More religion, less Christianity, says think tank
Andrea Williams discusses the UK's cultural identity on BBC News at One
A think tank has called for changes to the events and institutions of British public life, saying that they should reflect the “UK’s increasing diversity” and the “pluralist character of modern society”.
But the report has been sharply criticised for its “piecemeal” proposals and for failing to recognise “the benefit and coherency that Christianity brings to our past, present and future”.
“Living with Difference”, published today, is the product of the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, a private commission established in 2013 by the Woolf Institute and chaired by Baroness Butler-Sloss.
‘The pluralist character of modern society’
The commission calls for greater religious literacy “in every section of society” but goes on to recommend diminishing the role of Christianity in various institutions, such as schools and the House of Lords.
“Inclusive times for reflection” should replace acts of collective worship in schools, faith schools should take steps to “reduce selection of pupils and staff on grounds of religion” and BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day should include speakers from “non-religious perspectives such as humanists”, the report says.
The coronation service and the House of Lords, meanwhile, are amongst national events and forums that should reflect “the pluralist character of modern society” and include a “wider range of worldviews and religious traditions, and of Christian denominations other than the Church of England”.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, strongly criticised the report:
"In spite of the name, we should not confuse this commission with a public or royal commission. It has been appointed by a private body and its conclusions are not all that surprising, given its make-up.
"The report is right to recognise the enduring significance of religion. Contrary to the shrill claims of some secularists, religion is not going away.
"Sadly, however, the report’s response sets us off in entirely the wrong direction in terms of next steps. It says that public policy has been piecemeal, but its own proposals are equally piecemeal.
"This report suggests that we need more religion in public life, but less Christianity. It fails to recognise the benefit and coherency that Christianity brings to our past, present and future.
Different religions, different outcomes
"We need to be honest and face up to the fact that different religions have very different views about what is right and wrong and produce very different outcomes for a society. The ‘lowest common denominator’ approach of pluralism is a dangerous illusion.
"It destroys a solid foundation for strong values and defence against evil and replaces it with a foundation of sand that could be swept away in a moment.
"A yet more pluralistic approach to our national life is precisely what we don’t need. Pluralism can only ever deliver greater fragmentation and confusion, as the last few decades should have taught us.
"We need a coherent narrative that is sufficiently robust to give us direction and real British values. For good reason, it’s Christianity that has provided that for centuries and it’s only Christianity that can provide it for the future.
‘Recover our confidence’
"It is Christianity that has given Britain a strong sense of identity, purpose and direction, whilst simultaneously making us hospitable and welcoming to others. Without Christianity we will lose both.
"We need to recover our confidence in our Christian heritage, not continue to diminish and deface it further. All around us we are seeing the outworking of the cultural vandalism of our nation’s Christian foundation. It’s time to reverse that destruction.
"Who is it that really wants to diminish Christianity’s place in our national life? Those who are most vocal in calling for further pursuit of the failed experiment of pluralism are usually those who really see it as a vehicle for robbing us of the benefit of our Christian heritage."
The report was also criticised by the Church of England’s Director of Mission and Public Affairs, Malcolm Brown, who said that the commission was “captive to a kind of liberal rationalism that is simultaneously hubristic and losing the wider argument.”
“What a sad waste of a glorious opportunity to exemplify the religious literacy that the report calls for in others”, he concluded.
His comments were echoed by the prominent Christian blogger, Archbishop Cranmer:
“This is a private institution with a theologically pluralist mission, which crammed its multi-ethnic commission with diverse academics and sundry lobbyists who have a pre-ordained theo-political agenda”.
Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life 2015 (CORAB)
WOOLF Institute: Butler-Slush and the demand for more multifaith mish-mash (Archbishop Cranmer)