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Dr Rowan Williams says that ‘aggressive secularism’ has nothing to do with persecution; Lord Carey and Bishop Nazir-Ali disagree. Who’s right?

Dr Williams speaks from the perspective of the high table and senior common room: but Dr Nazir-Ali has actually been persecuted

By on Monday, 10 September 2012

Lord Williams of Oystermouth, former Archbishop of Canterbury (Photo: PA)

Lord Williams of Oystermouth, former Archbishop of Canterbury (Photo: PA)

Well, we had been warned (not that many of us were exactly quaking in our boots): Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, as he prepares to step down from his position as head of the Anglican communion to become Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, has now attacked not only the government (which, as far as I am concerned, he can do to his heart’s content if it makes him feel better) but also (implicitly) his admirable predecessor, Dr George Carey, for saying “it is now Christians who are persecuted”, that they are often “driven underground” and that “there appears to be a clear animus [within the legal system] to the Christian faith and to Judaeo-Christian values. Clearly the courts of the United Kingdom require guidance.”

Dr Williams’s attack on Lord Carey is from the point of view of the Christian cause a more serious matter. But before saying anything about it, I cannot forbear from all comment on his foray into political ethics. He begins with the usual necessary reservations about the authority of theologians to pronounce on matters involving technical political judgments: then he immediately makes a fool of himself by uttering precisely such a pronouncement under the guise of an ethical “awkward question”. “No theologian has an automatic skill in economics,” he says (tick here); “but there is,” he continues, “an ethical perspective here, plainly rooted in theology, that obliges us to question the nostrums of recent decades, and above all persistently to ask the awkward question of what we want growth for, what model of well-being we actually assume in our economics.”

Well, I will tell him what we want growth for: we want growth, archbishop, to pay off our debts and, more urgently and I would have thought with the most ethically imperative urgency, so that new jobs may emerge in our economy, and the millions now enduring the soul-destroying misery of unemployment may be enabled to emerge from their present state of impotent futility: a “model of well-being” they long to attain one day and which they cannot attain without growth in the economy. Dr Williams has often been accused of Left-wing political leanings; but this is surely to credit his political views with a rationality and a coherence they do not have; on this showing, they are indistinguishable in their ignorance and unreality (as well as in their content) from those of the green party.

But let that pass; it hardly matters. What does matter is that Dr Williams is now using his still considerable position in public life to undermine the brave struggle of his predecessor, Lord Carey, who has protested against the growth of secularist attacks on the freedom of Christians to practise their religion, and has most notably led the fight for the “Strasbourg four”, whose case (which I wrote about last week) came up before the ECJ on Tuesday.

“We have been hearing quite a lot about the dangers of ‘aggressive secularism’,” says Dr Williams, “and the strident anti-Christian rhetoric of some well-known intellectuals is still a prominent feature of our society,” Dr Williams writes. “But … our problem is not simply loud voices attacking faith (and certainly not ‘persecution’ as some of the more highly-coloured apologetic claims). Argument is essential to a functioning democratic state, and religion should be involved in this, not constantly demanding the right not to be offended.”

But of course we must have argument. That’s just not what we’re talking about, for heavens’ sake. It’s not a matter of not being offended, Dr Williams: haven’t you noticed? Christians are losing their jobs for standing by their principles. He really does seem to be remarkably insensitive about other people’s unemployment (perhaps it’s because he has never been unemployed himself, having mostly gone straight from one cushy number to another, now culminating in a very comfortable berth in Cambridge).

Dr Williams was probably thinking as much, in his attack on those within his Church who oppose aggressive secularism and make supposedly “highly coloured” accusations of persecution, about the former bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, as about Dr Carey. In May, Bishop Nazir-Ali said that the exclusion of Christians from their places of work for wearing a cross amounted to the “beginning of persecution”.

In a new book he now questions the whole intellectual basis of Dr Williams’s approach. Dr Williams argues that secularism comes in two different forms and that a secular state as such does not necessarily pose a problem for Christians (correct in itself). What he describes as “programmatic” secularism is, he says “problematic”. This excludes religious practice and symbols from public life in order to emphasise the “unclouded” loyalty of individuals to the state. There is, however, no difficulty for Christians with what he calls “procedural” secularism, according to which which the state allows people publicly to practise their faith but does not give preferential treatment to any single religious group (how, I wonder, does the establishment of the Church of England fit into this distinction?). Dr Williams insists that “the Church” can continue to exist in a secular society as long as it is allowed to speak up for its values.

Bishop Nazir-Ali says that Dr Williams’s distinction is “not really stable”, and that that any form of secularism represents an assault on Christian values.

