Following on from Thursday's visit to Karl Barth's house and my sight of Barth's original handwritten draft of the 1934 Barmen Declaration, I wonder if such a document would be possible in a culture of privatised spirituality such as that assumed by many today to be both desirable and normal.

This isn't a disconnected question. I have spent the last couple of days – on and off – reading the lectures that form the first part of Rowan Williams' Faith in the Public Square. In these pieces he addresses questions of secularism (essentially instrumental/functional, one-dimensional and totalising). Seriously interesting, challenging and written with great lucidity, he goes to the heart of the matter in attesting that the 'public space' of contemporary culture is not in any meaningful sense neutral or free – a a point I keep labouring with less patience and less erudite articulacy than Rowan:

[Telling and enacting a story that is different from that propagated by the modern state] of course involves exposing the fact that the modern state does in fact tell a story: that is, that it is not the embodiment of a timeless rationality. … The main task [of the Church] is to create 'spaces' for an alternative story – to challenge the self-evidence of the narrative of secular modernity. (p.43)

In speaking of the 'market state' – the successor to the 'nation state' – he comes up with the marvellously succinct description of the consumer's role of the last thirty years as “isolated choosing machines in a market-shaped wilderness”. (p.74)

This cannot do justice to the arguments Rowan develops. I do wonder if the leader writers of the Independent newspaper (as well as others) have read these texts and formed any response to the arguments therein. I further wonder if any serious response has been made to Rowan's analysis since the book was published in 2012.

The final lecture in this section addresses the tendency nowadays for people to prefer 'spirituality' to 'religion', but questions the individualism and privatisation under the state that such language assumes. I remember reading a paper in which the writer urged the disbanding of organised churches and the assembling of like-minded 'liberals' who could associate together in the development of a new form of spirituality. I asked how such an atomised peer group would take responsibility for (and on what basis) caring for the poor, the unlovely and those who do not share their premises, and what power such a group would have to challenge injustice on grounds other than convenience or mere opinion/preference. I didn't get an answer.

Journalists used to tell me that Rowan Williams was to obtuse and difficult to read. I used to respond that they were just too lazy to persist – some things are complex and resist simplification. Reading these lectures, I have not changed my mind.

(And the question of the valid/essential role of religion in the public square is not one that Barth would have wasted a moment on, given the choices that had to be made in the face of the rise of Hitler and the criminal nature of 'public truth' in the Germany of the 1930s and '40s.)

Dr Peter Zocher & Prof Dr Martin Wallraff at Karl Barth's house in Basel

 

This is the text of my paper to the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung symposium in Cadenabbia, Italy, on Religion in the Public Space on 29 October 2013.

Der Weg der Kirche von England gegenüber Unwissen und Distanz zu religiösem Glaube

Ich möchte mit einer Frage anfangen: Für wen ist die Kirche von England eigentlich da? Denn, wie Bob Dylan es formuliert: “The times they are a-changin'”. Und die Kirche existiert nicht primär für diejenigen, die jeden Sonntag an einem Gottesdienst teilnehmen, sondern für alle, die in England leben, ob sie gläubig sind oder nicht.

In England unterliegen wir nicht dem Irrtum, das Christentum sei tot. Es sind diejenigen Formen des Christentums und der Kirche, die im Britischen Empire entstanden und im 19. Jahrhundert exportiert wurden, die im 20. Jahrhundert anfingen dahinzusiechen, als Europa von Kriegen und Gewalt erschüttert wurde und Fragen laut wurden über Gott, die Geschichte und die Rolle (Bedeutung? )der Menschheit. Die bisherigen Überzeugungen über den Platz und die Rolle der Kirche in der Gesellschaft wurden in diesem Jahrhundert erschüttert, und zu Beginn des 21. Jahrhunderts sind Religion allgemein und das Christentum im besonderen leichte Beute für herablassende Ablehnung sowohl in der akademischen wie der populären Kultur.

Heutzutage müssen wir einfallsreich, selbstbewusst und fantasievoll sein, wenn wir den Ort und die Bedeutung des christlichen Glaubens für das persönliche und das öffentliche Leben beschreiben und dafür streiten wollen. Wir müssen Wege finden, das Evangelium von Jesus Christus so zu beschreiben – und als Zeugen dieses Evangeliums zu leben – die Menschen zur Kirche ziehen. Und wir müssen junge Christen ausbilden, die bislang keine Ahnung haben von der Bibel oder irgendeiner christlichen Geschichte. Mit anderen Worten: Die Kirche muss sich ihren Platz in der Gesellschaft verdienen und sie muss im öffentlichen Raum selbstbewusst agieren; die Kirche kann nicht davon ausgehen, einfach einen Platz in der Nation oder eine Stimme im öffentlichen Raum zu besitzen.

Diese Einsicht ist besonders wichtig in einer Zeit, in der der Säkularismus stärker wird – insbesondere in der Gestalt der aggressiven neuen Atheisten. Terry Eagleton (prominente britische Professor of Cultural Theory and English Literature) wirft den neuen Atheisten vor, einen billigen Atheismus zu betreiben – ohne die intellektuelle Anstrengung des Nachdenkens und Debattierens selbst zu leisten, sondern stattdessen auf dem Rücken anderer Leute wie (Professor) Richard Dawkins zu reiten, der, statt über einen Fall zu diskutieren, einfach eingängige Feststellungen trifft.

