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Secularism is not a strong foundation for British society, says Bishop Egan

By on Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Bishop Philip Egan (Photo: Mazur)

Bishop Philip Egan (Photo: Mazur)

Secularism is too flimsy a basis for British culture and society, the Bishop of Portsmouth has said in a lecture.

Addressing an audience at King’s College London last week, Bishop Philip Egan said that secularism “cannot guarantee human flourishing nor sustain the advances the British people have achieved”.

It was, he said, too “fragile a basis for a free society”, whereas only the Gospel can offer an “authentic humanism able to transform human living.”

Bishop Egan studied classics at King’s College in the 1970s, and returned there for the first time at the behest of Fr Joe Evans, the Catholic Chaplain. The lecture, entitled “Irrelevant? Should Christianity still have a voice in the public square?” was attended by members of the Catholic Society, as well the Anglican Chaplain and Assistants, and students and staff.

Bishop Egan warned that Christianity had been in decline since the 1970s, and that “secularism is producing a society without foundations, one that develops randomly on the hoof through pressure-groups, legal precedent and political expediency.”

In an interview with the Catholic Herald last year Bishop Egan said that combating secularism required more “creativity” to meet the challenges of a post-modern secularised culture.

And he told the audience in London that secularism “ring-fences religion to the private domain, thus dissolving the ground of public ethics and the basis of law in right reason. This is turn allows harmful ideologies to come in that victimise the weak, especially the unborn child, the elderly and the dying. Secularism is clearly unable to support ‘stable marriages and family life’.”

He said secularists are now beginning to place restrictions on religious freedom because it has a natural “tendency towards greater surveillance and state-control”.

In response the Church must offer Britain its message, of “an authentic humanism able to ground a free, democratic and pluralist society.”

This required, he said, “Catholic apologetics, able to rebut popular myths about science, so that schoolchildren can appreciate the interaction of faith and reason, the complementarity of religion and science, and the redemptive role of religion within human living.”

We need to “retrieve and promote Britain’s Christian patrimony, its history, art and architecture, its music and literature, its liturgy, theology and ethics.”

This includes promoting “a greater knowledge of the Bible, which underpins so much of English literature” and “a greater knowledge of the history of the Church in Britain,” especially of the saints who helped develop the Christian character of these islands.

  • Man in Black

    What sort of ‘knowledge’ is the notion that Adam and Eve existed?

    Again, this is not the “Biblical Literalist Young Earth Creationist Evangelical Herald“.

    The idea that the notion has credence either as a fact or as a metaphor because the Bible is inspired by God is really close-mindedness because it refuses to countenance the suggestion that the Bible is fiction.

    False.

    And the actual literary genre would be “Cosmogonic Myth”, not fiction.

    Myth has a far more complex function in the constitution of belief systems, and it is indeed a seminal function of every belief system, including the atheist ones.

    In this case, various shared narratives exist concerning the Origins, including several different competing ones that are believed by various different atheists.

    However, the Adam and Eve story is a multilayered complex of multiple different meanings and interpretations and allegories and metaphors and literally intended religious, moral, moral, and psychological teachings — to describe it as “fiction” is a gross over-simplification, notwithstanding that it has an obvious fictional element to it.

  • Man in Black

    Yours isn’t bad either.

  • TreenonPoet

    In such cases, the probability of the propositions being true can be assessed, even if only vaguely. For example, if I asserted that zebras exist with rainbow-coloured stripes, you might be suspicious. If I then revealed that I do not have any evidence for it, I would hope that you would rate my assertion as highly improbable.

  • TreenonPoet

    You might argue that the existence of an after-life, for example, is a philosophical matter, but a preacher may well state to his congragation that there is an after-life, however much he might water the claim down in an intellectual debate. The strong claim is not outside the boundaries of the scientific.