His new book comes out on September 13, and it is entitled Triple Jeopardy for the West: Aggressive Secularism, Radical Islamism and Multiculturalism. It should be noted that when he makes “highly coloured” accusations of the beginnings of persecution here, he is doing so from the perspective of a Christian who knows from personal experience what real persecution is and has experienced its onset in a previously tolerant state. He became the first Anglican Bishop of Raiwind in West Punjab (1984–86), at the time of the Islamisation of Pakistan unleashed by General Zia ul-Haq. When his life was in imminent danger in 1986, the then Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie arranged for his refuge and employment in England (and good for him).

So when he observes what he calls the beginnings of real persecution here, and when he perceives “secularist agendas which marginalise all faith but seem especially hostile to Christianity”, he is talking about a phenomenon of which he has personal experience. This is something he really knows about.

When Dr Williams talks about secularism as being simply to do with free speech, and when he ignores those who have lost their jobs through aggressive secularism and says that it is simply a matter of the “argument [which] is essential to a functioning democratic state”, and goes on to say that “religion should be involved in this, not constantly demanding the right not to be offended” as though anybody cared about that, he too is speaking from his own extensive experience of life, life at least of a certain well-defined sort – an experience of involved discussions at high tables and in senior common rooms, in the world to which he now, with some relief I am sure, returns.

But he has never been in danger; nor, like the Strasbourg four (who are the tip of a very large iceberg) has he ever been sacked for remaining true to his faith. Goodbye, Dr Williams; I hope you will be happy in Cambridge — I am sure you will do well there. But as the supposed leader of English Christianity, I have to say that we would have been better off with Dr Nazir-Ali.

  • teigitur

    Who is right? A little clue, it’s not Rowan Williams. It rarely is, sadly.

  • awkwardcustomer

    Rowan Williams is a perfect example of the complacently
    comfortable individual, Christian or otherwise. 
    Anyone who has been persecuted for their beliefs, such as Dr Nazir-Ali,
    threatens to upset his cosy, stay warm by the fire attitudes.  Their respective histories as outlined in the
    article show that they may as well live on different planets.  I look forward to reading Dr Nazir-Ali’s
    forthcoming book, whereas Rowan William’s writings take an endless number of
    words to say nothing in particular.

    Vladimir Bukovsky is another individual who has suffered
    persecution, having spent 12 years in various Soviet prisons, labour camps and
    forced treatment psychiatric hospitals. 
    In his 2006 speech on the growing dictatorship of the European Union, he
    said the following:

    ‘ Look at this persecution of people like the Swedish pastor
    who was persecuted for several months because he said that the Bible does not
    approve homosexuality. France passed the same laws of hate speech concerning
    gays. Britain is passing hate speech laws concerning race relations and now
    religious speech, and so on and so forth. What you observe, taken into
    perspective, is a systematic introduction of ideology which could later be
    enforced with oppressive measures. Apparently that is the whole purpose of
    Europol. Otherwise why do we need it? To me Europol looks very suspicious. I
    watch very carefully who is persecuted for what and what is happening, because
    that is one field in which I am an expert. I know how Gulags spring up.

    It looks like we are living in a period of rapid, systematic
    and very consistent dismantlement of democracy.’   (Europol = European law enforcement agency)
    Rowan Williams’ distinction between ‘programmatic’ and
    ‘procedural’ secularism is also problematic, a distinction which William Oddie
    seems to accept by agreeing that a secular state does not necessarily pose a
    problem for Christians. But if Christ is God, then how can Catholics accept
    that His teachings should stop at the doors of Parliament or the Town Hall?
    Once the milder ‘procedural’ secularism is accepted, then Catholics have
    admitted that Christ, as God, has no say in how their country is governed other
    than in a purely advisory capacity.  Is
    this not the slippery slope that inevitably leads to the aggressive secularism
    that we increasingly see today? 
    Comfortable, complacent Catholicism seems to be the norm today ( I don’t
    mean William Oddie here).  Christ, on the
    other hand, was neither comfortable nor complacent. 

    To Aelfrid the Mercian, who reported on another thread that
    he was attacked only days ago by robbers wielding machetes.  Are you okay? 
    Please post something, anything, to let us know.

  • Meena

    Dr Nazir-Ali has been persecuted, and his life threatened, by a non-Christian religious majority in a position of strength (when he was part of a religious minority).
    Christians once, when in a position of strength, persecuted Muslims and Jews in Europe (and other Christians who held different views). Other Christians, in the Levant and arriving in the New World, persecuted and slaughtered the native unbelievers. 