In England hat der Aufstieg des Säkularismus, begleitet von der modischen und oft vereinfachenden Missionierung durch die neuen Atheisten, eine Atmosphäre sowohl von Skepsis (die meiner Meinung nach ganz gesund ist) und Zynismus (der ungesund ist) geschaffen. Man könnte einiges sagen über die Art und Weise, wie diese Debatten in den Medien geführt werden, aber für meine Zwecke hier genügt es zu sagen, dass es zumindest einen sehr hilfreichen Effekt auf die Kirche hat: Christen müssen stärker nachdenken, sie müssen ihren Glauben kennen und ihn leben, sie müssen sich bewusst für ein Leben in der Kirche entscheiden (und nicht einfach hineingeboren werden) und müssen selbstbewusster sein als Christen in der großen weiten Welt. Religiöser Glauben darf sich genauso wenig in die geschützte Privatsphäre zurückziehen, wie die Säkularisten allein Anspruch auf den öffentlichen Raum erheben dürfen.

Dies ist der kulturelle Hintergrund, vor dem alles andere in England stattfindet. Eine Wissenschaftlerin, mit der ich neulich sprach, beklagte sich bitterlich über die Unwissenheit von Schülern und Studenten im Blick auf Religion allgemein und das Christentum im Besonderen. Wie soll man englische Geschichte, Kunst, Literatur, Poesie oder Musik verstehen, ohne ein paar grundlegende Geschichten der Bibel und ihre Sprache zu kennen? Es ist ein bisschen so, als wollte man die deutsche Politik und Geschichte verstehen, während man die Reformation oder die Rolle des Christentums in Europa ignoriert.

In England bezeichnen wir das als ‚religiöses Analphabetentum‘ und es ist vor allem in Bezug auf die Medien von Bedeutung. Die BBC hat inzwischen eine interne Fortbildung, mit der sie den Versuch macht, Journalisten und Moderatoren im Blick auf die Rolle der Religion in der Welt weiterzubilden. Es ist einfach unmöglich, den Irak, Afghanistan, Syrien, den 11. September, die Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika – um nur ein paar zu nennen – ohne differentierte Kenntnis der Religion zu verstehen.

Vor zwei Wochen (am 17en Oktober) haben eine Medienfirma und der Theos Think Tank in London eine Initiative gestartet. Sie wollen regelmäßig kostenfreie Podcasts produzieren, die sich mit der sich wandelnden religiösen Landschaft Englands auseinandersetzen. In der entsprechenden Pressemitteilung heißt es:

“Der Kirchenbesuch ist in Großbritannien dramatisch zurückgegangen, nur noch 7 Prozent (der Bevölkerung) besuchen jede Woche einen Gottesdienst. Dennoch bezeichnet sich jeder Dritte derjenigen, die nie eine Kirche besuchen, als Christ, und mehr als jeder Dritte glaubt an eine höhere Macht. Weniger Menschen fühlen sich von organisierter Religion angezogen, aber mehr Menschen glauben an Engel – jeder Dritte tut das. Gleichzeitig erleben manche Glaubensgemeinschaften eine Blütezeit wie nie zuvor – von den schwarzen Pfingstkirchen bis zum Buddhismus. Dieses neue spirituelle Klima will „Things Unseen“ – Unsichtbare Dinge thematisieren, indem es zum Nachdenken anregende, intelligente Radiobeiträge als freie Downloads anbietet.

Unsichtbare Dinge will Themen anpacken, die im Blick auf das neue spirituelle Klima wirklich erstaunlich sind:

  • Grenzphänomene religiöser Erfahrung, wie etwa „Phantombesuche“ von Sterbenden. Ein Wissenschaftler sagt, dies ist nicht einfach nur der Stoff, aus dem schlechtes Nachtprogramm im Fernsehen gestrickt wird – aber wie passen solche Phänomene in die Weltsicht des Christentums und anderer Religionen?
  • Neue Dilemmata, wie zum Beispiel das ethische Minenfeld, das sich durch die Sozialen Medien in einer multi-religiösen Welt ergibt
  • Die spirituelle Dimension der sogenannten human interest stories – der Geschichten, die das Leben so schreibt. Diese spirituelle Dimension wird selten betrachtet – zum Beispiel die langfristigen spirituellen Folgen für diejenigen Familien, in denen ein Angehöriger vermisst und niemals gefunden wird.”

Dies fasst die Situation in England ganz gut zusammen und – wie ich vermute – auch die Situation in anderen europäischen Ländern, wenngleich sie dort vielleicht noch nicht so klar erkennbar ist. Die Art und Weise, wie religiöser Glaube zum Ausdruck gebracht wird, verändert sich rapide und organisierte Religion sieht sich vor ernsthafte Herausforderungen gestellt.

Der Aufstieg von Säkularismen – und ich spreche hier ganz bewusst im Plural – baut Druck aus zwei entgegengesetzten Richtungen auf: (a) durch den Versuch, alles zu marginalisieren, was mit christlichem Glauben oder seiner Ausdrucksweise zu tun hat – in der Annahme, dass jede religiöse Weltanschauung nur eine Privatangelegenheit ist, während das, was wir den ‚säkularen Humanismus‘ nennen können, das Vorrecht auf den öffentlichen Raum hat, und (b) durch Formen des Multikulturalismus, die die Religion auf eine Anzahl vergleichbarer Phänomene reduziert und relativiert – aber ohne deren Inhalte ernst zu nehmen.

Seit dem 11. September wird dies noch verstärkt durch die Annahme vieler Politiker und Medienleute, dass Religion die Ursache eines Problems anstatt die Quelle der Lösung ist – und dass religiöse Menschen daran gehindert werden müssen, sich gegenseitig zu bekämpfen, auch dort, wo es gar keine Anzeichen für einen Konflikt gibt.

Daraus resultiert, was wir oben als ‘religiöses Analphabetentum‘ bezeichnen. In der Kirche von England setzen wir uns auf verschiedenste Weise und auf unterschiedlichen Ebenen damit auseinander. (Wenn Menschen fragen: ‚Warum tut die Kirche nicht etwas, um…‘, dann frage ich meist, wer denn ihrer Meinung nach ‚die Kirche‘ ist. Ist es der Pastor? Oder die Ortsgemeinde? Oder die Diözese, die Landeskirche? Oder die landesweite Kirche? Oder die Generalsynode oder die Bischöfe? Denn die Kirche von England arbeitet auf all diesen Ebenen.)

