Justice. Society, Ethics, Culture. God.
For years I have been listening closely to Vaclav Havel, now dead, but for the last decades of the 20th-century one of the most important voices in the world. At least I thought so. He was a playwright, a prisoner, and then the president of Czechoslovakia. In speeches all over the world, parliaments and congresses, universities and colleges, he made the same argument. If we decide to lose God in the modern world, then let’s be honest: we lose access to these four ideas, these four words. Meaning. Purpose. Responsibility. Accountability.
It was not a partisan apologetic for faith. As far as I could ever understand, Havel himself was not someone of orthodox Christian conviction; mere Christianity would have been more than he believed—at least from what we are able to read. But he was a thoughtful, careful, visionary, and honest man, and so he saw where the line-in-the-sands-of-life is. Ideas have legs, always and everywhere.
Last night I walked into the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto. I had been invited to take part in a show called Context, with “Life Beyond the Headlines” as the tagline. The wall-size poster greeting me was a photo of its host, Lorna Dueck, and these words: Society. Justice. Culture. Ethics. God.
Of course I thought of Havel. And I wondered what I was going to find as I entered into their world, last night taping a show and this morning talking with their staff. The words are big words, weighty words, words that give meaning to life, words that form the contours of our lives, words that make for human flourishing or not, for both persons and for polities.
The poster invites its audience into a conversation, and I honor that hope. Much of my life is spent in conversations of all sorts, conversations with consequences, I long for them to be. But in a pluralizing, secularizing, globalizing world, there are few other conversations that matter as much as the one that Context is creating, and differently done, that Havel initiated. Does life lived honestly have anything to do with God? Do meaning, purpose, responsibility, and accountability have anything to do with God? Do justice, society, ethics, and culture have anything to do with God?
They are honest questions, and they need honest answers.