Sunday, 25 July 2010

Godless Britain - Rowan Williams, secularism and much more besides ...

Our clopy of the New Statesman usually arrives lat so I'm only just getting around to reading last week's copy now.
It's good read for folk like me who are both of the church and of the left. I particularly like the way some non-believers struggle with the "God-shaped hole". (Though I would like to point out that "Britain" is not a nation defined by the Church of England - in some of the writing you would think that the Church of England is also the established Church in Scotland!)

There's a good profile piece of Rowan Williams by Jonathan Derbyshire. Here are a few extracts:

The Archbishop's resistance to what he sees as attempts to consign religion to the margins of the public sphere is not merely "bloody-minded". On the contrary, it is grounded in deep and sustained reflection on the place of faith in modern liberal democracies.

Modern secular states take for granted what Williams regards as a partial and impoverished notion of citizenship. According to what one might call the "public philosophy" of liberal secular democracy, to be a citizen is, in his words, to "be under the rule of the uniform law of a sovereign state".

The problem with this idea of citizenship, for Williams, is that it is too narrow. It takes no account of the cultural and religious affiliations citizens might have above and beyond their status as legal subjects - or, at best, it relegates those other kinds of attachment or belonging to a private world. And that is especially problematic in ethnically, culturally and confessionally diverse societies. It risks, Williams argues, producing a "ghettoised pattern of social life", in which religious forms of "interest and reasoning" are treated as infra dig, and not given an airing in public debate about "shared goods and priorities".

Williams maintains that one of the consequences of religious interests being excluded in this way is a coarsening of political discourse. Religious perspectives can, he thinks, imbue the language of public deliberation with a "depth and moral gravity that cannot be gen­erated simply by the negotiation of . . . balanced self-interests".

Derbyshire together with James Macintyre have also produced an interview with Williams as part of this issue.