The National Interfaith Leadership Council

A FSI response to this story from the Mail and Guardian (11 September 2009):

Morally complex issues deserve careful consideration, rather than resolutions by appeal to tradition, prejudice or superstition. This is why we find professional ethicists on bioethics committees, and why insights from disciplines such as evolutionary psychology and moral philosophy need to be considered when debating topics such as abortion and gay marriage.

We have no evidence that being a member of a religious community confers this moral expertise, nor even that being a leader of a religious grouping makes one especially qualified to pronounce on such matters – except in cases where one is addressing one’s own flock.

The South African population is, however, not comprised exclusively of people requesting shepherding, and even those South Africans who do belong to a religious community may object to being told that they speak in a unified voice. Many of us want policy to be derived from sound reasoning, applied to available evidence, towards fostering the sorts of norms and standards that can be agreed to further the flourishing of all our citizens – not merely the ones who belong to a particular club or federation of like-minded associations, such as a Council of Churches or an Interfaith Leadership Council.

It is therefore of great concern to observe the increasing influence Ray McCauley and the National Interfaith Leadership Council seem to be exerting on Government, as well as to observe that some members of the ruling party are making no attempt to disguise their willingness to collapse Church and State, as evidenced by NILC press statements being released from ANC communication facilities. While this may not constitute a formal link between Government and the NILC, it also provides very little reassurance for those of us who want to believe that the ANC remains committed to the Constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion – including the freedom to not have religion interfere in matters that affect all, religious or not.

The SA Council of Churches or the NILC could certainly have a contribution to make in resolving moral dilemmas or in mediation, but this contribution should not be sought because, but rather in spite of, their religious affiliations. If Government is looking for expert assistance on moral issues they should feel compelled to invite those of us who reject metaphysics, as well as religious believers, to constitute any relevant advisory body, and always bear in mind that these are specialist issues, rather than matters that can be resolved by appeals to mythology.