In a pluralistic society, there is a constant balancing act between the rights of individuals and the need for social order. These balances are perhaps never quite as tenuous as when they involve a conflict between an individual’s religious faith and a law that would seem to prevent the believer from acting in accordance with the requirements of his or her faith.
Dr. Francis J. Beckwith, a professor of philosophy and church-state studies in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences, explores these conflicts in his new book, “Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith,” published this year by Cambridge University Press. In the book, Beckwith examines cultural issues over which religious and nonreligious people may disagree including the rationality of religious belief, religiously motivated legislation, human dignity in bioethics, abortion and embryonic stem cell research, reproductive rights, evolution and marriage.
The problems often stem from a misunderstanding regarding the true nature of religious practices. The misunderstanding, Beckwith says, often spring from a failure of non-religious individuals to understand the perspective of the believer.
“I believe religion involves obedience, not just belief,” he says. “Observers who aren’t familiar with the tenets of a religion may argue that religious belief is irrational and therefore adherents are not deserving of special protection for their practices. To those who believe, however, religious practices aren’t something they choose to do but something they are obligated to do.”
“Taking Rites Seriously” is available on Amazon.