Offering the Better Angels of Faith Communities for a More Healthy Society

What do people of faith know that could make for a more healthy society, if we were intentional about making practical and public what we know?

A few weeks ago, I taught a free, online course exploring this topic. In the final class session, I offered 24 proposals. Each proposal imagines what people of faith already know, or have known and could know again, that could help regenerate the soil of culture necessary for a healthy society.

For this week and next in this blog, I present the proposals. (If you’d like to watch any of the five lectures and four interviews that comprised the content of the course, you can do so here. You can download a PDF file of these 12 proposals here.)

Use your imagination.

People of faith know:

  1. There is something/someone greater than ourselves, and greater than any nation. A healthy society would recognize that “we the people” are not the greatest power on earth.
  2. The universe is creation and not simply “nature.” A healthy society will consider resource usage in terms of I-thou and not simply I-it relationships. To use a phrase I heard recently: the earth is not our candy store.
  3. How to interpret and keep high the importance of mystery, awe, and wonder. A healthy society recognizes that no human being or nation is Ultimate, nor can everything be possessed, controlled, or owned.
  4. Human beings are creatures and part of this living planet, we are groundlings, of the earth. “From dust… to dust.” A healthy society is not afraid to talk about limits. The planet is created for all living beings, not simply for humans, or for Americans.
  5. Human beings are equal before the Ultimate. All forms of inequality are human creations. A healthy society protects rights and limits the level of inevitable inequalities.
  6. Human beings are mortal and fallible. Humility is a virtue. A healthy society invites correction. Any form of governance could be improved, will fall short, make mistakes, and need to rectify its mistakes.
  7. Life is a gift; gratitude is a logical stance toward life. A healthy nation does not, except in extraordinary times, require persons to give the gift of their lives—for the nation is not the giver of life.
  8. How to deal with suffering and death. A healthy society recognizes its limited role in addressing finitude and mortality; but a society can foster compassion for persons and their families in times of suffering.
  9. Love is more powerful than hate. A religious community can be a leaven of love in society—or a leaven of hate. A healthy society is loath to invoke hate and to suppress love.
  10. The proper definition of peace as shalom (not merely the absence of conflict) includes both inner and outer dimensions. A healthy society is not, by itself, sufficient to form the personal and public centers from which peace with justice is born.
  11. Community is essential to develop healthy persons. A healthy society must make and protect a social ecology that is friendly toward healthy communities.
  12. Religion’s ends/telos (to connect with the Ultimate) and the ends/telos of politics (govern, share power) are not the same. A religious/spiritual agenda should not be identical to a political agenda, and the means to reach an end also differ (persuasion v. coercion).

No one tradition or community embodies all of these “knowledges.” But what if the faith community in which you participate got really good at generating and sharing even a few of these? How might your faith community become a more effective leaven for love, compassion, and justice within your neighborhood, town, city, and state?


Dr. Gary Peluso-Verdend is president emeritus at Phillips Theological Seminary and is the executive director of the seminary’s Center for Religion in Public Life. The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. Learn more about the Center’s work here and about Gary here.

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