Auf nationaler Ebene beschäftigt sich die Kirche von England zum Beispiel durch das House of Bishops, durch die (26) Bischöfe, die im House of Lords sitzen, durch den Ausschuss für Mission und öffentliche Angelegenheiten (Mission & Public Affairs Panel) in der Generalsynode und durch die Bildungsabteilung mit diesen Fragen, indem sie Richtlinien erarbeitet, Ressourcen zur Verfügung stellt und sich mit der Regierung, mit Politikern, Organisationen und anderen Gremien auseinandersetzt. Die Diözesen bieten Schulungen für die Geistlichen und die Laien an. Auf der Ebene der Ortsgemeinde (the parish) gibt es oft sehr kreatives Engagement in den Schulen und anderen lokalen Vereinen und Gemeinschaften. Bischöfe erheben die Stimme und engagieren sich in der öffentlichen Debatte, in akademischen Kreisen oder in den Medien – dazu werde ich gleich noch mehr sagen.

Ein konkretes Beispiel für diese Art der Auseinandersetzung mit den Gegebenheiten der modernen Gesellschaft ist die große Anzahl an Glaubenskursen, die auf lokaler Ebene von den christlichen Kirchen angeboten werden. Vom ‚Alpha‘- oder dem ‚Emmaus-Kurs‘ bis hin zu neuen Materialien unter dem Titel ‚Pilgrim/Pilger‘, die das House of Bishops herausgegeben hat, zielen all diese Initiativen darauf, Menschen dort zu begegnen, wo sie in ihrem Leben gerade sind und mit all den Fragen, die sie gerade haben. Die Tage des gelehrten Monologs sind weitgehend vorüber – jetzt leben wir in einer Welt des Gesprächs, in der die Kirche ihre Anwesenheit rechtfertigen, und für das Recht gehört zu werden, streiten muss.

Die Kirche von England lernt, den Menschen dort zu begegnen, wo sie tatsächlich sind (und nicht, wo wir wünschten, dass sie sein sollten) und sie lernt – und das ist vielleicht noch wichtiger – in Sprachen zu sprechen, die gehört und verstanden werden können. In den letzten zehn Jahren haben wir tausende Projekte entwickelt, die wir „fresh expressions of church“ nennen: neue, frische Gesichter oder Ausdrucksweisen der Kirche. Dazu zählen innovative Gemeindeformen in Clubs, Kneipen, in Privathäusern oder sogar in Firmen. Nach und nach ermutigt das die Anglikaner, immer neu darüber nachzudenken, wie man Menschen in ihren jeweiligen Lebenszusammenhängen erreichen kann.

Diese neue Experimentierfreude in Sachen christlicher Verkündigung ist vielleicht am deutlichsten sichtbar in der Art und Weise, wie wir mit den Medien umgehen – insbesondere mit den Sozialen Medien. Ich will anhand einiger persönlicher Beispiele zeigen, was das mit unserer Relevanz zu tun hat.

Ich bin einer der so genannten Medien-Bischöfe der Kirche von England. Das bedeutet nicht nur, dass ich mit Medienpolitik auf nationaler Ebene zu tun habe, ich bin auch Vorsitzender einer Mediengesellschaft und ich gehe selbst regelmäßig auf Sendung. Mein Interesse dabei liegt weniger bei den christlichen Medienunternehmen, die den ohnehin schon Überzeugten predigen, sondern eher bei der BBC und anderen unabhängigen Medienproduzenten. Jede Programmsparte verlangt dabei einen anderen kulturellen Bezugsrahmen und eine andere Art von Sprache. Wenn ich zum Beispiel ein Manuskript für eine Ansprache auf BBC Radio 4 schreibe, gehe ich von einer gebildeten Zuhörerschaft aus, die über Email oder Twitter auf das Gehörte reagieren. Wenn ich eine Morgenandacht für die Chris Evans Frühstücksshow auf BBC Radio 2 schreibe – was ich regelmäßig tue – muss ich eine andere Form wählen – immerhin hören dort wöchentlich 10 Millionen Menschen zu, die sich nicht ausgesucht haben, mir inmitten des schnellen und trendigen Programmes zuzuhören. Und wenn Elton John neben einem sitzt, sieht man das eigene Zwei-Minuten-Manuskript noch mal mit ganz anderen Augen.

Diese Art des Engagiert-Seins verlangt Einfallsreichtum und einen gewissen Abenteuergeist. Man muss die Aufmerksamkeit des Publikums packen, muss ihre Vorstellungskraft reizen mit einer Geschichte oder einem Bild, muss etwas Sinnvolles sagen, das in der Erinnerung hängen bleibt und muss einen Mehrwert für das Programm insgesamt liefern. Mit anderen Worten: Der Inhalt muss zum Medium passen, denn das Medium legt alles andere fest. Ist das nicht der Ort, wo die Kirche sein sollte?

Nun, dies führt uns zu einer weiteren Frage in Bezug auf das religiöse Analphabetentum (oder das religiöse Unwissen). Gemeinsam mit anderen setze ich mich dafür ein, dass die BBC die Religion insgesamt einen anderen Stellenwert einräumt, indem sie einen Chefredakteur für Religion einsetzt. Es gibt einen Chefredakteur für Wirtschaft, für Politik, für Sport und so weiter. Ihre Aufgabe ist es nicht, für ihr Themenfeld zu missionieren, sondern die Ereignisse in diesem Bereich zu interpretieren – oder die Ereignisse in der Welt zu interpretieren, wie sie sich durch die Brille ihres Bereiches darstellen. Wie war zum Beispiel nach dem 11. September die wirtschaftliche Sichtweise, wie sich die Welt nun darstellt oder interpretiert werden sollte? Genauso sollten wir davon ausgehen, dass die Menschen die Welt um sie herum nicht vollständig verstehen können ohne ein gewisses Verständnis dessen, wie Religion funktioniert und welche Auswirkungen sie auf das Weltgeschehen hat.