  • Hennergogs

    Sorry Mr. Poet but this is very confused. Do you know anything about Catholicism or about how the Old Testament is understood, the writings of St. Augustine in the 4th century and why is it that you think that pointing to the book of Genesis is even relevant?
    Who is talking about “Abrahamic religions”? Only you it seems and why this irrelevant distraction and assertions that are hardly supported by evidence? Actually blasphemy was a useful device for people that preferred to be tried by an ecclesiastical court rather than a secular one where they could be disembowelled for stealing a sheep for instance. The points I have made are perfectly reasonable and your response is hardly a scientific approach to these questions to say the least.

  • TreenonPoet

    ”this is not the “Biblical Literalist Young Earth Creationist Evangelical Herald”.”

    I am aware of that, but Frank referred to ‘Christianity’ which encompasses opposing beliefs.

    ”However, the Adam and Eve story is a multilayered complex of multiple different meanings and interpretations and allegories and metaphors and literally intended religious, moral, moral, and psychological teachings — to describe it as “fiction” is a gross over-simplification, notwithstanding that it has an obvious fictional element to it.”

    All fiction has factual elements. For example, Adam and Eve are portayed as people rather than alien life forms. That would not justify the Harry Potter books being taken off the ‘fiction’ shelves.

  • TreenonPoet

    As I have pointed out to Man in Black, you referred to Christianity, not Catholicism. And earlier, the discussion was about the world of religious belief (see James Scott’s quote), so I was not off-topic talking about Abrahamic religions. You do not say what the Catholic Church’s current official attitude on blasphemy is, but its attitude in practice is wanting. Likewise its attitude towards homosexuals, atheists, women, children, and those of other religions.

  • TreenonPoet

    …and what has happened to Free Speech?

  • Hennergogs

    More political rants, but by all means stick with Christianity if it makes you feel better and can deflect from the societies that have been constructed without it. You might prefer the former Soviet Union or the attitudes to all those things you mention elsewhere in the world.
    You may feel that these attitudes are wanting but an informed opinion would think otherwise.

  • Man in Black

    You might argue that the existence of an after-life, for example, is a philosophical matter

    It’s an ontological matter — either the Afterlife is, or it isn’t.

    From a more earthbound point of view, one’s worldview determines one’s reality ; but reality simply does not obey logic in any case, but the reverse is true.

  • Man in Black

    Good riddance to “free” speech …

  • Dave

    But I could accept such a claim without scientific evidence. I would, for example, accept the testimony of qualified zoologists that such an animal exists, if they were to make such a claim.

  • TreenonPoet

    I am sure that an opinion that has been formed by the Catholic Church would ”think otherwise”.

    Why do you think that I might prefer the former Soviet Union? As far as I know, that regime was irrational too. Religion has been so pervasive that I cannot think of a major society that has been free of it. I understand that it was a major influence in Stalin’s upbringing. But I can see no reason why a good society would be unable to develop in the complete absence of religion. Of course, it would not be guaranteed – there are good and bad people everywhere – but without the bad influences of religion there would be a greater chance of success.

    I notice that you have not really answered my quesion about knowledge of Adam and Eve. It may well be that the Catholic Church is better than some churches in trying to make the latest knowledge fit their dogma. After all, it removed the prohibition on books favouring heliocentrism a mere two or three hundred years after Copernicus whereas, according to Allah as represented in the Qur’an, the sun sets in a muddy pool. Would you call that Qur’anic view knowledge? If not, why not?

  • TreenonPoet

    Scientists similarly accept the testimony of groups of scientists working in other fields. They can’t be expected, as individuals, to verify every testimony, but consider the probability of those testimonies being valid (given, for example, the scientific method and the likelihood of corruption)..

