Stephen Beer, Blog, Stephen Beer

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Engaging the secularists?

A comment on my last post notes that some fear there is an increasing secularist or anti-religion element within Labour. Where is this being tackled?

It's worth looking at this fear for a moment. Religion and politics is being debated with more fervour at the moment. Within this debate, while those who hold to a faith are still arguing for government, party, etc to listen to and understand faith perspectives, those who see little or no role for faith have become more vociferous.

Why is this? I think it is because the debate has got trapped. Churches and faith groups are partly at fault because they have created the impression they will only lobby on 'special interest' issues, when of course their calling is wider than that. But certainly, some people are worried that faith is going to have too much influence and that this may even threaten our liberal democracy. So there has been perhaps a backlash.

This is an issue I have been keen to tackle. I am a Christian. I believe strongly in liberal democracy, where all are equal before the law. Should the two clash? I believe that on the whole government should be secular in that it is usually religiously neutral, but not atheist ie it should not exclude faith perspectives.

Many in this debate seem to have been taking lessons from First World War generals. Each side sits in its trench and occasionally makes forays onto the No Man's Land of public debate in an attempt to gain some hard fought ground. Sometimes they have to retreat. And so it goes on.

What we need is to find ways of becoming a society that includes people of all perspectives, not excluding an opinion because it is faith-inspired, but with some common rules on how to debate and come to agreement.

See a previous post on this ( which contains a link to a paper I wrote published last year.

1 comment:

The Labour Humanist said...

Wow, some prolific posting taking place on this blog at the moment!

When I get the chance I'd like to respond to some of this on my own blog.

But for now the anonymous comment you mention at the top said:
"...the militant secular wing of the Labour Party, which appears to have a grip on power at present..."

Ha ha...if only! ;-)

It's hard, from where I am standing, to fathom where that sentiment can come from. During the last 10 years, I would argue party policy has shifted from being religion "neutral" to being very much pro-religion in public life - not because of any pressure from below from members and activists but from behind closed doors in whitehall and on TB's sofa - and if this has caused bad feeling then it is because of the feeling that controversial issues such as faith schools aren't debated in an honest manner. It's a divisive issue for members yet I don't believe it's had a single mention in any policy review document issued by the party in the last 10 years.

End of the day figures such as the PM and Lord Adonis knew the party would veto policies expanding faith schools and academies and decided to circumvent us altogether. Bad politics which has resulted in some bad policy making.

So I welcome the way in which you are thinking out loud on some of these issues, even if I won't agree with all your points, but the party needs to debate this stuff or face some potentially corrosive divisions.