Diese Art der Auseinandersetzung können nur einige von uns führen. Die Stimme des Gemeindepfarrers vor Ort hätte hier kein Gewicht; anders als die der Bischöfe, die durch ihre Erfahrung und ihre Beschäftigung mit den Medien eine gewisse Autorität in diesen Fragen erlangt haben. Gleichzeitig bietet die Kirche auf nationaler und regionaler Ebene viele Kurse an, um Christinnen und Christen zu ermutigen und zu befähigen, in den Medien aktiv zu sein, besonders in den Sozialen Medien wie Twitter, Facebook und so weiter.

Das Entscheidende ist, das religiöse Analphabetentum in vielfältiger Weise anzugehen, dem jeweiligen Anlass und der Art des Diskurses angemessen – und die Kirche von England tut das.

Der Schlüssel dafür ist Einfallsreichtum und Vorstellungskraft. Die Kirche von England gibt sich nicht der Nostalgie hin, indem wir uns wünschen, die Welt wäre anders – oder davon träumen, wie schön sie einmal war. Stattdessen suchen und ermutigen wir kreative Wege der Begegnung mit den Menschen, dort, wo sie sich in ihrem täglichen Leben befinden. Ja, das bedeutet auch viele Debatten mit den so genannten Neo-Atheisten und anderen. Ja, das bedeutet auch, auf Diskussionen zu antworten wie selbst welche zu beginnen. Es bedeutet aber auch, die in Politik und Medien weitverbreitete Annahme zu hinterfragen, dass Religion Privatsache sei und auf das Privatleben beschränkt bleiben sollte, damit der öffentliche Raum frei bleibt für diejenigen, die ihre eigene Weltsicht (oder kulturelle Prägung) für neutral halten.

In England sehen wir uns einer sich rasant verändernden kulturellen Landschaft gegenüber, besonders im Blick auf den Multikulturalismus. In Bradford, wo ich lebe, sind 80 Prozent der Einwohner asiatisch-stämmige Muslime. Was heißt es, in einer solchen Gemeinde anglikanische Kirche zu sein? Diese Frage haben wir im September bei einer Konferenz behandelt, als die Meissen Kommission nach Bradford kam und wir untersucht haben, wie ‚Kirche‘ in einem solchen Kontext aussehen kann. Kern unseres anglikanischen Ansatzes ist ein Ausdruck, den wir für unsere Beziehungen mit Menschen anderer Religionen verwenden: Presence and Engagement Da-Sein und Engagement (Anwesenheit und Einsatz?)

Wir sind geographisch und territorial, wir sind physisch anwesend in unsere Gemeinde und bieten den Menschen um uns herum Raum und Beziehung. Der Ausdruck ‚Presence and Engagement‘ bringt den anglikanischen Ansatz auf den Punkt, wie wir unsere Aufgabe in England auf allen Ebenen sehen: Wir sind da und wir sind bereit, uns die Hände schmutzig zu machen.

Mir scheint, dass dies am besten – und am präzisesten – illustriert, wo sich die Kirche von England sieht (d.h. wie die Kirche von England ihre Rolle und ihre Aufgabe sieht) in einer Gesellschaft, in der Religion oft missverstanden, falsch dargestellt oder ignoriert wird. Es gibt schlimmere Orte…

This Konrad Adenauer Stiftung symposium in Cadenabbia, Italy, began on Sunday by setting the scene for the main theme: Der öffentliche Raum in Europa und seine religiös kulturelle Prägung. It did so by discussing Religion und Säkularität in der Moderne. Day Two continued by examining Religion im Spiegel der Öffentlichkeit – looking at some of the challenges to religion in Europe and some of the cultural changes that lie behind them. Day Three focused on how several different religious communities are responding to religious pluralism: the Orthodox in East and South Eastern Europe, the Roman Catholic Church in France, and the Church of England in the light of increasing religious illiteracy. We concluded (prior to a boat trip across Lake Como in a thunder storm and visits to a couple of nice places) with a discussion about the future of religion in a pluralist Europe. Needless to say, the whole conference thus far has been intelligent, informed and fascinating. (Although, as usual, I feel like the dunce in the class…)

Professor Dr Radu Preda from the University of Babes-Bolyai in Romania did a superb analysis (in embarrassingly fluent German) of how the Orthodox churches have responded to the radical changes in East and South Eastern Europe: Die Situation der Orthodoxen Kirchen in den Transformationsländern Ost- und Südosteuropas. Acknowledging that Orthodoxy cannot speak with one voice – because of its national and ethnic ('tribal') polities – he went on to relate the church's mission in relation to territory and power. What is clear is that those churches that found freedom in the end of Communism have simply been so compromised by their allegiance to the 'new' political powers that they have lost their prophetic voice. The big challenges are (a) pluralism and (b) corruption.

This was followed by Professor Dr Henri Ménudier (Université de Paris 3 – Sorbonne Nouvelle) describing the situation in France with its particular and unique process (ideology?) of laïcité. Addressing the title of Proposer la foi: Das Angebot der Kirche in Frankreich, he described the challenging situation facing the church there (what's new?) before going on to suggest where the challenges are actually throwing up opportunities where the church is willing to be creative. Inevitably, celibacy, women priests and the Roman Catholic Church's sacramental response to divorced people (50% of marriages in France, apparently) must be up for grabs. Pluralism is a further challenge, and he surprised me by saying that there is little dialogue between Christians and Muslims in France. This led to a wide-ranging discussion of social and political debates in France.

