Having read some of his other writings and after spending weeks with this gifted author, it is time for me to move on. Some, wrongly, will charge Os Guinness with "pie in the sky" idealism. The critics miss the point. Civility doesn't begin with Hillary, Trump or even Billy Graham. It begins with me.
I hesitate to summarize his book. I fear it will be lost to the cacophony of daily living. I fear that many will use the summary as an excuse to shortcut and short-change the richness of the book. But something is better than nothing, and so I will take that risk:
Summing up The Case for Civility by Os Guinness
1. By not being responsible for civil debate, we inflame the other side and solve nothing.
a. An inflamed opposition uses one’s inflammatory rhetoric as a fund-raiser.
2. Persuasion and willingness to cordially engage is necessary.
3. Freedom of conscience and expression is guaranteed by the First Amendment.
4. The First Amendment is inalienable and cannot be controlled or bullied.
5. The First Amendment guarantees a place at the table (public square) for the Evangelical, Catholic, Jew, Muslim, Mormon, agnostic and atheist, and all are beliefs.
6. There should be neither a sacred nor a naked public square.
7. One has a Constitutionally guaranteed right to be wrong.
8. Freedom of religion is essential to all freedoms and rights.
9. There have been excesses on all sides.
10. Tolerance can become intolerance.
11. The oppressed can become the oppressors and vice versa.
12. There is too much so-called victimization on all sides.
13. Laws fall short. Civility requires a covenant of community.
14. “No free government, or the blessings of liberty,” wrote George Mason in 1776, “can be preserved to any people, but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.”
15. Properly understood and rightly ordered, diversity and particularity are not a matter of weakness, but strength. Playing safe through what is often a pale and diluted unity becomes self-defeating. Such milquetoast diffidence discourages individual passion, constricts real diversity, and blocks what is often the real secret of an individual’s or an organization’s success—the power of their faith in all its stubborn particularity.
16. First, the Religious Right has politicized faith, a cardinal error that is wrong in both principle and practice—again, not as a constitutional matter but as a matter of Christian integrity that has political consequences. Historically, evangelicals have a distinguished record in politics, exemplified by their broad contributions to liberal reforms and by leading individuals such as William Wilberforce, “the little liberator” who, among many historic reforms, led the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire and stands as the greatest social reformer in all history.
17. Faith, if coupled with politics, leads to failure.
18. the Religious Right has consistently exhibited one glaring weakness that is proving its Achilles’ heel and will lead to its final undoing. It has never articulated a clear public philosophy, or a common vision for the public good. It has never set out its own claims within a framework of what is just and free for everyone else, too.
19. Faith in the end of faith is irrational, incredible, fantastic (imaginary).
20. Liberalism is only one way of life among others and deserves to be no more (or less) privileged than others. In the name of candor and fairness, it is time for Americans to say to legal secularists today what had to be said to Protestants earlier: “Separationist, separate thyself.”
21. In fact, the Enlightenment notion of a “rational consensus,” or an overarching rational standard of adjudication agreeable to all, is a fiction.
22. In the same way, the present alliance of secularists, strict separationists, and liberal proceduralists restricts religious believers to the segregated margins of private life on behalf of their self-interested liberal myth of a neutral public square. “Public reason” is the respectable alias for secularism, and all religious beliefs are unmasked as “private prejudices.” Only the religiously naked and bare, their religious identities stripped down and disinfected in the constitutional neutrality showers, are allowed to enter the naked public square, where the liberal reigns supreme—and remains fully clothed and in command with his constitutional bullwhip. Where is the justice in this? Between the German death camps and the American naked public square lies a chasm that is morally and physically immeasurable, but the difference is one of degree, not kind.
23. As the constitutional scholar Daniel Driesbach points out, “The free press guarantee was not written to protect the civil state from the press, but to protect a free and independent press from control by the national government.” And so it was with religious liberty. Put differently, when it comes to sustaining freedom, secular liberalism has a “hole in the heart” of its view of national legitimacy. By abandoning both the earlier understanding of “free exercise” and “toleration,” and by switching to the principles of strict neutrality and impartiality, the liberal vision has no commitment to virtue of any kind at the center of its free society. The assumption is that liberal society needs only rules and procedures, and has no need for any enduring shared values. The result is that the strict legal disestablishment of religion is compounded by an equally strict legal disestablishment of morality.
24. Premature resort to law alone is itself a legal form of intolerance, because of the way it bypasses politics and short-circuits debate among citizens. Ironically, it leads to a politicization of law, which in turn lessens the detachment that law needs, and works to supplant politics by law. Worse still, by using law to bypass political debate and to decide such morally contentious issues as the right to abortion and the nature of marriage, judicial activism (whether by liberals or conservatives) ends only in making the religiously incommensurable into the politically intractable and the socially irreconcilable. It therefore exacerbates the culture warring already destroying America’s civil peace and sapping her civil strength. Better far to trust the messy business of debate, negotiation, and compromise, which are the bread and butter of democratic politics and prudential realism.
25. Woe betide anyone caught with the merest deviation from the canons of the orthodoxy and political correctness of the day, for their “discrimination” makes them vulnerable to the charge of a “hate speech.” Well-intended but misguided, the idea of “hate speech” is a recent liberal tactic that ends in illiberalism. As Pope Benedict XVI warns, “A confused ideology of liberty leads to a dogmatism that is proving ever more hostile to real liberty.” Liberals truly concerned with freedom would be wiser to understand and employ the positive principles of freedom of conscience and the free exercise of faith. When prejudice and hate have their way, it is wiser and more realistic to protect the liberties they threaten than to use law to try to purge all traces of the evil they represent.
26. George Orwell argued famously that Jefferson’s “Truth is great and shall prevail” is now more a prayer than an axiom, and the question has been raised today as to whether nations can reach the outer limits of diversity. So two things are critical: first, that all faiths really are experiencing religious liberty; and second, that the bonds of unity are strengthened as the boundaries of diversity are stretched. Another potential error is to duck the problems of particularity in the public square by trying to deal with religion only through ecumenical and interfaith coalitions and organizations—as if that would be safer and less controversial than dealing with the prickly problems of particular faiths. In faith-based funding, for example, the temptation is to reduce faith to social work and look to interreligious coalitions rather than to organizations that have a clear and particular faith.
27. Properly understood and rightly ordered, diversity and particularity are not a matter of weakness, but strength. Playing safe through what is often a pale and diluted unity becomes self-defeating. Such milquetoast diffidence discourages individual passion, constricts real diversity, and blocks what is often the real secret of an individual’s or an organization’s success—the power of their faith in all its stubborn particularity.
28. Yet another potential error is for Americans to confuse civility with niceness, as if civility were a higher form of manners fit for a Victorian dinner or a Japanese tea ceremony. With some people, this error flows from a genuine misunderstanding; with others, it is a cover: they are leery of the hard work of respect-forged civility and frankly relish any excuse for a good old-fashioned shoot-out or no-holds-barred slugfest.
29. Thus as human beings who are keenly aware of the prime importance of truth seeking as well as our proven capacity for truth twisting, we not only grant others the right to be wrong, but have a duty ourselves to seek truth above everything. Respecting the right to be wrong does not mean casual indifference toward truth. “Having bought truth dear,” Roger Williams wrote, “let us not sell it cheap.”
30. Too much interference by the state above or too much indifference from the citizens below, and civil society will be cramped from above or cut off from its oxygen supply from below. The outcome in either case will be a deficit of freedom, as well as of human giving, caring, and engagement.