The Clash of Beliefs: Secularism and Faith Communities and the Need for InterAction on Shared Values

The recent speech at the Vatican by Baroness Warsi on militant secularism and the aggressive stance that it has taken against faith and faith communities, sparked a debate for a few days in the UK and followed on from her recent speech in which she stated that anti-Muslim sentiments were now part of the after dinner discussion in many living rooms in Britain. The debate on faith has many times been heated and intemperate and secularists and faith communities have taken increasingly aggressive positions, though the former having been angered that faith communities have become increasingly prominent in the public sphere since the premiership of the Tony Blair and his desire to see faith brought into public platforms.

Between the bus poster campaigns, the London Underground poster card campaigns and the various dearth of magazine articles suggesting that there probably is no God and others suggesting that there is a Creator and he loves us all, the haze of a media war has left outcomes blurred and with some strange alliances being made by both sides. Yet, recently secular groups and leading media pundits like Dawkins have been of late, on the attack against faith communities suggesting that they are somehow ‘irrational’, somehow ‘illogical’ and racked by superstition and religious guilt. As you can imagine, this has not gone down well at all and we have reached a point where many people of faith feel that the next threat to such communities comes from what they regard as ‘militant secularists.’

Yet within all of these discussions there does seem to be a bizarre confluence of sort. Both faith communities and secularists talk about the protection of human rights and the need to ensure that all people are free from hate crime, as well embracing the diversity of communities, at least in the mainstream of these two communities. They agree that there will always be tensions between the two and that there will be those who believe in faith and those who do not, despite the sometimes heated and aggressive public debates. Dawkins also agrees that elements of faith such as Christmas carols, architectural designs based on faith and the visions of faith that inspired men and women to greater social heights for example, are things that he has not disagreement on. Indeed he says that even enjoys singing carols at Christmas time. All well and good, though it is usually the history of faith and issues around personal choice and religious traditions that most irk the secularists. So, in fairness there are confluence points and there has been very little focus on developing these areas so that some form of trust can be built up before the more difficult issues are tackled.

So the next 2 – 3 years should be based on faith communities and secularists (including the more militant tendencies) trying to support greater discussions on looking at areas where they may be some commonality whilst also legitimately debating areas of disagreement. Much has been done on interfaith dialogue and so entrenched has this form of activity become that it will continue to roll on and gather pace. However, little has been done on what I call the need for InterAction on Shared Values between these two groups. These engagements will shape the future for engagement between faith and non-faith communities and Baroness Warsi’s comments have simply brought these issues to the foreground of social debates. If anything, I believe that she has done the debate a great service. She has honestly said what needed to be said; that we need to talk about the difficult issues and stop hiding in the shadows, whilst attempting to score points against ‘the other’. That helps no-one, let alone the Allmighty, if there is one.

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