  • Hennergogs

    I notice that you still fail to address the points I have made preferring instead to conjure-up more sideshows. In fact, your question was answered and, err, uhm St. Augustine lived in the 4th century.
    You can find lots to read about knowledge I’m sure so hopefully you don’t still think it is limited to just one thing.
    However, there’s no excuse for bad history and a pick-and-mix combined with a highly subjective “interpretation” does you no favours. There is plenty of reading that debunks the mythical conflict between religion and science that may be helpful
    but the point of this article is to do with hard-line secularism for which you don’t seem to provide any demonstrable, logical or evidence-based support.
    One major problem of course is that it can be easy when free-wheeling in a Christian-based civilisation for some to say they have a better answer. But when it comes to accountability….

  • Hennergogs

    He’ll probably re-appear under a different name. Where’s Benedict Carter and NatOns? I haven’t seen them for a while?

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    Healings are ordinary events in what they pejoratively call Charismatic movement in different Christian Churches which give foundational importance to the proclamation of God’s Word.

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    In the BIG CHRISTIAN CHURCHES same is the case everywhere. People tend to “enter” by the broad gate, the broad way. The Lord has clearly said how these people will end up.

    “Now, if we can get the parents to be practising then there’s 90% of the battle won.”

    Similarly it is the same case with Church leaders. They need to be true Apostles in practice. Their claim is that they have inherited the offices of the true Apostles.

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    What is FOUNDATIONAL is THE WORD OF GOD. All ELSE flow from it. Even the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is what it is worth because of the Word of God. It’s value comes from God’s Word.

    Children brought up in the atmosphere of God’s Word can never be lost in bad company. Parents, please take note.

    Receiving the Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist adds to their christian development and growth.

  • TreenonPoet

    ”I notice that you still fail to address the points I have made preferring instead to conjure-up more sideshows.”

    Since you do not think that I have addressed your points so far, I will quote each sentence of your latest post so that you can see the correlation. I have no idea what you mean by ‘sideshows’ unless you are still complaining that I am not restricting my comments to Catholicism, for which I gave my reasons.

    ”In fact, your question was answered and, err, uhm St. Augustine lived in the 4th century.”

    You have, in effect, just given me the answer, as I will explain later in this post.

    I do not know why you are repeating that Augustine lived in the 4th century. I understand that his life began in the 4th century and ended in the 5th, but I do not see how this is relevant.

    ”You can find lots to read about knowledge I’m sure so hopefully you don’t still think it is limited to just one thing.”

    This answers my question as it shows that you are using the word ‘knowledge’ differently to the way I use it or see it defined, and therefore your claims about Christianity containing the best knowledge are meaningless to me. My guess is that you are using the word knowledge, when there is no knowledge, in a similar way that the word ‘Truth’ is used to describe Catholic conjecture. Applying the labels ‘knowledge’ or ‘Truth’ in these ways is deceitful.

    ”However, there’s no excuse for bad history and a pick-and-mix combined with a highly subjective “interpretation” does you no favours.”

    I do not know what you are referring to.

    ”There is plenty of reading that debunks the mythical conflict between religion and science that may be helpful but the point of this article is to do with hard-line secularism for which you don’t seem to provide any demonstrable, logical or evidence-based support.”

    How can you write that the conflict between religion and science is a myth when I have just given you two examples of such a conflict? Do you think that there is no conflict between the Earth orbitting the Sun and the Sun setting in a muddy pool?

    I am not a secularist (as I have already stated in this thread), but I sometimes lend support where I think it is appropriate. I guess that Free Speech is a secularist, but his comments have been deleted. Perhaps I should not say anything more about it in case the same thing happens to my comments.

    ”One major problem of course is that it can be easy when free-wheeling in a Christian-based civilisation for some to say they have a better answer.”

    I think you are confusing Christianity with morality. Some do free-wheel, just as some heirs fritter away their inheritance, but morality in society is something that can be worked on and improved. What I observe is religion pushing to move civilisation backwards.

    ”But when it comes to accountability….

    Are you one of those who thinks the atheist Sir David Attenborough is evil?