    This illustrates so well the evil caused by “devote” religious followers: they are so absolutely convinced of the correctness of their particular holy book, its story and by their authority figure that they will seek to carry out the most appalling inhuman atrocities, if they have the raw power and opportunity to do so.  
    And, in doing so, they will claim to be acting in the name of God.

    As people say today: “You really couldn’t make it up”. May God preserve us all from their madness.

  • Acleron

    Nazir-Ali appears to have forgotten that he experienced tolerance when Pakistan was a secular state. It inherited the secular policy of the Raj. Jinnah, essentially the founder and first leader of Pakistan, appointed both a christian and an hindu to senior positions in government.

    Nazir-Ali was persecuted when those early ideals were trashed by Zia and Pakistan became a religious state.

  • Thanks

    Re:- secularism, i’m looking forward to the English version of the Courtyard of the Gentiles, a digital evangelisation event for the Year of Faith.

  • Lazarus

    I’m quite grateful to have been spared the enlightened, self-critical secularism of the like of Pol Pot, Stalin, Mao etc. Give me an Established Church, even a Protestant one, any day.

    And Meena, you don’t really come over as someone overly troubled by scepticism or self doubt yourself. (A blessing, I suppose, that you can only rampage harmlessly over the comboxes of the terrible ‘devote’ Catholic Herald rather than do any real damage.)

  • Meena

    I thought there was something wrong with my devote religious.
    But there are more important matters than typos. 
    I am full of doubt, even about atheism – although much more-so about theism. I can accept that they may be a God, but could NEVER accept that your Church represents him.

    The truly wicked past, and some present features, of your Church requires the equivalent of a Nikita Khrushchev moment – when he renounced Stalinism.

  • theroadmaster

    It seems that Dr Rowan Williams has been inhabiting an intellectual ivory tower, in relation to his playing down of the widespread ideological intolerance of the objections of people of Faith with regard to legislation which violates consciences.  We have seen clear examples of these realities in recent years, as shown by the involuntary decision of Catholic adoption agencies around Britain in 2009-10 to dissolve themselves, rather than betray their own principles regarding the right of a child to be raised by a mother and father within the structure of marriage.  Other cases involve the prosecution of hoteliers or owners of bed and breakfast establishments,who for reasons of Faith only rent out rooms to traditionally married couples.  The “rights” industry has been made to work over-time to give coverage to beliefs or behaviors which western societies up to a generation ago, regarded as not being conductive to the morale or morality of society.  
    Bishop Nazir-Ali indeed does speak from personal experience, when he recognizes the signs of a creeping totalitarianism in the public life of Britain and his forthright views regarding this, are to be welcomed.

  • Lazarus

    Only teasing about the typos! 

    Glad to hear you’ve an open mind about God: that hasn’t come over in your previous comments. On the wickedness of the Church, you’re right: the past and present (and indeed future) of Catholicism is full of wickedness and no orthodox Catholic would deny that. Where I expect we would disagree is on the Church being, despite all that, the Body of Christ: through all that filth which is part of humanity’s struggle with itself and with God, the Church still offers the primary means of God reaching out to us.

    Perhaps you should think about God more and the Church less for the moment? Sometimes it seems that Catholicism is becoming an unhealthy obsession for you.

    But thanks for opening up a bit. It’s good to be reminded there’s a human being behind the posts.

  • awkwardcustomer

    Googling on ‘atheist internet trolls’ brings up a range of sites with some interesting insights.  Apparantly there’s a load of them out there, and they seek out blogs and forums frequented by the religious in order to post sneering comments at them.  They are relentless, angry and certain of their calling, which is to educate the superstitious and the unenlightened.  The best description refers to the atheist troll as souless.  Well they are, aren’t they, by their own admission. Souless certainly sums up the comments that the trolls post here.
    The minute they are exposed they have a tendency to disappear and then reappear under a different name.  Whatever happened to judithjmidwinter, one wonders?  The golden rule is – don’t feed the trolls.

  • Acleron

    No, the golden rule for you is obviously don’t address the argument but find some spurious and specious description and sneer with it. You and others on this site equate argument with trolling, perhaps you should do just a little more research and actually get some facts.

    Personally, I genuinely disagree with many aspects of organised religion, but I only comment when I feel that you are misguided.The argument of the above article is that secularism is wrong and in support Nazir-Ali is presented who, according to article, is an authority from his experience.But examination of the facts shows that Pakistan was set up as a secular state and only when it became a religious state did Nazir-Ali feel threatened. This negates his, and the article’s argument and shows that secularism is more protective of especially minor religions than non-secularism.If you cling to your misinterpretation of trolling I don’t expect you to answer, but thanks for the opportunity of putting you straight.

  • JabbaPapa

    I am full of doubt … about atheism

    I do not believe you, given that you have provided not a single reason why I should do so.

    Any personal anecdotes that you might have concerning this frankly unbelievable claim of yours, do not constitute “evidence”.

  • GFFM

    Rowan Williams lives in “La La land.” He literally inhabits the proverbial ivory tower and is completely out of touch with the rampant and unmitigated persecution of Christians, and yes, other religious minorities in Aftrica, Mali, Asia, the subcontinent of Asia, and yes, within his own country and the rest of Europe. Does he live in the real world? Does he read a decent news source? Has he read the social science on the tremendous uptick of religious persecution throughout all parts of the globe? Unbelievable, pathological obtuseness. Breathtaking.

  • Charles

    Delusional is he who thinks we live in equality: those that most strongly believe in their viewpoint and who can most persuasively argue it are those that have the most influence.  Think of St. Augustine of Canterbury who converted most of England in its entirety, as compared to us who are content just to be left alone.

  • Johannes

    What dates are you talking about when you refer to Bishop Nazir-Ali experiencing ‘tolerance when Pakistan was a secular state’?

    Since 1956 Pakistan has always been an Islamic republic with Islam as its state religion, and prior to this it was a dominion in the Commonwealth of Nations from 1947 to 1956, and thus governed under the auspices of the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Nazir-Ali was born in 1949, so I’m just curious as to when it was he lived in this ‘secular state’ of Pakistan that you refer to?

  • Lazarus

    I’m perfectly happy for non-Catholics to come here and argue, mostly on the entirely unworthy grounds that it gives us all a bit of a laugh every now and then. I suppose I do find it a bit irritating when you parade obvious ignorance as cold reason or when a swarm of you descend to carpet bomb us with the latest thorts wot you have thunk.

    On Pakistan, the First Constitution of Pakistan declared the country an Islamic Republic and made it obligatory for the President to be a Muslim. If this is your idea of a secular country, that’s extremely broad minded of you. 

    Of course the problem is that ‘secular country’ covers a multitude of evils and goods. No Catholic believes the state and the Church should be identical. The question is always going to be what sort of relationship there should be between them. 

  • John Thomas

    What is being said, here (quite rightly) is that Dr Williams (and many like him – the leaders of the C of E, and many of its lesser clergy) are too comfortable, they have, and have had, a life that has insulated them from all the stresses (detailed here) which aggressive secularism has produced – a situation which will surely get much worse, until real persecution comes. “Comfortable people” just can’t see this.

  • W Oddie

    But I said precisely that: that Dr Nazir Ali speaks “from the perspective of a Christian who knows from personal experience what real persecution is and has experienced its onset in a previously tolerant state”. My article doesn’t say there is anything wrong with secularity as such; it seems clear that a multi-religious state OUGHT to be secular so that it may be, as Pakistan previously was, tolerant of all religions: the path India took. Secularity is NOT the same thing as secularISM, which is a specifically anti-religious ideology. 

  • W Oddie

    I don’t accept Williams’s distinction at all. His analysis isn’t in any way implied by an acceptance that a secular state doesn’t necessarily pose a problem for Christians: what does pose a problem is a SECULARIST state, i.e. one fundamentally inimical to religion, which is what we are in danger of becoming. 

  • awkwardcustomer

    It’s just a tactic, Jabba. She’s a troll, as suggested by William Oddie on the David Cameron thread. Meena is now trying to appear reasonable in order to keep people responding to her offensive comments. Note how they have been toned down slightly, to the point of her admitting to have ‘doubts about Atheism’. What a joke, considering the relentless attacks on Catholicism, and all religions, that she has been posting for weeks now. Meena is backing off temporarily to keep the responses to her comments coming.

    The golden rule is – don’t feed the trolls. I intend to follow this rule 

  • Nat_ons

    Here, running contrary to my usual flow of sympathies, I suspect Archbishop Williams is nearer the truth .. at least in the margins of overlapping reality and study (in the safety of our humanistic, de-Christianised Western culture). Bitter hostility and hatred do not amount to programmatic persecution, however they do all but inevitably lead to some forms of maltreatment – even with oppressive legal penalties. It is this latter course that lays out persecution in its gravest extent, persistent badgering remains its least but most common level .. Britain hovers at the crux of private animosities and legalised harassment. 

