Sunday, May 20, 2007

What kind of society do we live in?

As my wife's an architect she gets all sort of journals and periodicals sent to her through the post, which she hardly ever reads. But I find them absolutely fascinating - especially last month's edition of the RIBA Journal. The edition was entitled 'A Matter of Faith' and amongst its articles was a piece by a guy I heard at a conference about a year ago - Prof. Philip Sheldrake of Durham Theology dept. Pretty groundbreaking stuff really having a theologian published in a specialist professional journal - particularly when the profession in question is a subset of the construction industry (hardly synonymous with progressive spirituality). This month in the letters section there was a bit of an anti-Sheldrake rant - rather unfair really as he was contributing to the magazine as a non construction specialist. But that wasn't why the rant got my back up, no, it was this throwaway statement: 'we live in a secular society'.
It scares me that people can get away with saying stuff like this. Its just as misguided as saying Britain is a Christian nation. Britain is not a secular society. Russia under Stalin was a secular society. So was China under Mao. No matter how much you may loathe Thatcher or Blair neither of them chose to dismantle the mechanisms and institutions of faith in our nation (although on Blair's watch the most serious curtailments of faith praxis have occurred). No, we are a pluralist society - a patchwork quilt of ideas, ideologies and idiosyncrasies. As such we exist in a dynamic tension between equality and diversity the outcome of which is often: more of one = less of the other. For example, many people of faith are today feeling the pinch of legislation passed in the name of equality that in practice only serves to restrict their ability to live according to their diverse convictions.
Whilst Evangelical secularists (those familiar with its holy texts and deliberately active in converting others - as opposed to nominal secularists - those passively immersed in secular culture, thought and rites from an early age) would like to believe that they can arbitrarily claim a higher place in the social pecking order they fail to see either the true origins of their freedoms or what the true human implications of achieving their zenith might be. Living in a marketplace where ideas and opinions can be freely expressed and exchanged is essential to the thrill of being alive. These flagrant 'You and your ideas don't belong here' attitudes are the most churlish form of intolerance. Such prejudice towards (large) sections of society such as religious communities is hypocrisy in the extreme and borders on oppression. Those of us with faith need to be brave enough to name it as such.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

No comments: