Session 4: Mutual Respect and Tolerance

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The Jesmond Conference Session 4: Mutual Respect and Tolernace of those with Different Faiths and Beliefs

Clearly Britain is pluralist in the sense than more than one "faith and belief" is in the political ring. But as we have seen the tradition that has shaped our liberalism is Christian and it is an ordered liberty.

So from a Christian perspective much about other faiths and beliefs poses no issues regarding respect and tolerance. But aggressive Western secularism and barbaric Jihadist Islam do.

But what is "respect"? Listen to the great social scientist from Newcastle University, the late Norman Dennis, who writes this:

The approach in an open society to other people's views and actions is to assume that reasoned argument in good faith is the only permissible means of fostering them or opposing them. Manipulation, no less than coercion, intimidation and lies are ruled out. In an open society people listen to an opponent's case with a readiness to be corrected. But they treat their opponent's readiness to be corrected, in turn, as sufficiently important to seek to correct it, where they believe it to be factually distorted, or morally or spiritually mistaken. They treat both their own view of the world and that of their opponent seriously, that is to say, with respect. Such liberty has been, Lord Acton said, 'the soul of what is great and good in the progress of the last two hundred years.'

Respect, in this sense, is neither necessary nor possible, it is simply irrelevant, if all views of the world are equally valid. If all views of the world are equally true and equally good, then one set of people can feel only indifference if the effects on them of the world-view of another set of people are neutral; pleasure if they are beneficial; and defiance, hatred, fear or helplessness if they are oppressive."

Respect as he makes clear is so different to esteem. All must be respected as human beings made in God's image. But you must make an estimation on the rightness of their actions or truth of what they say depend on factors other than their own assertions. Just because they hold views doesn't make them right or true, whatever post-moderns may say.

So what then is "toleration"?

Since the Reformation the West has developed an important tradition of religious tolerance. This tolerance is not the same as indifference. Toleration means that you allow to continue without legal interference beliefs or practices of which you personally disapprove and think wrong. Indifference means that you do not mind or care what other people believe or do right or wrong.

But why British values must include the Christian Tradition as a value is to make possible respect and tolerance. For in the religious and moral sphere, tolerance in society is only possible where there is a dominant religious moral tradition or "sacred canopy". Professor John McIntyre of Edinburgh has pointed out that religious minorities fare better when there is a dominant religious tradition that is tolerant of others than when there is an attempted neutrality or indifference towards all religions. McIntyre has worked this out in regard to modern educational theory. He has described the "religious rake's progress". First, there is "neutrality", where each religion of the world is presented neutrally. That slides into "subjectivism", where choice is emphasized and religion is seen purely a matter for subjective preference. Finally there is "indifference", where it is a matter of pure indifference which religion you choose.

He argues that members of other faiths fare as badly as Christians with this wrong openness. Paradoxically, they fare better off when Christianity is presented as a matter of "truth". Other faiths stand a better chance of being taken seriously when one faith at least is being taken in this way, than when all are treated neutrally. The point is that if all religions are treated on the "supermarket" principle, a positive, not a neutral, philosophy is in fact being promulgated – i.e. "truth claims" are not only unimportant, but also to be denied in respect of any particular faith. That, in McIntyre's judgement is "the final emasculation" of religion. It is a view also held by Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi, in his Reith Lectures:

"giving many religions equal weight is not supportive of each but instead tends rapidly to relativize them all."

This relates, of course, to schools. So what ought to be the religion that is not just taught about in school but accepted as a British value and the schools religious tradition, unless, of course, it is a faith school of another religion? Answer, the Christian religion – as a matter of reason and of law (The Education Act 1996).

As T S Eliot said: "no culture can appear or develop except in relation to a religion" – and schools are in the business, whether they realize it or not of shaping the national culture."

And moderate Secularists and Muslims are happy to attend Christian schools and knowing that they are Christian schools; in fact the percentage of Muslims at good Christian schools in the North East has been larger than in the local population.