    The Kultur Kampf of Bismark, the Pogroms of Antisemitism, the Enlightenment dismantling of Catholic Christendom, the English Penal Laws, the Inquisitorial Processes on heresies, the Roman oppression of Jewish freedoms, the Jewish anger against Christianity, the cultural struggle in Canaan, all these and more show the effects in a steady drip of bitterness leading to downright persecutions. Archbishop Williams is correct to point out this in not yet the course being followed in Britain or the West; what he misses is the corrosive force the prevailing and driving spirit at work. It is nearer the Enlightenment dismantling of Catholic Christendom than the slaughter of Canaanites, but corrosion has a nasty habit of getting out of hand, unseen – if unnoticed.

  • awkwardcustomer

    Okay. It’s just that I equated Rowan William’s ‘procedural’ secularism with the kind of secular state that doesn’t necessarity pose a problem for Christians, and his ‘programmatic’ secularism with what you describe as ‘secularist’, ie being fundamentally inimical to religion.  However, as you point out, Rowan Williams’ ‘programmatic’ secularism isn’t nearly as extreme as the term ‘secularist’ implies.  Secularist is quite a good term, actually ,and much more to the point than the terms employed by Williams.  Secularist.  I like it.     


  • karlf

    Argument is a good way to test your ideas or beliefs. It is healthy to question our views and outlooks and to change them accordingly.

  • W Oddie

    As a former fellow of an Oxford College, I think I owe it to many former friends in my own and in numerous other colleges, to make it clear that when I write of  Dr Williams’s experience of academic life as “life at least of a certain well-defined sort – an experience of involved discussions at high tables and in senior common rooms, in the world to which he now, with some relief I am sure, returns”, I was not saying that this kind of milieu is an “ivory tower”, having nothing at all to do with reality. I have had too many long discussions at too many high tables and in too many senior common rooms and combination rooms in Oxford (and even occasionally, in Cambridge), discussions I thought at the time infinitely worthwhile, to feel at all dismissive of Dr Williams’s academic past and future. It’s just that it’s (rightly) not exactly a sacrificial,or dangerous life; and there is about it always the risk that it CAN  (not that it always does) distance those it spiritually forms from the life most people have to live: I was unwillingly torn from it 30 years ago, as many are: but in the end it did me no harm and I learned many things I would not otherwise have known.

  • Michael d’Arcy

    I think your dismissal of Archbishop Williams’ questioning of the need for “growth” is unnecessarily dismissive. It’s fair to say that a lot of what politicians offer consists of promising people ever more “stuff”, in worldly terms: more money, better cars, bigger houses, better holidays, more gadgets, etc. and these are what society values. The whole agenda of government seems to be centred on making people ever-more better off – and that was the case well before the credit crunch of 2008. Consumerism is king. Indeed, this could be argued to be a cause of the credit crunch. Add into that the fact that the rich West is using the vast majority of the Earth’s resources while billions of others live in abject poverty.

    It is therefore absolutely fair to question whether making “growth” the ultimate good in society is the right thing. When money rules, God is pushed out. Pope John Paul II was no left-winger, but he rightly regarded the capitalism of the West with caution, and Archbishop Williams is right to question an agenda which prioritises “growth” above all else.

  • Judithjmidwinter

    judithjmidwinter was banned by the CH censor.

  • Judithjmidwinter

    He will be jolly surprised to read this!

  • Meena

     I suppose I do find it a bit irritating when you parade obvious ignorance as cold reason or when a swarm of you descend to carpet bomb us with the latest thorts wot you have thunk.”

    The large number of non-theists who chose “to carpet bomb” you a short while ago, was the result of the R Dawkins Foundation’s website printing in full (and without editorial comment) an entire article by Father Alex L-S, which attacked and ridiculed them.
    It is a pity that this website does not reciprocate the gesture so as to facilitate understanding.
    It is also a pity that you choose (here) to portray the authors of those comments as illiterate ignoramuses.

    Although, after some time, a CH commentator did supply Father L-S with the source of the remark by Dawkins (which he sought) – the commentator did not mention that it was printed on the first page of the first chapter of the first book that Dawkins wrote.

    Perhaps Catholics should think more “out of their boxes”. Are Catholics afraid that they might sin if they do so? Does not God wish us all to use our brains to the full? A catholic apologist once remarked that “an open mind is like an open sewer”. 
    Must we, at least partially, keep our minds closed?
    I ask these question because I would like to know the answers, or possible answers. Not to “troll” – life is too short!


  • Meena

    Reply to AWC and JP.
    It seems that you willfully misunderstand. I don’t write offensive comments – although my comments are usually critical of the Catholic Church. I don’t want responses – except to the odd question or so, which I ask from time to time.
    I have greater doubts about the RC Church than about atheism – but I have doubts about both. No one can be a 100% certain atheist, because there can be no absolute proof that there is no God.