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    “Addressing an audience at King’s College London last week, Bishop Philip
    Egan said that secularism “cannot guarantee human flourishing nor
    sustain the advances the British people have achieved”.

    Is not Secularism the worship of the god of this world? This world is passing away…

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    “The lecture, entitled “Irrelevant? Should Christianity still have a voice in the public square?”

    Wherever Jesus the Lord went there was crows of people eager to listen to him BECAUSE he spoke and ACTED with AUTHORITY unlike others. If such is the case, can anything related to the Lord, in truth, be outdated or irrelevant in our human society?

    If one is not salted by the Lord or not lighted by the Lord, it is a different case.

  • Man in Black

    Applying the labels ‘knowledge’ or ‘Truth’ in these ways is deceitful.

    There are many different types of knowledge — and as for Truth, you’ve still not answered Pilate’s question …

  • Benoit de Cartre

    We are repeatedly banned, every pots deleted, as is Julian Lord aka Man in Black.

    Wouldn’t believe it’s Old England, would you? But this is the reality of the Modernist assault on the Faith. The CH is bought and paid for by the Bishops’ Conference, that much is clear.

  • TreenonPoet

    ”There are many different types of knowledge”

    What an unhelpful statement!

    ”as for Truth, you’ve still not answered Pilate’s question”

    I have never been asked Pilate’s question. I do not know what this singular Pilate’s question is. What has it got to do with Truth?

  • Common Sense

    Yes. Everybody knows that Henry was a die hard Traditionalist. That must be why he was banned.

  • Man in Black

    What an unhelpful statement!

    What an unhelpful reaction !

    I do not know what this singular Pilate’s question is. What has it got to do with Truth?

    Really ???!!?

    The mind boggles — one would ordinarily expect at least a basic knowledge of the Scripture in those claiming it to be nothing but “fiction” and rubbish …

    Are you in fact making claims about Scripture without even knowing its contents ?

    Hardly good scientific methodology !!!

    Quid est Veritas ?

  • Man in Black

    Why not try commenting on the luvvly “Deacon Nick Censored” thread ?

    http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2014/03/17/bishops-shouldnt-try-to-censor-the-blogosphere-says-leading-priest-blogger/

    Let’s see exactly how deep this rabit hole goes …

  • TreenonPoet

    So, yet another time wasting response (regarding knowledge), distortion of what I have claimed, irrationality (exagerration of just how much of the Bible one must read before being able to draw conclusions about it), snide remark, yet more unhelpfulness (in failing to link to which question from Pilate you were referring to), and failure to answer my question! You are so like Footsore Pilgrim that I feel compelled to reproduce your full comment in case you retrospectively edit it as he sometimes does:

    What an unhelpful statement!

    What an unhelpful reaction !

    I do not know what this singular Pilate’s question is. What has it got to do with Truth?

    Really ???!!?

    The mind boggles — one would ordinarily expect at least a basic knowledge of the Scripture in those claiming it to be nothing but “fiction” and rubbish …

    Are you in fact making claims about Scripture without even knowing its contents ?

    Hardly good scientific methodology !!!

    Quid est Veritas ?

  • Hennergogs

    Love the name! Well I miss them but I thought Julian was suffering with his feet?
    There are some I won’t miss.

  • Hennergogs

    If you don’t see why St. Augustine is relevant then please read your own posts.

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08673a.htm

    http://www.strangenotions.com/gods-philosophers/

    http://www.mind.ilstu.edu/curriculum/scientific_method/scientific_method.php

    Truth is where your mind is in conformance with reality.

    No confusion about Christianity but I think you may be confused about morality. Many modern ideas (which are actually very, very old ones) are no more than worn-out selfism. I am confident that Catholic Teaching will be adopted more and more in the future to cope with the challenges ahead.

    Not a secularist? That is fine by me as their aim seems to be to remove religion altogether.My only caveat about the article is that we need to ensure that we live in a free and tolerant society. But this is easily done in a Catholic culture.