But how are to respond in terms of respect and tolerance to extreme Secularists, who Norman Dennis would claim have been and are shaping education, and extreme Jihadist Muslims?

But first let me explain what we are talking about.

"Secularism" is a euphemism for atheism. In the middle of the 19th century in Britain there was a new mood of aggressive doubt and disbelief regarding the Christian faith.

As part of that new mood, a 19th century freethinker, George Holyoake, wanted less alienating terms than "infidel" or "atheist", currently in use for those opposed to the Christian faith. So the term Holyoake discovered was "secularist", and with this term he helped to found the "National Secular Society".

And such secularism is a religion as admitted by John Dewey, the philosopher and educationalist who was a huge influence on Western education. He was the principle author of the first Humanist Manifesto of 1933 (the year that saw the rise of Hitler). The Manifesto explicitly identified humanism as religious. What it deplored was "the identification of the word religion with doctrines and methods which have lost their significance and which are powerless to solve the problem of human living in the 20th century". Among the major theses of its "religious humanism" were the following:

"Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created."

"Humanism asserts that the nature of the universe depicted by modern science makes unacceptable any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human values."

"Religious humanism considers the complete realization of human personality to be the end of man's life and seeks its development and fulfillment in the here and now."

"In place of the old attitudes involved in worship and prayer the humanist finds his religious emotions expressed in a heightened sense of personal life and in a co-operative effort to promote social well-being."

"Man is at last becoming aware that he alone is responsible for the realization of the world of his dreams, that he has within himself the power for its achievement."

Forty years later the Humanist Manifesto II was even more aggressively opposed to traditional religion and it spoke of sexuality. "In the area of sexuality, we believe that intolerant attitudes, often cultivated by orthodox religions and puritanical cultures, unduly repress sexual conduct." Then it echoes Mill of On Liberty: "Short of harming others or compelling them to do likewise, individuals should be permitted to express their sexual proclivities and pursue their life-styles as they desire."

Of course, none of this is neutral; but this is the "religion" that is being imposed in 1000s of our State schools. It is the religion of atheism to which homosexualism is now joined; not surprisingly the President and Chief Executive of the National Society are in a homosexual civil partnership!

The other extreme is extreme Jihadist Islam.

How to understand modern Jihadists is not agreed. One suggestion that I find convincing is that they are Koranic literalists who believe the Koran allows them to use barbaric violence to achieve their goal of bringing about the "good society"; and this violence includes executions for which beheading was traditional (presumably as being more humane than some other methods). Of course, the majority of Muslims are not Jihadists and certainly peace loving, but not all.

We must face the truth.

For many non-Muslims in the West that is difficult. There is a paralysis over doing so. As Marcello Pera says: "A large part of European culture is so paralyzed by the idea of a civilizational clash with Islam, and by memory of the religious wars, that they would do anything, even deny that Europe is a civilization with its own religion, in order to avoid conflicts and to keep from appearing 'aggressive' or closed to 'dialogue'."

So what is the fundamental truth we are to face? It is the truth that the Jihadists are all part of a global phenomenon that started in the last part of the 20th century and is still continuing. The phenomenon is the rise of conservative movements in all the major religions. These movements are rejecting the secularization of their religion by many of their mainstream leaders. However, these rejections can take different forms. An Islamic revival movement, I understand, in Indonesia, has been pro-democracy and pro-pluralism unlike the Wahabi revival groups with roots in Saudi Arabia. These are like the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda, IS, Al Shabab and Boko Haram and whose inspiration are people like the Egyptian, Sayyid Qutb, who began life as a secular reformer, but then spent two years in the United States where he was shocked by its godlessness and hedonism.