  • Acleron

    The constitutional changes in 1973 under Bhutto:-

    ‘It declares for the first time Islam as the State Religion but the rights of all religious minorities are fully guarded and guaranteed.’

    So although for the first time Islam becomes the official religion, the rights of all other religions are gurded. This is a secular principle. In essence, it makes official the inherited secularism from the Raj but recognises in law the majority religion. This could be considered to be overdue but regrettable because the reason Mountbatten was convinced by Jinnah to split Pakistan from India was the religious differences. 

    In 1979, Zia started to introduce Islamic law into the penal code.

    And from the article
    ‘He became the first Anglican Bishop of Raiwind in West Punjab (1984–86), at the time of the Islamisation of Pakistan unleashed by General Zia ul-Haq. 

    When his life was in imminent danger in 1986, the then Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie arranged for his refuge and employment in England (and good for him).’

    The secular principle of guarded rights for all religions was discarded by Zia, the other religions come under threat and 7 years later Nazir-Ali has to flee.

    To state that secularism is somehow wrong can be argued, although unsuccessfully IMHO. But Nazir-Ali cannot use his experience in Pakistan to back up his argument. He was protected by secular principles, only when those principles were discarded was he threatened. So this statement :-

    ‘So when he observes what he calls the beginnings of real persecution here, and when he perceives “secularist agendas which marginalise all faith but 
    seem especially hostile to Christianity”, he is talking about a phenomenon of which he has personal experience. This is something he really knows 

    is unsupported.

  • Lazarus

    1) I wasn’t thinking of a particular incidence of ‘carpet bombing’: it’s occurred more than once, so can’t simply be attributed to the case you’ve cited.

    2) Generally, there seems to me a problem with atheists who come onto this site to preach. Most seem to have extremely simplistic arguments; most seem to have an extremely low opinion of religion and particularly Catholics. There’s also an issue about numbers: if you consistently have a mass of hostile, simplistic comments to deal with, it interferes with the perfectly respectable desire of Catholics to chat over issues of disagreement/unclarity between us in a generally sympathetic atmosphere. 

    3) On the question of open minds, there’s a lot to say -far too much for a combox! In short, I’ve not sure how helpful thinking about ‘openness’ as a desideratum is. It might be  fine if you’ve a well stocked mind, are well trained in philosophy and theology, and are articulate enough to explain extremely complicated issues to yourself and others; otherwise, it’s a recipe for disaster. I’d much rather talk in terms of developing the virtue of wisdom, which includes developing the humility to recognize one’s own particular and generally human cognitive frailties. But if you point is that Catholics in general are afraid to think -well, simply nonsense. Think about people such as Alasdair MacIntyre, John Haldane, Robert George, John Finnis, Matthew Levering -they all think at the highest level.

    Put it another way. Combox debates are a poor way of getting beyond the superficial in life. They can be a way of getting specific points answered, of building up a community spirit, or of getting some rough general information to pursue further. Or they can be just about showing off and annoying opponents. 

    I’m on this site predominantly to share ideas with the sort of people -orthodox Catholics- with whom I expect a sympathetic hearing and some genuine insights from the same sort of background assumptions. If I want a deeper testing of my ideas, I read books.

    Why are you spending so much time here? If it’s because you have some sort of attraction to Catholicism that you want to test, then you need to make that more explicit -because it doesn’t come over that way. If it’s not that, well, what is it? Because the sort of points you’re throwing up are hardly ones that most of the Catholics here haven’t already come across, far less superficially, elsewhere.

  • Oconnord

    After reading most of the comments and the article, isn’t the message pretty clear?
    States should not follow any fundamental ideology. Doesn’t matter what the ism is. Once a State adopts it, fundamentalism will follow. Communism, Catholicism, Maoism, Capitalism or Islamism, the results are always bad. The only examples I think that are worse, are pre WW2 Japan and modern North Korea, which also include a “Cult of Personality” by having a living demi-god. 

    I can’t see how secularism can be included here. The most “secularist” country I could think of was France. It openly declares it secularism as a matter of citizenship. But it still remains far, far freer than any religious (or politically) idealogical led country.        

  • Cjkeeffe

    My basic position between Bishop Nazir Ali and the Archbishop is to believe Nazir Ali first.

  • karlf

     It’s just those extremely complicated issues which I find so unconvincing about your defence of Catholicism as God’s communication with humankind.
    Our personalities are the product of our genes and the experiences of life that shape us. We cannot choose whether to believe in God or Allah or whatever – our opinions are shaped by that which we experience. So surely God would have thought up a better plan if he really wanted to speak to us?