It is never easy to follow good, informed and fluent speakers on any subject and in any circumstances. Following these guys didn't exactly fill my heart with overflowing gladness. But, I had been asked to do a paper on Der Weg der Kirche von England gegenüber Unwissen und Distanz zu religiösem Glauben. I will post the basic paper separately, but I offered a glimpse of how we in the Church of England try to engage creatively in a context of pluralism, religious illiteracy and media variability in respect of religion in general and the church in particular. As always, the real value came in the questioning and debate that followed the paper. The point relayed back to me by both theologians and journalists (there are several serious journalists here, including the Political Editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung – and he is a really good bloke) was my comment that the church has always been a mess, is a mess, and always will be a mess…, so get used to it and relax a bit more.

After a heavy three days we spent the rest of the afternoon on Lake Como and continuing conversations into the evening. I know I am privileged to be here and to be invited to take part in conferences like this. I think, though, that such engagement feeds my mind and soul, represents the best Continuing Miniaterial Development that I cold ever do, and, at a time of great uncertainty about my own ministerial (episcopal) future, gives me the space to withdraw from the immediate pressures of the diocese and reflect on broader themes that shape how I see God, the church, the world and myself.

We conclude in the morning with further papers and discussion before headig for Milan and the long flights home to Bradford (via Munich and Manchester), but I probably will not get space to post before leaving.

 

I was tempted to call this post 'Let's do the Como-tion', but I resisted. Just. I bet you are glad.

I came on from Finland early Sunday morning and flew to Milan where I joined the Germans coming in from Berlin and we were driven to Villa La Collina in Cadenabbia, overlooking Lake Como. Having not slept a wink last night, I found the lectures and discussions today quite hard going. Even chatting at dinner was a strain.

This villa is the conference centre (Accademia) of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. Konrad Adenauer was the remarkable first Chancellor of Germany after the Second World War, taking up office in 1949. His Stiftung (foundation) does some really excellent work on the relation between society, religion, culture and politics (among other research and other themes). This one is titled: Der öffentliche Raum in Europa und seine religiös kulturelle Prägung.

The first day (having arrived at 2pm, we started on the work at 3.30pm) tackled the theme: Religion und Säkularität in der Moderne. The first paper was by Professor Marcia Pally of New York University and she presented a paper (in English) on Covenant: Rebalancing the fractures and freedoms of Modernity. Basically, it was about the essential relatedness of human beings (although quoting Moltmann on 'relatedness' without reference to 'creation' is a bit weird) and the essential nature of relationality to human flourishing (my term).

The second paper was by Professor Dr Rolf Schieder (Humboldt-Universität, Berlin) and titled: Spiritualität und Glaube – und die Kirchen? Empirische Befunde in Europa. This was really a interesting survey of research into 'religion' (commitment and expression) and 'spirituality' in Europe – referencing the differences between neighbouring European countries in some surprising ways ('religious' getting a higher rating than 'spiritual' in Germany, but the opposite being the case in France). The ensuing discussion led to some difference of opinion about how optimistic we should be about the future of the church in Germany, given the cultural as well as 'spiritual' contribution it might make.

A long, sleepless and intense day ended with a superb paper given by the Speaker of the German Parliament (Bundestagspräsident), Professor Dr Norbert Lammert, on Kunst, Politik und Öffentlichkeit (Art, polotics and public space). He basically posed a fundamental question: how do you measure the soul of a society? He went on to consider truth, democracy, culture and the need for a [written] Constitution (which, of course, we do not have in the United Kingdom). He stated that culture is not an ornament of society, but is fundamental to society… and that although art has a claim on the State, the State has no claim on art or culture. The discussion was fascinating and detailed, but I was struggling to keep my concentration because of extreme tiredness… and will need to re-read the paper more slowly. (The paper will be published along with others in due course.)

Enough for now.

 

Three stories penetrate the work-ridden last few days.

Yesterday Trevor Kavanagh, associate editor and former political editor of the Sun had the nerve to accuse the Metropolitan Police of wasting time and resources on their investigation of criminality at the heart of News International. He described police tactics as treating suspected journalists like “members of an organised crime gang”. He objected to dawn raids and intrusive searches of journalists’ homes.

Forgive my naïveté, but why does he think the police are doing this at all? Would he or his newspaper have had any patience with police ignoring criminality on an industrial scale in some other area of society? Did he consider the handling of the MPs’ expenses scandal as a waste of time and money – a gross overreaction? Does he really think that investigations into corruption and criminality at the Sun is ‘disproportionate’?

I usually find Trevor Kavanagh interesting, but this has left me staggered. Is he so out of touch that he still doesn’t get the public outrage at this enormous corruption? The irony of his choice of words is that the need for expensive and thorough police investigation arises directly from crime that looks distinctly ‘organised’. Or is it just that it is OK for ordinary mortals to have their lives intruded upon, shredded and dumped – their reputations rubbished and their families disturbed – but somehow wrong for journalists to suffer the same treatment? I am boggled.

Richard Dawkins is at it again – although Giles Fraser rattled him on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning. As Dawkins mocked respondents to his poll who couldn’t name the first gospel, Fraser embarrassed him by exposing his inability to remember the full title of Darwin’s Origin of Species. His latest evangelistic campaign is just silly. In danger of confusing atheism with secularism (they are not the same), he perpetuates the pretence that he occupies neutral space whereas religious people are somewhere up the loaded loony scale. What makes him think that his world view is to be privileged above all others is still unclear. Anyway, his survey proves little – and certainly not what he thinks it proves.

Baroness Warsi has complained to the Pope about rampant and aggressive secularism that is marginalising religion in general and Christianity in particular in Britain today. Not having had time today to read all the reports of this, I remain unclear why she needs to tell the Pope what he already thinks. But, the question is really whether or not she is right. I just hope she doesn’t slip into the language of ‘persecution’.