    David Attenborough? Not really worth a mention.

  • TreenonPoet

    When the Catholic Herald moderators delete a comment before anyone has responded to it, I wish they had the courtesy to state that the comment has been deleted, rather than make it look as if the comment was never there.

  • Dave

    Probably, my point is that whilst I would require some evidence to believe your crypto-zoological claim, I would be willing to accept evidence that is not strictly scientific, provided it is still valid evidence.

  • TreenonPoet

    That seems reasonable to me.

    A narrow view of science excludes the fields of logic and mathematics (though, of course, scientists make use of these disciplines). When I wrote ”scientific evidence for the existence of any deity”, I should have included those disciplines too but, depending on how you define ‘logic’, I might also need to expand on what I mean by that. I do not know of a term that unabmbigously encompasses all the relevant fields of knowledge. (I sometimes use the latin word ‘scientia’ to try to get closer to what I mean, but that has its drawbacks.)

    However, I am not sure whether we would agree on what constitutes valid evidence. Some posters on this site seem to think that personal revelation is valid evidence, but their justification comes down to religious faith. I responded to Frank‘s link to the Catholic Encyclopedia’s entry on ‘knowledge’ (which asserts that faith can be knowledge), but my comment was deleted. The verification of a revelation requires non-revelatory input.

  • Dave

    However, you define ‘science’, I understand ‘scientific evidence’ to mean empirical, and usually measurable, evidence, not evidence found by means of any field of knowledge.

    We might disagree on what constitutes valid evidence, in that I entertain the possibility of personal revelation, though I would require strong positive evidence to affirm a degree of credibility to any specific claim.

  • TreenonPoet

    What fields of knowledge are you referring to? What evidence do they provide for the existence of any deities?

  • Dave

    Philosophy. Various arguments are put forth for evidence of the
    deity, but I am unaware of arguments for the existence of any deities.

  • TreenonPoet

    I agree that someone could attempt to put forward a philosophical argument for the existence of a deity and that if such an argument were valid, it would be evidence for the existence of a deity (whatever the lack of scientific evidence in the narrow sense). A number of theologians have tried. If any had stood up to scrutiny, things would be very different.

    In my experience, the reason such arguments have failed is basically because of bad logic (which I can only put down to a determination to reach a desired conclusion). This is why I was happy to admit that my earlier use of the term ‘scientific evidence’ could be interpreted too narrowly. The lack of evidence for the existence of a deity includes a lack of evidence of what you might say is of a philosophical nature.

  • Dave

    It is highly disputable that such arguments, which are still subject to vigorous debate, have failed. Such arguments may or may not be guilty of bad logic or psychological determination to reach a desired conclusion, but either claim warrants evidence.

  • TreenonPoet

    Vigour does not imply rigour. I have not yet witnessed a single debate in which the overall theological argument was valid.

    One example of an invalid argument is to suggest that merely claiming that a fact is disputable is enough to downgrade it from factual status.

    Another example of an invalid argument is to select something for which we do not yet have a sound explanation and claim, in effect, that a god did it. I mention this as a reminder that the God to which Egan refers is not, for example, just another name for a first cause, but is a concept of multiple attributes. In postulating a deity that has some attributes that are contradictory, the Catholic Church’s position is indefensible, however vigourously it ‘debates’.

    There are more examples of invalid arguments in Egan’s speech.

  • Dave

    Far from being an ‘invalid argument’, claiming a fact is disputable is not any kind of argument at all: it is merely an assertion. You claimed it is a fact that a certain kind of philosophical argument has failed because of bad logic and psychological causes. Since you offered no evidence to support such claims other than your personal testimony, I do not accept them. Likewise, you offer no evidence that the Catholic Church postulates a deity with contradictory attributes, nor that there are invalid argument in Egan’s speech–whilst it is entirely possible that Egan is guilty of the fallacy you accuse him you offer no evidence to confirm it.