October 22, 2010

Prof pushes for morality in politics

Separating morality and politics has dangerous consequences, professor of social and political ethics Jean Elshtain said in a lecture Thursday. Her talk in Swift Hall, entitled “Politics Before the End of Time,” addressed spirituality in the political sphere. During the question-and-answer session after the talk, Elshtain criticized Christopher Hitchens, best known for his arguments on behalf of atheism.

“Those who separate politics from morals will understand neither,” said Elshtain, a 2008 appointee to the President’s Council on Bioethics.

Elshtain’s lecture opened the Divinity School’s weekend conference on “Politics as a Moral Question,” which featured twenty-one speakers.

Christopher Hitchens, a writer and self-described antitheist, “reduces religion to a sort of functional enterprise,” Elshtain said in response to a question on the writer. She said his views on religion and politics are simplistic. “He equates religion with about everything that has gone bad in the world.”

Dismissing Hitchens as a misinformed pundit, Elshtain said that our society needs better political awareness. "He has not done the reading, he has not done the work, and he has not done the thinking," she said.

In the talk, Elshtain compared the religious and philosophical perspectives of Saint Augustine, Camus, and Bonhoeffer to highlight the central question of the role of morals and spirituality in politics.

The symposium was hosted by the Divinity School, in conjunction with the Center for Process Studies and the Martin Marty Center.