Friday, April 25, 2008

Archbishop and Pope blame secularists for their failing faiths

by Terry Sanderson, NSS President, 25 April 2008
1. The Archbishop.
"The Secularists" (that's you and me and anyone else who doesn't trust religion to behave properly when it gains any kind of power) have been given a new adjective to go before their name. We're familiar with the "militant" secularists, "fundamentalist" secularists and "extremist" secularists tags, but the Archbishop of Canterbury has decided that he will call us "principled secularists". We are the people he seems to fear most, the ones who he claimed in a speech last week, are staging an organised assault on all religion.

Rowan Williams was talking about the drift away from the churches and the increasing embrace instead of an undefined

"spirituality" – a sort of internalised and private connection with all those things you can't buy with your credit card.
But, naturally, being the cheerleader for organised religion, the Archbishop doesn't think that this is necessarily the answer.
He still thinks organised religion is the best way to make the world work as a unified whole, rather than tribal parts. History doesn't support him in that, but hey, the man's got a living to earn.

However, what is clear from the speech is that the Archbishop doesn't really know what secularism means.

He thinks secularism means attacking the core doctrines of religion and trying to destroy them (a la Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens). But I think secularism means simply persuading religious people that their beliefs are a private matter and that they must not be permitted to dictate policy in the spaces that we all have to share.

I have no problem with religious people holding whatever strange and fantastical beliefs they want – so long as they keep them inside their heads or in their homes or places of worship. Once they leave those places, and believers reach the conclusion that everyone must share their faith, that's when the problems begin.

That is why I think the growth of personal spirituality is a good thing, and should be encouraged.

When people say they are "spiritual but not religious" what do they mean? I don't know, and I'll wager they don't, either. But their vague ideas of "spirituality" are unlikely to harm anyone. If it just means that they will do their best to behave in ways that do not harm or disadvantage others, then what more could one ask?

Let's all be "spiritual not religious". It could save the world.

2: The Pope.
The Pope, too, is very worried about secularism. He gave a very similar speech to that of Rowan Williams during the papal trip to New York last week. He told 250 Christian "faith leaders" about the

dangers inherent in "the rise of 'individualism' in the modern world". Mr Ratzinger said that "rapid changes resulting from globalisation" threatened their collective faith. "Also of grave concern is the spread of a secularist ideology that undermines or even rejects transcendent truth,"
he said.

What can Mr Ratzinger have thought, then, of the speech before his appearance at the United Nations by the UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, who declared

"The UN is a secular organisation, with six official languages but no official religion. We do not have a chapel, but a room for meditation".

Let us hope it can be kept that way. But the invitation of religious leaders to give contentious speeches which cannot be challenged or questioned does not bode well for claims of a secular ethos at the UN. Every religion in the world is represented there, so how come the representative of only one denomination of one of them is given this privilege?

No comments:

Post a Comment