Liveblogging Forum 2000: Religion, Ethics, and Law

This morning, I participated in Forum 2000’s second law-and-religion panel, “Religion, Ethics, and Law.” The panel (below) addressed the growing “divorce” between law and moral principles and the influence of secularization on law and ethics. The panel was chaired by Jiří Pehe, Director of NYU-Prague. Tomáš Halík, a sociologist and President of the Czech Christian Academy, opened the panel by discussing the different concepts of law in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. The first two religions, Halík said, are essentially about law, unlike Christianity, which is essentially about faith; the first two emphasize orthopraxy, while Christianity emphasizes orthodoxy. He noted that Western law has been influenced both by Christian roots and by the secularizing effect of the Enlightenment, which was itself “the unwanted child of Christianity.” I followed with a discussion of the distinction between moral and legal advice in American lawyers’ ethics. Over time, I showed, American legal ethics have minimized the lawyer’s role as moral counselor; although 100 years ago a lawyer had a duty to impress upon his client the need for “strict compliance” with “moral law,” nowadays a lawyer’s duty is to provide legal, not moral advice. I argued that the change could be understood, in part, as an effect of secularization. William Cook, Professor of History and Religion at SUNY, discussed Tocqueville’s insights into private associations and their role in promoting democracy.  Günther Virt, Professor of Theology at the University of Vienna, spoke about translating faith commitments into public policy arguments, specifically, his experience working on bioethics committees in the Council of Europe and the European Union. (A great line: the increasing number of ethics committees in the West today is evidence of an ethical crisis). He also discussed human rights; although human rights can be justified intellectually without religion, he argued, religion provides the necessary motivation for honoring human rights in particular circumstances. Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Corporation, ended the panel with a discussion of the dialectic between faith and reason in all three Abrahamic religions. He argued that the key concept in all these religions is not conflict, but synthesis, between faith and reason. – MLM

*UPDATE: You can now watch the video from the “Religion, Ethics and Law” Panel here. -ARH

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