Throwing baby out with the b ath water
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.