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Land counsels collegians to let faith influence public policies

LEWISBURG, Pa. (BP)–Christians and other faith adherents should use their religiously influenced moral views to help shape government policies in a continued effort to recover from decades of absence from the public square, Southern Baptist ethics leader Richard Land told students at Bucknell University.

Speaking at a forum sponsored by a campus Christian organization, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s president encouraged students to “keep speaking the truth in love as you understand it.”

Land predicted, however, there would be “some titanic struggles” in American culture “because not only is the number of Americans who believe that religion is very important growing, the number of Americans who are completely unchurched has doubled.”

The “completely unchurched” total about 18 or 19 percent of the American public, he said. In general, the unchurched “tend to be pretty hostile to religious involvement, and they want to exclude people of religious faith from having anything to do with public policy,” he said, citing the major news media’s coverage of the death of Terri Schiavo as an example.

Land spoke on the influence of Christianity on his public policy views at Bucknell, a private, liberal arts college in east-central Pennsylvania with an undergraduate student body of about 3,300 students.

The resistance by much of Western civilization to religious adherents’ influence on public policy grew out of a change in how society viewed knowledge, a view that was proposed by 18th-century philosopher Immanuel Kant, Land said at the April 5 forum. Kant said there are two kinds of knowledge –- that which is known as fact and that which is known by faith, Land explained.

“This fact-faith distinction stuck, and it changed the way we in the West have approached the question of what we could know, and what we could not know, and how we could know it,” Land said. “Prior to Kant, people were perfectly willing to accept that since God created the universe, all truth was His and all truth could be known.”

Eventually, Western intellectuals insisted science and moral philosophy must be based on naturalism, and Christians and other religious adherents privatized their faith, Land said.

“In accepting and adopting this fact-faith distinction, [religious believers] compartmentalized their faith and cut if off from the rest of their understanding of the world,” Land said. “The end result has been a decades-long abandonment of any meaningful cultural engagement between the world of faith and the world of so-called fact,” he said.

Scientific naturalism, which believes in a “chance-driven, naturalistic universe,” became the “prevailing orthodoxy” among academics, Land said.

The “false dichotomy” between fact and faith “has continued to dominate Western thinking,” Land said, even as naturalism has come under increasing attack in recent years and Christians especially have re-entered the public square.

“In many ways I envy you as students in the first decade of the 21st century,” Land said, “because naturalistic science and naturalism are under more sustained assault and taking more hits below the waterline than could have been imagined when I sat where you sit as an undergraduate student at Princeton University in the late 1960s.

“The earth has moved,” he said. “When I sat where you sit, [evolutionist Charles] Darwin was on a mountaintop, and his critics were down in the valley. Now Darwin is on an anthill surrounded by critics.”

Land referred to the recent efforts of scientists in the intelligent design movement (www.intelligentdesign.org) in refuting the arguments of naturalism by contending that the evidence points to a designer in creation.

The American people also “are showing signs they are fed up with” the argument by some that religious beliefs should have no role in influencing public policies, Land said. He cited the 2004 election, which he said could be seen as a victory for people of traditional religious values.

Land said he supports the separation of the institutions of church and state.

“The last thing we should ever want is government-sponsored religion,” he said. “That’s like getting hugged by a python. It squeezes all the life out of you, and you fall over dead. But our forefathers never intended the separation of church and state to mean the separation of religiously informed morality from public policy. In other words, there is no disqualification of religiously informed moral values from public policy.”

Abortion and same-sex “marriage” are two issues in which advocates seek to marginalize opponents who are religiously motivated, Land said.

“If somebody wants to be against the pro-life position, let them come out and argue for the morality of killing unborn babies for any reason whatsoever during the entire nine months of pregnancy,” he said. “Quit trying to hide behind this false claim that the First Amendment disqualifies anyone who has moral objections based upon their religious convictions from taking part in the public policy debate. That is just anti-religious discrimination and bigotry, and it’s a lot easier to win the argument when you disqualify the other side from taking part.”

Marriage is “in enough trouble” already in the United States, and homosexual “marriage” will “completely shatter it and undermine it,” Land said.

“I am arguing that civil society has a right to decide who can get married and under what circumstances and that I have the right as a Christian to bring my religiously informed moral values to that debate,” he said. “And I don’t have a right to say, ‘You’ve got to agree with me because my view comes from the Bible.’ I’ve got to make my argument to you and to Americans who don’t believe the Bible. And if I can convince a majority of Americans that I’m right, I have a right to expect in a democracy that law is going to be based upon the will of the people.”

The Fellowship of Christians at Bucknell sponsored Land’s appearance, which came before about 40 students at Bucknell Hall. A group of Baptists founded the school in 1846, and it was named after William Bucknell in 1886 after his generous giving rescued the school from financial ruin.