The most interesting two responses I have seen to Dawkins and Warsi are by Giles Fraser and Julian Baggini. Rational atheist argument is fine and secularist campaigning acceptable. But, where does the mindless aggression come from? Why the irrational evangelism that doesn’t even pretend to be tolerant of any world view that differs from it’s own fundamentalism?

It’s a funny old world. Last night I had a two-minute TV spot on Channel 4 and today has seen a barrage of responses.

4thought.tv has a theme for the week and this week it asks whether Christians are being persecuted in Britain today. Readers of this blog will not be surprised to hear that I don’t think we are being persecuted. Some Christians have responded with anger at my betrayal of the cause and some atheists/humanists have commended what I said. The former think I should be more worried about what is going on out there and the latter think I can be recruited to their cause.

Inevitably, it is more complex than that. I recorded over an hour and a quarter and it was edited into two minutes. I have no complaints and they gave a fair representation of the sweep of matters we discussed. The producer asks questions, but the broadcast piece does not indicate to which questions the statements/views were given in answer. Again, I stress, I have no complaints. However, the one statement I wish had been included was along the lines of:

Being marginalised, misrepresented or misquoted is not the same as being persecuted. And it isn’t just a matter of semantics.

Christians are being persecuted in Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, parts of Africa and the Middle East. Being ridiculed a bit or misrepresented by the religiously illiterate in Britain is a pain and poses challenges – but it is not persecution. My point in the broadcast was to encourage Christians to stop seeing themselves as pathetic victims, recognise the amazing freedom we have in (and massive contribution we make to) British society both locally and nationally… and get out there more confidently with the unique gift of Christian faith, service and apologetics. As Liverpool keep discovering, playing defensively allows the opposition all the creative space to attack – and you don’t win football matches by playing that way.

The websites that are claiming me as an ally in the ‘secularist’ cause shouldn’t celebrate too soon. My stance yesterday does not mean that I don’t get fed up with (and argue against) the rather stupid anti-Christian or ignorant/irrational secularist stuff around in the public square. But, rather than bleat about it, I’d rather we took up the creative challenge and engaged seriously with it.

I had no idea about any ‘Not Ashamed’ campaign until I saw it today. Whatever I said yesterday was not an attack on it – hard to do when you don’t know it exists. In fact, you could argue that the point of my 4thought.tv piece was to encourage Christians to stop seeing themselves as victims, to be confident about their faith and its ability to stand in the public square, and to do the opposite of being ashamed.

Although flattered to be commended by the humanist commentariat, they should also be a little bit worried: this isn’t a cave-in to secularism; it is a call to get stuck in with a bit more nous and a bit more confidence in the Gospel.

Do you remember them? I dredged it up from my rather worryingly selective memory – a soap in the shape of a pope on a rope so you could hang it conveniently in the shower.

Reading some of the stuff about the imminent visit by Pope Benedict XVI to the UK later this week, you could be forgiven for thinking that lots of otherwise reasonable people would be quite happy to see the Pontiff suspended from a rope. The nature and degree of the personal venom directed against him raises other questions about what it is that fires such vindictiveness.

Cards on the table: this Pope is a PR disaster and, while being as brainy as one could hope for in a spiritual leader, seems to have little or no grasp of symbols or gestures or how these work in relationships or communications at any level. I disagree with some elements of his social ethics (contraception and condoms being the obvious target), but I do know how he gets there. I don’t like the way he has taken the Roman Catholic Church back towards a pre-Vatican II map in which Rome sits bang at the centre and everything else revolves around it.

But, on the other hand, I respect a man who refuses to go along with ‘contemporary’ cultural and ethical mores simply because he is expected to. Benedict has a brain. His arguments need to be heard and understood before a response is offered. What we are reading this week doesn’t show much of a rational grasp of what all this is about.

Sorry to pick an easy target, but the sheer sloppiness of Polly Toynbee‘s tirade (yes, another one) in today’s Guardian is breathtaking. Let’s be clear: a rational, reasonable, informed, credible critique of the Pope and his assumptions should be achievable and might even be welcomed by Christians (among others). Get the argument going. Tackle the philosophical and theological assumptions which then shape the Pope’s doctrine and ethics. Prove him to be flawed, stupid, wrong, misguided or dangerous – if that’s appropriate – but just to throw things at him from your pram is both inadequate and sad.

Here are some examples from Polly Toynbee’s piece (which seems to have been rather uncritically welcomed by many readers whose sentiments she articulates):

…sex lies at the poisoned heart of all that is wrong with just about every major faith.

Er… and at the heart of nothing else? Sex and how we handle it (so to speak) is a human issue, not just a religious issue. It is not self-evidently true that ‘sexual freedom’ sets us free and improves human relationships or well-being. Everyone wrestles with sex (if you see what I mean…).

Women’s bodies are the common battleground, symbols of all religions’ authority and identity. Cover them up with veil or burka, keep them from the altar, shave their heads, give them ritual baths, church them, make them walk a step behind, subject them to men’s authority, keep priests celibately free of women, unclean and unworthy. Eve is the cause of all temptation in Abrahamic faiths. Only by suppressing women can priests and imams hold down the power of sex, the flesh and the devil. The Church of England is on the point of schism over gay priests, women bishops and African homophobia. The secular world looks on in utter perplexity.

So, let’s pick on the worst elements of religious expression (which millions of religious people also find weird and/or dodgy), shall we, and ignore the rest? What response would I get if I used Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao and the other usual suspects as the epitome of secular atheism? Like everything else in this world – the real one in which most of us live – religious institutions or movements comprise huge ranges of agreement and dispute with just about everything the institution or movement lays claim to. There is no objective monolith – not even when leaders pretend there is.

And, just to be really clear, (elements of) the secular world looks on with utter perplexity at all sorts of religious motivation, belief and behaviour: self-sacrifice, humility, generosity, etc. (There I go again – generalising…) The mere fact that ‘the secular world looks on with utter peplexity’ tells us nothing other than that some people are perplexed by other people – it says nothing about the subject of the perplexity itself.

