In a report out a few days ago, a commision of enquiry into the role of religion in public life in Britain led by a former senior judge, The Rt Hon Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss GBE, has acknowledged that Britain is no longer a Christian country and recommends a systematic de-Christianisation of public life.
Not surprisingly, the mainstream Christian churches, who were heavily represented on the enquiry board, are crying foul, squealing like stuck pigs and demanding to be allowed to keep their special privileges and power, despite the fact that they are accountable to no-one and represent only a small and decreasing minority of the population.
The main bullet point findings of the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life were:
Over the past half century, Britain’s landscape in terms of religion and belief has been transformed beyond recognition.There are three striking trends:
- The first is the increase in the number of people with non-religious beliefs and identities. Almost a half of the population today describes itself as non-religious, as compared with an eighth in England and a third in Scotland in 2001.
- The second is the general decline in Christian affiliation, belief and practice. Thirty years ago, two-thirds of the population would have identified as Christians.Today, that figure is four in ten, and at the same time there has been a shift away from mainstream denominations and a growth in evangelical and Pentecostal churches.
- The third is the increased diversity amongst people who have a religious faith. Fifty years ago Judaism – at one in 150 – was the largest non-Christian tradition in the UK. Now it is the fourth largest behind Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism. Although still comprising less than one in ten of the population,faith traditions other than Christian have younger age profiles and are therefore growing faster.
Furthermore, intra- and inter-faith disputes are inextricably linked to today’s geopolitical crises across the Middle East, and in many parts of Africa and Asia. Many of these disputes are reflected back into UK society, creating or exacerbating tensions between different communities.
So twenty-first century ethno-religious issues and identities here in the UK and globally are reshaping society in ways inconceivable just a few decades ago, and how we respond to such changes will have a profound impact on public life.
But it's not so much the findings that the church leaders and vested interests are fulminating over as the recommendations.
After sharing their vision with us:
The commission’s vision is of a society at ease with itself in which all individuals, groups and communities feel at home, and in whose flourishing all wish to take part. In such a society all:
- feel a positive part of an ongoing national story – what it means to be British is not fixed and final, for people in the past understood the concept differently from the way it is seen today and all must be able to participate in shaping its meaning for the future are treated with equal respect and concern by the law, the state and public authorities
- know that their culture, religion and beliefs are embraced as part of a continuing process of mutual enrichment, and that their contributions to the texture of the nation’s common life are valued
- are free to express and practise their beliefs, religious or otherwise, providing they do not constrict the rights and freedoms of others are confident in helping to shape public policy
- feel challenged to respond to the many manifest ills in wider society.
the Commission's report recommends:
The implications of such a vision for public policy are of many kinds, and are highlighted throughout this report. Prominent amongst them are those which are briefy summarised below. Each is discussed and explained in much fuller detail in the main body of the report.
- A national conversation should be launched across the UK by leaders of faith communities and ethical traditions to create a shared understanding of the fundamental values underlying public life. It would take place at all levels and in all regions.The outcome might be a statement of the principles and values which foster the common good, and which should underpin and guide public life.
- Much greater religion and belief literacy is needed in every section of society, and at all levels. The potential for misunderstanding, stereotyping and oversimplification based on ignorance is huge.The commission therefore calls on educational and professional bodies to draw up religion and belief literacy programmes and projects, including an annual awards scheme to recognise and celebrate best practice in the media.
- The pluralist character of modern society should be reflected in national and civic events so that they are more reflective of the UK’s increasing diversity, and in national forums such as the House of Lords, so that they include a wider range of worldviews and religious traditions, and of Christian denominations other than the Church of England.
- All pupils in state-funded schools should have a statutory entitlement to a curriculum about religion, philosophy and ethics that is relevant to today’s society, and the broad framework of such a curriculum should be nationally agreed.The legal requirement for schools to hold acts of collective worship should be repealed, and replaced by a requirement to hold inclusive times for reflection.
