about this notion of Maslahah which is also the common good, but when you’ve got secularists and Catholics and Muslims talking about the common good, is it really common and therefore is it really good? My argument is simply that we have, I’ve read hundreds of articles and books, there’s very few people who actually give an articulation of what the common good is. They use it all the time, but what is it actually? The problem I suggest is when you look at the Catholic worldview, the common good is underpinned by natural law. When you look at the Islamic worldview, it’s underpinned by Islamic law, and so for that very reason these are going to at the fundamental basis conflict, and so how do we talk about something other than this elusive common good and instead talk about what Aristotle referred to as the human good or human flourishing or the end or the good of a human life. Just like a hammer has a certain good to it. It’s got to be hard. It’s got to be pretty heavy, but not too heavy for you to carry so forth. That’s the good of a hammer, which is to end up hammering nails. Same thing goes for microwaves, cars, and anything else. We too have a good of how we function best and I like to cache that out into three main attributes of being relational, rational, and purposive. It takes me about 300 some pages to do that. I think that’s what we need to do and that is what is to be a human person and what is it to live a flourishing human life?
Kurt: So what would that look like then for a people to seek out the human good?
Rich: Right. One instance in which we can start talking about this is for example, specifically with Muslims and Christian conversations, take for example polygamy. When you talk about polygamy and you talk about the human good of relationality. You now without even having to reference Scripture, any holy book, you can start talking about how humans are meant to be in relationships and what does it mean to be in equal relationship and this sort of thing? Once you talk about relationality as part of the human good, you have some resources to begin those kinds of conversations. Another example would be racism, or just think of dehumanization, from Jim Crow laws to the second World War, these are the tactics that people have to take in order to actually get away with murdering millions of people. First, dehumanize them in order to no longer see them as worthy or equal, having the whole good, so then we simply are to do with them as we do with objects. I think it’s very abstract, I admit. This is an academic book written for an academic audience, a semi-academic audience. I think….
Kurt: If I can read it, then anyone can read it.
Rich: I don’t know if we can say that, but I do think that my publishers helped me make the book accessible to people who are just interested in talking about Muslim-Christian relations in a way that’s no longer so polarizing and so stagnating. I think we don’t get anywhere. We get a bunch of hot steam blown out and we feel good about ourselves, but do we actually make progress? It’s the issue that I’m, yeah.
Kurt: Great. Wonderful transition to the next question. What does Catholic social teaching have to do with Islamic political ethics?
Rich: That’s good. One would think not too much. Right? I think the short of it from where I stand is again the notion of the human good, which can be cached out in Catholic terms as the imago dei or the image of God, and then in Islamic terms, this notion of fitra, which is admitted a very particular gloss of the word fitrah, but there are other Muslim scholars who are bona fide thinkers on this matter and I’m actually drawing on the work of a couple of other different scholars…[NP4] who are with Emory and Virginia UVA respectively, but these are Muslim scholars who actually, because they stake their lives on this, decided they had to leave.
Kurt: Yeah. Literally stake their lives. You’re not using that figuratively.
Rich: Not at all. They had to leave the Middle East, flee, because they were trying to make an argument that would bring about peace, but certain militant Muslim thinkers on this issue were looking to end their lives and so these aren’t just people who would not only have thought of some creative ideas of how to bring about pluralism, but actually believe it to their very lives. I think we need to take these ideas very seriously and that’s what I do in my book.
Kurt: And so tell us a little bit more about fitra and that concept since I’m sure it’s, a lot of Christians might understand the image of God. Yeah. I’ve got a general idea, but what is this fitra about?
Rich: Fitra can be roughly translated in Islamic context as original human disposition, or human nature. Some might go so far to say human dignity. There’s a big debate about what fitra really means, but at the very least we can say it has to do with something that’s inherent in us. One of the key ideas about fitra is most Muslims would say, “But we can never be made in the image of God because God is so otherworldly. He’s so transcendent”, and most Christians know this about Muslims too. Muslims, there’s not comfortable with that sort of language in image. It turns out, it’s getting a little bit technical, in the most authentic reporting of the sayings and life of the prophet Muhammad, this is called the hadiths, but Al-Bhukari, the most authentic hadith, actually talks about being made in God’s image. Believe it or not, it’s not in the Qu’ran admittedly which is the most reliable source for Islamic thinking, but the hadith, the Al-Bhukar in particular, does talk about it, and I reference that in one of my footnotes I think, but the idea is that we are made in, it seems, the image of God in both religious contexts, certainly in the Christian one, and even if it’s not so much in the Muslim one, you at least have an understanding of how we are made and that nature is something that’s universal, it’s something that actually looks to God, and it’s something that knows how to recognize and respect the good in the other, and so that’s a very close, they have to sort of maybe argue some sort of strong resonance or resemblance to the image of God idea as well as this notion, Aristotle, of the human good, I just think most Muslims would take Aristotle before they would take, say, the author of Genesis.