But the Vatican still talks of a few bad apples requiring internal discipline, the pope refusing to hand rapists over to secular law.

The Vatican might not want me as its defender, but that is simply nonsense. But why let reality intrude into a good rant?

The other dominion the religions control is death. Were it not for the faiths with their grip on hospices and palliative care, the law on assisted dying would be reformed.

Good grief! Clearly the assumptions behind Polly Toynbee’s view on the ethics of assisted dying are self-evidently true and the development of palliative care through the hospice movement (which is also concerned with the whole person in the context of the whole family, etc) is clearly a destructive fraud on dying people. Oh, right. No need to argue that point, then.

Where once secularism and humanism were relics of a bygone religious age, its voice is important again. But pointing out the blindingly obvious need to keep faiths in their private sphere has united religious gunfire against secularists.

Now, that really is breathtaking. It seems ‘blindingly obvious’ to some of us that Polly Toynbee has not bothered to listen to any challenge to her root assumption that her world view is self-evidently true – and therefore needs to have privileged place in the public square – while that of religious people is self-evidently stupid and dangerous and needs to be confined to the private sphere where it can’t do any harm. This nonsense has been knocked on the head in the last twenty years even by atheists.

All atheists now tend to be called “militant”, yet we seek to silence none, to burn no books, to stop no masses or Friday prayers, impose no laws, asking only free choice over sex and death.

No, not all atheists are being called ‘militant’. That’s ridiculous. That’s like bleating that all religious people are being labelled ‘fundamentalist’ or ‘brain-dead’. It might apply to some, but not to all. Please give us the rational atheists (of which there are plenty) instead of this sort of unthinking tirade.

And, actually, you are ‘wanting to silence’… by insisting on religion being confined to the private sphere (like an unmentionable hobby or embarrassing habit). You can’t have it both ways.

Religion deserves its say, but only proportional to its numbers.

Really? We all know how to play with numbers and proportions. Add the membership of the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Society together and ask if they would have any voice anywhere in proportion to their ‘numbers’. And, if the argument is that many more people are secularists than belong to the formal societies, then the self-same argument can be made for religion. Which gets us nowhere.

No privileges, no special protection against feeling offended.

At last, I agree. But it is amazingly easy to offend those who object to the ease with which religious people are offended. Watch this space…

Anyway, there are reasons for objecting to the Pope’s visit and the basis on which it has been set up. But, Polly Toynbee’s argument isn’t one of them.

The National Secular Society – which seems to be a small group of angry people we would fit into Liverpool Cathedral in one sitting – has just awarded the excellent Southall Black Sisters the Secularist of the Year prize. Unfortunately, I can’t work out what the Sisters actually won. Was it money, a trophy, a bunch of flowers? I think we should be told (or, at least, I should be told where to look for the answer).

Apparently…

Southall Black Sisters was set up to meet the needs of Black and Asian women who are the victims of domestic violence or injustices in the legal system. The main aim of the organisation is to empower women in gaining more control over their lives, to be able to live without fear of violence and be able to assert their human rights to justice, equality and freedom. It is right on the forefront of the feminist struggle in this country. It celebrated its thirtieth anniversary last year, being founded in 1979 during the Southall race riots.

They were awarded the prize for the following reason:

… because they provide a secular space where women fleeing violence or injustice – often resulting from religious attitudes – can find a safe haven… The Government’s ‘cohesion’ agenda has put an enormous amount of power into the hands of religious leaders in minority Asian communities. These are almost always very conservative in their outlook and some consider women’s rights to be unimportant. The Southall Black Sisters can provide women with some time away from this all-powerful religious patriarchy for them to sort out their problems in their own way.

This raises two intriguing questions:

1. What has any of that to do with ‘secularism’? I’d love to know the view of the Southall Black Sisters on this. But to set this against some silly prejudice about ‘religion’ just pushes the NSS into the ‘we’ve stopped thinking’ corner. Since when has defending women against injustice and violence been the sole preserve of ‘secularists’?

2. Did the NSS not check out who actually funds the Sisters? Here’s the list (as discovered by someone else):

The Bromley Trust, John Lyon’s Charity, Department of Health Section 64 Funding, The Sigrid Rausing Trust, City Parochial Foundation, Bridge House Trust, Comic Relief, London Borough of Ealing, Network for Social Change, Princess Diana Memorial Fund, Oak Foundation, Wates Foundation, Henry Smith Charity, London Rape Crisis Centre, Atlantic Philanthropies, Bloomberg.

At least three of those are Christian charities and there may be more.

So, how much financial support is the NSS providing to their award winners? Just asking.

I have just seen the press notice for some new paper by ‘the religion and society think-tank’ Ekklesia on the BBC Thought for the Day debate. Basically it calls for ‘fairness’ in allocating slots to humanists and indeterminate ‘others’ on the grounds that “it would be entirely appropriate in a mixed-belief society to hear the values, beliefs and moral convictions of humanists and others – including the many who call themselves ‘spiritual but not religious’.” It goes on to assert that “both religious and non-religious listeners” are urging the BBC to change its ways, noting along the way that “Anglicans or those with direct links to Anglicanism still overwhelmingly dominate amongst those who contribute to TFTD.”

Ekklesia (which – unless I am mistaken –  is basically Jonathan Bartley and Simon Barrow) then asserts:

Religion does itself no favours by seeking maintain a privileged place in broadcasting. For many religions advantaging yourself against others goes against core teachings, which call for fairness and equality. There would be outrage if a BBC sports slot omitted to include coverage of several significant sports because they didn’t consider them ‘sporty’ enough. It is absurd that the exclusion of minor religions, humanists and others has continued unchallenged for so long.

