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Laurence O'Connell

Laurence O'Connell is President and CEO of the Park Ridge Center for the Study of Health, Faith and Ethics.

The appropriate contribution of religion is limited and restricted to one corner of the public square. Quite simply, religious perspectives on issues like embryonic stem cell research can be informative, instructive, and indeed very suggestive, but they may not make authoritative claims on behalf of the entire community. There is a bright line over which religion cannot appropriately pass. In a democratic-as distinguished from a theocratic-society, particular religious perspectives must be advanced as one source of accumulated wisdom among others.

Religion is particularly powerful in directing the community to fundamental questions of human life and destiny. Religious tradition can then direct the conversation about embryonic stem cell research and its implications to some very basic questions: How should human life and its potential be regarded? Does embryonic stem cell research fundamentally undermine, or perhaps promote, the dignity of persons?

Theological categories and traditional religious teaching can illuminate moral pathways and provide conceptual categories without imposing theological conclusions. And I would say that is how religious perspectives should operate in the public square. By sharing centuries of conceptual insight and moral reflection, the world's religions are a deposit for powerful conceptual tools and insight. They don't necessarily have to be appropriated or endorsed, but they can be used without insisting upon a conclusion that would be internally consistent with their own worldview.

Religion should not be ashamed or reluctant to enter the public fray. But it must do so in a spirit of humility and ultimate openness to a more general society that chooses to, in some cases, ignore or, very often, to redirect [faith's] wisdom.

Laurence O'Connell

Other Presentations:

Play Video Welcome: Brent Waters and Jennifer Derryberry
Play Video Opening Remarks: Brent Waters
Play Video Brent Waters
Play Video James Peterson
Play Video Sondra Wheeler
Play Video Ronald Cole-Turner
Play Video Robert Song
Play Video Stem-Cell Colloquy - Index


Science & Spirit Magazine and Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary

See also:

The Relation of Science & Religion
Pain and Suffering
Books on Biology, Genetics and Theology