Kurt: Sure. So at it’s most basic understanding, fitra would say that every human being, Muslim or not, has a value because they are a creature of the creator, and in Catholic social teaching, the same thing, that whether you’re Catholic, Christian, or non, there is human value because we are creatures of the creator. Good so far? Right?
Kurt: So then what you’ve done is here is said, “Let’s look at these two different systems and say ‘Look. They believe at a base level, and so this provides a good ground for constructing a theory for society and how we should be civil in our legislation, in our interactions with one another, etc.’ “. Is that good?
Rich: Yeah. Absolutely. That is the heart of what I’m arguing. The sooner we get to talking about the human person rather than this elusive common good, I think the quicker we will be able to bring that into actual public policy as well as political peace.
Kurt: Great. Next question is about that. The sooner we can talk about the human person, the sooner the better. While you had this case study of looking at these issues in an area in the Phillippines, the observations that you’re making surely go broader than that and there are real-life applications for us today in America so tell me more about what those implications might be, practical ways for us common folks that might be not necessarily always on top of political discussion or even have the ability to bring about political change.
Rich: Sure. Absolutely. That’s an important topic here and again, this book is written in a way that, sure, it’s going to hopefully help a few scholars and acamedicians in this conversation, but it’s also written for the person who has a Muslim neighbor or a Christian neighbor if you’re a Muslim, and you just want to contribute to the peace of your society, the welfare of your city, and I think one key, I have a friend of mine, a Muslim friend, who is probably one of the nicest guys I’ve ever known. Christian or not, doesn’t matter.
Kurt: Nicer than a Mormon?
Rich: Yes, in fact, and maybe even nicer than Kevin, one of your producers. He’s just an amazing, amazing man of character. He and I have this sort of secret mission or ambition to go to as many mosques and churches as we can and not even put on, I met him during a doctoral program at Oxford, but not put on a big academic summit or anything, but simply show we can be friends, simply show that we have a lot more in common than we do in difference. That’s one huge thing. There are kind of YouTube videos of these young girls. I think they’re best friends, Jewish and Muslim girl, and they’re doing great things. I think we need more of that. Yes, there are some real tragedies that we need to look at and we’re doing that, probably too good a job of that, but I think we in our world, in our modern mass media world, we often times become what we behold and if we constantly behold tragedy after tragedy, not to neglect those, but if all that’s what we’re holding, then we begin to pattern ourselves after it. Life is supposed to be imitated by art, but it ends up life imitates art. We’ve got to be careful what we put out, not to neglect it, not to hide it, but if we uphold and therefore behold beautiful stories of actual friendship, more than interfaith dialogue forums, I believe in friendship forums. There’s a Catholic bishop who gathered every year, paid for the government, these interfaith dialogue forms, and they had twenty-four Muslim thinkers and twenty-four Catholic thinkers and they all brought them together for years. The government was paying. At one point, it was just so hot, the A/C was broken, and they said, “Why don’t we just go to the beach and do our discussion there?” So they went. It wasn’t too far. They went down to the beach and he said that one afternoon at the beach, just hanging out and talking to one another as friends did more than years of interfaith dialogue. I think there’s something very deep to that. We become like the people we like. If we actually spend more time with them, we’ll see that we have much more in common.
Kurt: I imagine for some Christians, they might be thinking, “How can I share the gospel with my Muslim neighbor?” If we just do the friend thing, but its goal is not to share the gospel with them, are we really doing a good for the person whose lost?
Rich: Yeah. That’s a good question. At the Renaissance, the non-profit that we run, we’re all about helping people find their calling and connecting it to culture, but when we look at culture, I think there’s two things for the Christian. There’s the verbal gospel which we do need to, as you’re saying, we need to proclaim the verbal gospel, the truth of Jesus coming to this Earth, dying on the cross for us and giving us eternal life, but there’s also a second thing we talk about at the Renaissance group which is the visual gospel and the visual gospel is painting a picture, it’s helping the Muslim see Christians are loving, kind, I was about to name the news network again, but not that particular kind of spokesperson on that news network.
Kurt: You could have put in a number of different networks I think.