It is difficult to know where to start with this – especially as the argument looks to have an element of personal pique to it: Jonathan Bartley was dropped from the Thought for the Day list and is clearly (and understandably) miffed. But let’s take it point by point:

bbc-logo1. As we pointed out in a debate last month, the argument is not about inclusiveness or ‘fairness’, but about distinctiveness. Appeals for fairness are usually empty and echo the cry of children in the school playground. TftD is a distinctive slot with presenters not doing yet another ‘opinion/comment’ piece, but interpreting the world from within their particular religious tradition. This is the only slot of its type through which this perspective might be gained.

2. I wholeheartedly agree that it is “entirely appropriate in a mixed-belief society to hear the values, beliefs and moral convictions of humanists and others – including the many who call themselves ‘spiritual but not religious’.” But we do hear these (particularly of humanists) in just about every other programme which assumes that humanism is the obviously and self-evidently ‘true’ world view. Should Christians (or religious people) be arguing for at least a single religious voice in every edition of In our Time, Start the Week, etc.? The question is not about the validity of such voices being heard; rather, it is whether those voices are to be heard in a distinctive slot such as TftD.

3. Who are the other ‘religious listeners’ backing Ekklesia’s view? I know of Ekklesia, but not any other grouping. I’d be interested to know.

4. Ekklesia obviously has a problem with Anglicanism generally. But they fial to recognise the distinctive rationale of the Church of England which is not congregational and which is organised to serve everybody in every parish regardless of their faith (even humanists), creed and state. The churches might fail a million times in this vocation, but it is a unique vocation and does mean that bishops and clergy are seriously well connected to grassroots communities all over the country. So, maybe the Anglican contribution should be welcomed and not discarded so easily. (More could be said, but…)

5. The weird argument about sport would suggest that Ekklesia thinks Match of the Day should have cricket and rounders in it too. After all, that is about ‘fairness and equality’. And, anyway, when did it become assumed that every religion calls for ‘fairness and equality’? Christianity calls for lots of things (including self-sacrifice and not misrepresenting your neighbour’s case), but ‘fairness and equality’?! The elder brother of the Prodigal Son will have his ears pricked up here!

MicrophoneThis is superficial nonsense. I used to hold to a similar view to Ekklesia until I started to think about it and debate it. If TftD is to be broadened, it will need better arguments than these. Especially as – as was pointed out by Giles Fraser in our recent debate – there are humanists represented already: such as the Christians like Giles who contribute. How absurd it was (during that debate) to hear Erasmus cited as an example of the secular humanist tradition when he was, in fact, a Christian!

The Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, retires this week after 15 years in post. He will now devote his time to supporting Christians facing persecution in some tough parts of the world. I have no idea what this will actually mean from day to day – or how this will be funded and Michael and his family supported – but he has made a brave decision to move on at this point and enter an unknown world for the last five or ten years of his ‘paid’ ministry.

As I have said before, Michael Nazir-AliI heard Michael speak when I was a curate in Kendal in the late 1980s and was astonished at his fluency, intelligence and memory. He didn’t once appear to refer to a note or script, he quoted theologians and thinkers I have trouble even remembering, and dealt with questions with a gracious eloquence that didn’t expose how silly some of them were. Michael has never lost that amazing ability and has used it to great effect for the sake of the Gospel and the Church. Being on the receiving end of his eloquence and forensic analysis is not always comfortable (which is an understatement), but his passion and integrity are unquestionable.

In yesterday’s Daily Telegraph he gave his final interview before moving on. Predictably, the thrust of the reported interview highlights the perceived concerns of the Telegraph itself, focusing on the need for the Church of England to “do more to counter twin threats of secularism and radical Islam”. Apparently, he warned us that “traditional British society is under threat from the rise of aggressive secularism and radical Islam”. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find the interview itself – only the report of it. So, it isn’t clear what else Michael might have talked about in the interview. (Update 3 September: Martin Beckford has very helpfully written up the interview.)

I agree with Michael that “the Church of England, which is used to working with society, should speak up … to defend the country’s customs and institutions, most of which are based on Christian teaching”. But I do not agree with the bit I excluded from that quotation: “more often”.

The first question this begs is: who is the Church of England? Is it the bishops or the Archbishops’ Council or the clergy or…? The fact is that the Church of England – in its parochial clergy, its chaplaincies, its bishops, its synods, its reports, its bloggers, its representatives in the House of Lords, etc – is always ‘speaking up’ and questioning the drifts of society when they need to be questioned. But not everybody gets listened to as Michael does. I am constantly surprised to hear that the Archbishops of Canterbury or York have been silent on something when a cursory look at their speeches, sermons and writings tell a different story.

I regularly get asked why I have not ‘spoken out’ on something or other when I have preached, blogged and debated the matter openly. What is really meant is: ‘you weren’t reported as saying what I want to hear you say in my newspaper.’

The same can be said of : “I think it will need to be more visible and take more of a stand on moral and spiritual issues”. What would such a ‘stand’ look like? And which ‘moral and spiritual issues’ will be regarded as those most important for the Church to be heard on? We are accused of not ‘speaking out on moral issues’ when it has to do with sex or relationships, but not often when it is to do with climate change, banking/finance or media misrepresentation.

I think there’s a double jeopardy – on the one hand an aggressive secularism that seeks to undermine the traditional principles because it has its own project to foster. On the other is the extremist ideology of radical Islam, which moderate Muslims are also concerned about. This is why there must be a clear recognition of where Britain has come from, what the basis is for our society and how that can contribute to the common good.

Michael has been well-heard on these matters, but he is not and has not been alone in speaking on them – either at parochial, local, national or international level. (I raised questions about persecuted Christian – and other religious – minorities during the Congress of Leaders of World and Tradional Religions in Kazkahstan in July this year…) I hope he will continue to bring his unique perceptions and perspectives to bear on these and other issues, but I also hope that others will get heard when they do what he is asking for, but don’t have the same facility as he does for getting reported.

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