Tuesday, 28 May 2024

Meeting of the minds on the importance of values

The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality. Andre Comte-Sponville. Viking. $19.95.


Red Letter Christians: A Citizen's Guide to Faith and Politics. Tony Campolo. Regal. $19.99.


The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith & Politics in a Post-Religious Right America. Jim Wallis. HarperOne. $25.95.



Atheist Andre, meet red letter Christians Jim and Tony.


The French philosopher, professor of emeritus at the Sorbonne, and a former Catholic, argues that unbelievers don't need to give up traditional values they may have learned in a religious setting. "This does not prove, however, that these values need God in order to subsist. On the contrary, everything tends to prove that we need them-an ethics, a sense of communion and fidelity-in order to subsist in a way we find humanly acceptable."


He argues that while civil society is possible without God, it is not possible without the values religion has been mainly responsible for teaching and preserving.


Evangelicals Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo urge Christians back to civility, care for the wide community and faithfulness to the words and teachings of Jesus, so often printed in red in the New Testament.


Wallis said in an interview “religion does not have a monopoly on morality. I say that every time I speak. Yet, religion, to be faithful and true to itself, must have a vibrant social conscience. And when it does, it moves things forward in dramatic ways. Every major social reform movement in American history was fueled, driven in part not in whole, but in part by religion and faith. I was asked the other day, How can secular progressives partner with religion progressives, given our differences? And I said, that's up to you, more than to us. I've partnered with secular progressives for years.”


Campolo, a professor emeritus of sociology, wrote: “The message in those red letters is radical, to say the least. If you don't believe me, just read Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7. In the red letters of this sermon, Jesus calls us to an 'upside-down Kingdom,' far away from the dominant values of the modern American consciousness. For instance, Jesus tells us that we cannot be sucked into a system that seeks life's meaning and satisfaction in materialism and self-gratification while still claiming to serve God. Furthermore, He challenges many of the social policies that too many Evangelicals fail to question. Consider the fact that He calls us to be merciful (see Matt. 5:7) which has strong implications for how we should think about capital punishment and since Jesus also tells us to love our enemies, we probably shouldn't consider it an option (see Matt. 5:44). These words should cause us to examine our attitudes about war, as well. Most important, when we reflect on all Jesus had to say about caring for the poor and oppressed, committing ourselves to His red-letter message just might drive us to see what we can do politically to help those he called, 'the least of these' (see Matt. 25:31-46).


“It seemed to us newly named Red Letter Christians at one of our early meetings that Evangelicals often evade what Jesus said in those red letters in the Bible, and that this evasion lends some credence to Mahatma Gandhi's claim that everybody in the world knows what Jesus taught except for Christians!”


At the least, these readings can lead to tolerance, even to the Zen Buddhist concept of Beginner's Mind, free of preconceptions, expectations, judgments and prejudices.


E-mail Sophie Annan Jensen at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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