Rich: Right. You probably could have helped, but at the very least to say there is this visual gospel where we just need to paint a picture of beauty, of goodness, of virtue, of kindness, of generosity, of extending ourselves and I think that’s where so much of it begins. Again, going back to my good friend, when he was driving me back home on a very cold winter night in Oxford, I could have taken a bus but he said, “Let me just take you”, and he did and extended his generosity and as soon as we get in his car, he turns on the engine and there’s Justin Bieber blaring through the speakers and I’m “You listen to Justin Bieber?” He’s like, “No. You don’t understand. It’s my son.” And I’m “No. You listen to Justin Bieber.” and so on set this wonderful friendship actually and so I think there’s something about recognizing the good. I’m not saying we’re all made perfect and all we need is a little more chatting, but I do think we’ve gone too far in the other extreme, and that’s what secularism does. It fragments a society and makes us look at each other as strangers, but if we can overcome religious differences through friendship I think we make much progress as needed.
Kurt: That’s great. When you think about what’s the greater evil upon us, I think secularism is near the top. It’s something that all religious people should be wary of and should not embrace. A civic pluralism is far superior to secularism by a long shot. When we’re thinking about how we are to peaceably co-exist and to relate to our neighbors, we need to take that into consideration, otherwise we might find ourselves in a society that is harmful not just to our neighbor’s religion, but our religion as well, and the freedoms we have and employ in our everyday life. We could think of ample court cases where people are being sued because of their following their ethical framework and that seems not, it’s not going to set a good precedent, a literal judicial precedent in the court cases for us if things don’t go the right way. It’s a call for action here for the human good as Dr. Park has mentioned here. Before I let you go, one more time, tell me about the Renaissance group and what you’re doing there.
Rich: Sure. The Renaissance group, it’s an organization aimed at helping people find their calling. We basically put on workshops at different churches and we also do a lot of speaking engagements around town and elsewhere and the idea is, some of our listeners here must be familiar with the Barna Group, which is kind of like the Gallup poll, but they do a lot of stuff specifically for Christians, but the Barna group says that the #1 issue that they see facing the church, the younger generation, is the reason they’re leaving is they don’t see that their faith life is connected up at all to the rest of their life, especially in the area of calling and that’s why the staff at the Renaissance, we work help at trying to help people find their calling,. It’s not just for folks in their 20’s, but folks even in their 50’s and 60’s have come to our workshops and have seen amazing transformation because they now know what they were made to do. We believe that if everyone finds their calling, then there will be a flourishing, a renaissance of culture because they will be excellent in what they’re doing.
Kurt: Dr. Richard Park, thank you so much for joining us on our program today.
Rich: My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
Kurt: Yeah. And if you are interested to learn more about Dr. Park’s work, you can follow him on Facebook. His handle is Rich Stephen Park. You can also go to theren.org to learn about his work there with the Renaissance group. Very neat to have you on the show, Rich, my friend, and I’m glad we could talk about your important work and I hope and pray it’s useful not just for academics, but for many people that are thinking about these issues and so to that end, we’re giving away a free book, right here. All you have do is share the video stream and in a couple of days we’ll pick out a winner here so please do share the video and we will contact you to see if you have won, but if you don’t win you can purchase at least one of two copies. I’m sure if these two go, Rich has more, for $25 which is a nice discount, just contact Dr. Park on his facebook page and we’ll arrange for you to get those. Rich. We’ll have to bring you on the program again to talk about calling and some other topics that are important to you so I know we’ve got to do that some time in the future.
Rich: Thanks so much, Kurt, again for having me. All the best to your work.
Kurt: Alright. Thanks. God bless you.
Rich: God bless.
Kurt; That does it for the show today. Next week, let me mention this. Next week is St. Patrick’s Day. I’m real excited about this and why am I excited about this? I will have you know that in my doctoral research I have come across St. Patrick a number of times because of his crossing paths perhaps at the island of Lorens. Next week, we’re bringing on a scholar who has written a biography on him and maybe some of you have heard the fire truck go right by our offices there. Next week we’ve got a scholar, Philip Freeman who has written a biography on St. Patrick and if you haven’t really thought about who St. Patrick was, you might just know of the holiday and know that he brought Christianity to Ireland, you’re in for a treat next week to learn more about the life and legacy of St. Patrick and it should be an exciting episode, so stick with us next week here. Same bat-time, same bat-channel. If you get that reference, please give the video a like. I talked to someone earlier this week who didn’t know the reference.
At any rate, that does it for the program today. I am grateful for the continued support of our patrons and the partnerships that we have with our sponsors. Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Evolution 2.0, Fox Restoration, and Non-Profit Megaphone. Thank you to our technical producer, Chris. He’s now on the Veracity Hill website so if you want to see his brief bio you can check that out, and also to our guest today, Dr. Richard Park, who’s the assistant professor of Religion and Ethics at Vanguard University, and last but not least, I want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.
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