- Bodies responsible for admissions and employment policies in schools with a religious character (‘faith schools’) should take measures to reduce selection of pupils and staff on grounds of religion.
- The BBC Charter renewal should mandate the Corporation to reflect the range of religion and belief of modern society, for example by extending contributions to Radio 4’s daily religious flagship Thought for the Day to include speakers from non-religious perspectives such as humanists.
- A panel of experts on religion and belief should be established to advise the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) when there are complaints about the media coverage in this field.
- Relevant public bodies and voluntary organisations should promote opportunities for interreligious and inter-worldview encounter and dialogue. Such dialogue should involve Dharmic as well as Abrahamic traditions, young people as well as older, women as well as men, and local groups as well as national and regional ones. Clergy and other opinion leaders should have a sound understanding of the traditions of religion and belief in modern society.
- Where a religious organisation is best placed to deliver a social good, it should not be disadvantaged when applying for funding to do so, so long as its services are not aimed at seeking converts.
- The Ministry of Justice should issue guidance on compliance with UK standards of gender equality and judicial independence by religious and cultural tribunals such as ecclesiastical courts, Beit Din and Shari’a councils.
- The Ministry of Justice should instruct the Law Commission to review the anomalies in how the legal definitions of race, ethnicity and religion interact in practice and make recommendations to ensure all religious traditions are treated equally.
- In framing counter-terrorism legislation, the Government should seek to promote, not limit, freedom of enquiry, speech and expression, and should engage with a wide range of affected groups, including those with which it disagrees, and also with academic research. It should lead public opinion by challenging negative stereotyping and by speaking out in support of groups that may otherwise feel vulnerable and excluded.
These recommendations amount to nothing short of a systematic de-Christianisation of major British institutions such as the BBC, the House of Lords, the courts and education so it's not surprising that the Christian churches and Christians in power have been quickest and loudest to complain. One of the first to squeal was Tory Government Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, who dismissed the Commission's recommendation on faith schools as "ridiculous". Typically with this sort of controversial matter, it was left to an anonymous spokesperson for the Education Department to tell us:
Nicky is one of the biggest champions of faith schools and anyone who thinks she is going to pay attention to these ridiculous recommendations is sorely misguided.
Quoted in the Daily Telegraph - normally regarded as a mouthpiece of the Tory Party
It's worth reminding ourselves what these "ridiculous" proposals are:
Bodies responsible for admissions and employment policies in schools with a religious character (‘faith schools’) should take measures to reduce selection of pupils and staff on grounds of religion.
Nicky Morgan is a member of the staunchly Anglican, Conservative Christian Fellowship, which boasts a number of Tory MPs in its senior ranks and is regarded as the political wing of the Anglican Church. Apparently, Morgan sees her role as a minister in a democratically elected government, paid by taxpayers, to represent the interests of the Anglican clergy.
Also wading in was a unattributed quote by a Church of England spokesman who didn't bother dealing with the main points or the details of the recommendations but went straight in with an attempt to discredit the whole report with:
The report is dominated by the old fashioned view that traditional religion is declining in importance and that non-adherence to a religion is the same as humanism or secularism.
The Daily Express, another solidly right-wing newspaper, quoted an unnamed Church of England spokesman as going so far as to claim the Commission had been 'hijacked' by Humanists.
In a more measured response, speaking for the National Secular Society, its executive director, Keith Porteous said:
There are some sensible recommendations in the Commission’s report, but there is no escaping that the Commission is composed of vested interests and is unlikely to make recommendations for any radical change. Disestablishing the Church of England should be a minimum ambition for a modern Britain in the 21st century. This report promotes a multi-faith approach to public life which is completely at odds with the religious indifference that permeates British society.
So, for the first time, a major inquiry has acknowledged that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is a declining force in Britain and can no longer lay claim to represent anything like a majority of people for whom religion has become an irrelevance. Had the religious vested interests the honesty and integrity to recognise that their power and privileges can no longer be morally justified, they too would acknowledge the reality that their position is held fraudulently and has no basis in popular support.
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