Qutb thought the problem for the Muslim in the modern world was the corrupting and secularizing (pro atheistic) influence of Westernization. He then saw Islam as providing the moral and spiritual leadership to avert that threat while Western secular government had no solution, only more of the same. God alone, he said, can legislate; so human lawmakers mean being placed on a level with the divine and so a form of idolatry. And as all human political institutions are thus blasphemous, the only hope is in shari'ah and in studying and submitting to the Koran. But as ordinary people are not yet ready for all this, a vanguard is needed to seize power in a single Islamic State and to impose a strict Islamic orthodoxy, establishing a secure base from which to influence or coerce neighbouring countries.

So what does respecting and tolerating current aggressive secularism, which is already embedded in significant parts of the Department for Education and Ofsted and the media, and barbaric Jihadist Islam – with both groups, although in different ways, being extreme from the perspective of the Christian tradition?

John Locke, as we have said is the father of liberty; but it was especially through being the father of toleration. In his Letter of Toleration and his responses, he argued that toleration is not a matter of withholding judgements about other faiths and beliefs. No! It means accepting that the law will not prohibit such faiths and beliefs but then being free to disagree publicly but peacefully as you seek to correct those you believe are wrong.

However, there were limits to such toleration.

First, Locke held that (I quote) "no opinions contrary to human society, or to those moral rules which are necessary to the preservation of civil society, are to be tolerated by the magistrate". Nor, Secondly, are those who "deliver themselves up to the protection of another prince" to be tolerated. And, thirdly, "those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of God … Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all." Locke had a Nietzchean view that when God is dead all is permitted and a strong view of Natural Law, as we have seen:

How is Locke to be translated to day in terms of Britain and British Values? Quite simply all religions and beliefs are to be respected and tolerated (Locke included Islam – writing just two years after the siege of Vienna), but, not sedition, violence and sexual intercourse outside heterosexual marriage. Locke would class such extra-marital sex as "contrary to human society". It seems clear he did not support the seeking of "impunity for libertinism and licentiousness" and from what he had written that probably includes "whoredom, adultery and fornication."

And Locke's concern for marriage, which he called the "first society", cannot be ignored by us as he had a concern for posterity.

And Europe is in a serious condition in this respect. The previous Pope, as Cardinal Ratzinger spoke once of the loss of faith in Europe bringing with it three other losses: a loss of European identity, a loss of moral foundations, and a loss of faith in posterity, evident in the falling birthrates that he described as "a strange lack of desire for the future." The closest analogue to today's Europe, he said, was the Roman Empire on the brink of its decline and fall. This needs to be heeded.

Europe has the lowest birthrates in the world at 1.6 children per woman (with 2.1 being the replacement level). So unless there is change, we should expect that in our grandchildren's time many Europeans will want, and possible secure, an Islamic European establishment of Sharia law. This is because Europe needs over 1 million immigrants every year due to its population decline. But many of these immigrants are likely to come from poorer countries nearer to Europe - North Africa, the Middle East and the horn of Africa which are predominantly Muslim countries. Not to allow such immigrants when the population is declining is economically suicidal (robots can only achieve so much and science cannot create 30-50 year old economically productive human beings). This decline is not obvious until the oldest generation with replacement levels of fertility dies off. Until then there is population increase and a feeling of well-being. Then doomsday starts. But politicians thinking just in terms of 5 years are not interested. Of course, there are people who are desperate to have babies who cannot. But without doubt this serious situation is due to the sexual revolution of the last 50 years. Locke, obviously, did not want a sexual revolution only a glorious political revolution which he helped achieve in everyone's interest Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Independents, Baptists, Quakers, Jews and Muslims.

But how do you apply Locke's intolerance towards atheism which surprises modern commentators? Fundamentally, Locke believed dishonesty and lying – the absolutely essential social glue – could not be tolerated. Truth is non-negotiable.

So, if what we are saying about the Christian tradition and the pursuit of truth is essential to ordered liberty, it is vital that included in British values are the Christian tradition and the pursuit of truth as well as Democracy, the Rule of Law, Individual Liberty and Respect and Tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.

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