"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"

Greta Christina

Monday, 19 March 2012

No Dr Williams, we have real issues with you too.

Retiring Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has suggested that Secularists are using Christianity as a 'surrogate' for Islamic radicals when they criticise Church involvement in politics and public life. The comments were made at a service in Wallington in response to a question from Revd Cookson who asked him about the recent debate over secularism saying:
“Do you think that the real issue for them isn’t necessarily Christianity but actually radical Islam, that it is more of a reaction to radical Islam and we are the surrogate for that.”
To which Dr Williams said:
“I think there is a lot of truth in that. It is the last decade that has seen the great rise in anxious secularism, a real suspicion of religion in public.”
I have some sympathy with this in that I think it is true that the events of 9/11 and the London tube bombings have made people aware that religion is a dangerous force in fanatical hands and reminded the English in particular that the cosy Vicar of Dibley world of Anglicanism is not the only manifestation of religion in this country. But the fact that Rowan’s C of E posse are unlikely to be seen throwing bombs around is not the reason secularists, at least in this country, concentrate on Christianity. It is because Christianity, and Anglicanism in particular, has a political influence disproportionate to the constituency it purports to represent. Al-Quaeda does not have its leaders in the house of lords, but there are twenty-six bishops who comprise the Lords Spiritual as part of the established church in England. They get a big say in the way legislation is framed and moderated purely by reason of having climbed the ranks of this particular religious institution.
I do, as a matter of fact, think the secular elements in Britain ignore Islam more than they should. This is in part because the danger of violent reprisal is not trivial, but it also has a cultural dimension that can leave us open to accusations of racism if not approached properly. That said, Christianity is not just an easy target and a surrogate for disquiet about Islam, it would be the prime focus in any event where issues of legislation clashed with religious thinking. Neither are we, as the Archbishop believes being naïve about religion:
"We are also in a culture where a lot of people simply don’t know how religions work. I sometimes think the problem with a lot of government initiatives is that they assume either that vicars are imams in dog collars or imams are vicars in turbans. [They assume] that there is one way of being religious – either you are a sort of committed fanatic who wants to subvert the whole to your agenda or you are a sort of woolly liberal who can be persuaded who can be persuaded to go along with whatever is happening in society. The Church isn’t either of those things, it is the assembly of Christ’s friends with good news to share.”
Which is just silly: we know that religion is a diverse phenomenon, but all faiths share one thing in common. None of them are true. It doesn’t matter how benign and ecumenical the Anglican Church wants to be, the root rational for their opposition to some types of social reform comes from the same mythos as radical Islam’s and given its privaliged position is a clear and present obstacle. That is why, in the face of pending equality legislation and the Church's vocal opposition, secularists in Britain are concentrating on Christianity.

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