  • Acleron

    No, it wasn’t a perfect secular state but neither was the Raj on which both the original government and the Bhutto constitution was based. But the Bhutto constitution guaranteed the rights of all religions, that is the secular principle that existed until Zia destroyed it.

  • Acleron

    ‘Secularity (adjective form secular[1], meaning: “worldly” or “temporal”) is the state of being separate from religion, or not being exclusively allied to any particular religion.’

    ‘A related term, secularism, is the principle that government institutions and their representatives should remain separate from religious institutions, their beliefs, and their dignitaries.’

    So secularity is merely the condition reached by successful application of secularism. 

  • Lazarus

    Well, here’s what I take to be the common-or-garden view of human responsibility. We’re subject to an enormous number of environmental pressures etc, but, provided we’re not insane etc, we are morally responsible for what we believe and do. That I take it is the normal person in the street view and it’s roughly the Catholic view as well. Why did God make us this way? Well, roughly, so that we are the sort of creature who can respond freely and in love to him and his free acts of love.

    Now your view, as far as I understand it, is that we are simply genetic machines with only the illusion of freewill and responsibility. That’s a view which is at odds not only with Catholicism but also with what I’ve described above as the common-or-garden view of agency. As I’ve said before, I think your problems in this area are less directed at Catholicism than at general issues of free will -and that’s something that’s been well chewed over in the general (ie non-Catholic) philosophical literature without any clear resolution.

    If we can’t choose to believe in God, we can’t choose not to believe in him either -if you think choice is an illusion and we are simply part of a predetermined causal chain.

  • Lazarus

    But now you’re switching the meaning of ‘secularism’ to any state that tolerates the existence of a variety of religions!

    Imagine two states. One has an established church but allows, and even encourages, as part of its belief in the dignity of human beings as children of God and the need for a free, conscientious response to the him, a variety of religious and philosophical beliefs within its territory.

    The other bans all religious practice and insists that religious beliefs are kept private. It backs up those rules with severe penalties.

    Which is the better society? Clearly the first. Which is the more ‘secular’ society? Clearly the second. 

    Secularism is both an ill defined term and, to the extent that it bears the meaning that you seem to want (the exclusion of religious belief however benign from the public sphere) a goal we should seek to avoid. Good government in the UK has historically been achieved within a Christian state, not a secular one and it is better guaranteed by such a Christian state.

  • Lewispbuckingham

     To think that I had formed the opinion that this site was part of a formal study by you.
    My own path involved a healthy sceptisim to sort out this duality.

  • karlf

     A.) to a non-believer, what are clearly “his free acts of love”?

    B.) I’m not saying that we can’t choose to believe in the Catholic notion of God, but the experiences of life for most people lead them to choose not to. This is the way things are, and is not at odds with with any philosophy that I know of.

  • Lewispbuckingham


  • Acleron

    I’m not switching anything. Everybody seemed to agree that Pakistan inherited the secular principles of the Raj. Remember that was not a fully secular organisation, the main religion of the commanding forces of the Raj was christianity. Bhutto’s constitution enshrined in law the de facto situation.

    ‘The other bans all religious practice and insists that religious beliefs are kept private. It backs up those rules with severe penalties. ‘

    Your definition of secularism bears no resemblance to reality. 

    I’d never claimed that either the original Pakistan state or Bhutto’s laws were full secularism only that they employed secular principles. 

    Your fear of secularism is, however, well founded. Not because you will be unable to practice religion (a ridiculous claim) but because in democratic, secular states, religion tends to lost its importance.

  • AnthonyPatrick

    Karif, forgive me if I infer incorrectly, but there seems to be at least a tacit acceptance of determinism in what you have written. If so, it is unfair of you to dismiss Lazarus’s reasoned reply to Meena (which is not a “defence of Catholicism” as you put it), when it appears to be you who are the one who acquiesces in a hegemony of assumptions, ones which happen to be endorsed by the mediated strands of popular/ist sociological and scientific debate.

    Contrary to what you presume, Catholic Christians are not Catholics because they understand “Catholicism” simplistically “as God’s communication with mankind”.  Nor is it God who needs to think.  Rather, it is humans who, endowed with the capacity for reflective thought, can strive to discern what God’s “plan”, as you put it, is. 

    As Shakespeare says through the character of Hamlet:

                                                         What is a man
           If his chief good and market of his time
           Be but to sleep and feed? – a beast, no more.

