Throw­ing baby out with the b ath wa­ter

Weekend Witness - - Opinion - MYKE’S MUS­ING S Myke Mw ale

WHEN Chief Jus­tice Mo­go­eng Mo­go­eng gave a lec­ture ear­lier this y ear in St el­len­bosch about the role of re­li­gion in law, many peo­ple v oiced their dis sat­is­fac­tion at his sug ges­tion that r eli­gion c ould strengthen le gis­la­tion.

Some of the rea­sons were rea­son­able enough, con­sid­er­ing that South Africa is a plur al­is­tic so­ciet y with man y re­li­gions w hich do not al ways agr ee on mat­ters of mor al­ity and la w.

Many peo­ple as sumed that M ogo­eng, be­ing a Christian, would like to see Christian val­ues tak­ing prece­dence over non­Chris tian and non­r eli­gious val­ues. W hile the s tir that w as r aised seems to have sub­sided, r ecent events around r eli­gion, v alues and so­ciet y show that the dis­cus sion is y et t o be ex­hausted.

One can un­der­stand how some cit­i­zens are wary of ab­so­lutist re­li­gious so­ci­eties, with their over­ar­ch­ing and non­com­pro­mis­ing stances on moral­ity, but not all re­li­gion is vi­o­lent and dis­crim­i­nates ag ainst g en­der.

Power play and politic s can be ma­nip­u­lated by r eli­gious au­thor­i­tie s and this can t ar­nish the imag e and r ole of re­li­gion in so­ciet y. Cit­i­zens are free to choose not to sub­scribe to any re­li­gion. Gone are the da ys of c oer­cive con­ver­sion and z eal­ous mis sion­ary w ork. How­ever, the re­cent pub­lic deb ate be­tween Euse­bius Mckaiser and Pro­fes­sor John Len­nox at Wits Univer­sity about whether God has a place in moral­ity re­veals some of our deep­seat ed blind spots on is sues of r eli­gion, val­ues and so­ci­ety.

Mckaiser had some good points, es­pe­cially in his follow­up opin­ion piece, which ap­peared in the Star on Septem­ber 22. Surely one does not need to be a Chris tian t o be eth­i­cal? T hat g oes with­out sa ying. Many non­Chris tians (Bud­dhists, Hin­dus, Mus­lims, atheis ts and ag­nos­tics) lead mor al li ves in the same way that Chris tians can be im­moral too. If, in­deed, South Africa is a coun­try with cul­tural di­ver­sity, as we re­cently cel­e­brated on Her­itage Day, and dif­fer­ent re­li­gions and be­liefs, the onus is not on one sec­tor of so­ci­ety to tol­er­ate oth­ers, but on all re­li­gious, non­re­li­gious and cul­tur al gr oups t o t ol­er­ate, com­mu­ni­cate and ex­ist with one another. I do not think that it r eally mat­ters on what you base your moral c on­vic­ tions, be it on rea­son, re­li­gion, cul­ture, sci­ence, per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence or all of the above; what mat­ters is how we can live to­gether in jus­tice, peace and har­mony. You can­not dis­miss re­li­gion as a b asis for mor al­ity jus t be­cause y ou do not share the same be­liefs. By the same prin­ci­ple, you can­not let your re­li­gious be­liefs thwart the li ves of those w ho do not shar e the same belief s.

I ap­plaud McKaiser and Len­nox for bring­ing this dis­cus sion t o the pub­lic fo­rum. It is not about who wins the ar­ gu­ment, but about ho w much w e ar e en­light­en­ing our selves as a so­ciet y at a time w hen thou­sands of peo­ple ar e search­ing f or heal­ing and mean­ing in other c oun­tries.

One won­ders some­times whether it is the law that needs re­li­gion or vice versa. Let us be car eful though, not t o throw the baby out with the bath­wa­ter in the pr ocess. • Myke Mw ale is a Do­minic an and an alum­nus fr om UKZN and Saint Jo seph’s The­o­log­i­cal Coll ege, Cedar a.

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