    But, as Shakespeare implies, we are more than that: we are human.  An individual might choose to deny his or her own humanity, but I am sure you would agree that exercising such a choice does not confer a right to deny others the freedom to be human, nor that humanity in general should be obliged to concur with such an individual’s freely held point of view. 

    Now the Catholic Faith is clear that there is little human freedom in intellectualist theories that have a deterministic conception of human action.  Or when human action is reduced to the capricious and irrational by voluntaristic theories, despite the apparent ‘freedom’ they entail.

    In helping us to understand who we are, Catholic Christianity never lets us forget the importance of what we are and what we are seeking. Keeping these together – ‘who I am’, ‘what I am’ and ‘what I am seeking’ – reminds us that freedom without responsibility is an illusion.  But so is responsibility without freedom.  Original Sin does not mean obligation to sin but a recognition that we have a tendency to sin, especially when we delude ourselves into thinking we have nobody to answer for our actions to but ourselves.  Furthermore, responsiblity freely accepted is a source of grace which we are able to receive precisely because, paradoxically, of the conditional nature of the gift of human life: we are contingent beings, creatures, and thereby part of all that has been created, is now and ever shall be. 

    Catholics believe in the soul, which is immortal.  Creatures, created things, like our bodies, being contingent, must be created in time and, existing in time, come to an end.  Time, perhaps, is God’s way of revealing to our finite minds what already is.  But God has no beginning and no end, is not, like existence, contingent, has not been created and so does not die.

    No, God does not need to ‘think’ of a “plan” anymore than God needs to be ‘proved’ to exist. And God does not ‘need’ to be, anymore than God needs to love. Or be loved. 

    God Is Love.       

  • Lazarus

    I don’t think I defined secularism -because I don’t believe there is a single meaning to the word, merely a varying bundle of ideas that are packaged up under this heading to the convenience of the arguer. I simply gave an extreme version of such a bundle to demonstrate the absurdity of the idea that the more secularism there is, the better the state is.

    Why is toleration of a variety of religions a secular principle rather than (as in the case of the Raj) a principle of a particular variety of Protestant Christianity?

    If you thought about this more carefully, you’d realize that some societies without religion are terrible places, and some societies with religion are wonderful. It all depends on the religion. It all depends on the irreligion. Simply excluding religion (to some extent) from the public sphere will not create a good society: indeed, currently in the UK, it would clearly make it much, much worse.

  • Lazarus

    A) Everything. (It’s rather like asking a materialist to say clearly what are the results of chains of material causes.)

    B) And the Catholic point would be that they are wrong. (And then we get down to arguing.)

    The Catholic claim is that believing in God makes better sense of the world than not believing in God. It’s not so much that we believe in particular events which you haven’t noticed, but rather that the context in which we understand those events has been transformed. 

    On the ‘majority vote’ argument, the majority of people in the world may not be Catholics, but they are religious believers. This might suggest, on your premises, that whilst Catholics were wrong, we’d be much closer to being right than you! (In fact, I’d rather put aside any such reference to majorities and simply look at the detail of arguments for particular positions.)

  • Acleron

    ‘If you thought…’

    In this particular case, whether you like it or not, a decrease in secularity led to Nazir-Ali’s persecution. The argument that he has a case against secularism by virtue of his experience is therefore false.

    As to why you think that a secular state in the UK would make anything worse isn’t backed by any argument you may have except your opinion and your wish for religion to be important. Why a set of principles which were designed for a totally different type of society have any relevance today is for you to prove, not just assume. But then, you might have to think.

  • karlf

    A) So I should clearly see typhoid and elephantiasis as “his free acts of love”? But then, unlike the ‘materialist’, you don’t need to provide any satisfactory evidence for such bizarre claims of ‘knowledge’.
    B) But my point was that we seldom choose the life experiences that shape our viewpoints and opinions, just as we do not choose our parents or the places in which we are raised. This is a fact of life, and not some populist, deterministic, crackpot theory. Did you choose not to believe in Lord Shiva or Father Christmas? If you had been born in Somalia for instance, do you really believe that you would have become a Catholic? aren’t the majority of Catholics those who were raised in Catholic backgrounds which gave them a sense of religious authenticity from an very early age?

  • JabbaPapa

    I wasn’t thinking of a particular incidence of ‘carpet bombing’: it’s
    occurred more than once, so can’t simply be attributed to the case
    you’ve cited.


    Generally, there seems to me a problem with atheists who come onto this
    site to preach. Most seem to have extremely simplistic arguments


  • JabbaPapa

    I don’t write offensive comments

    There are bells attached to my other leg — if you were to give it a tug, they would tinkle.

  • Brian A. Cook