Religious Studies: Should Christians Stand Up For Themselves?
In his recent article "Christians Should Challenge Hostility," Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, argues "that now, more than ever, we need Christian people to speak up for their faith, and to articulate their beliefs in a sensible and courteous way."
At a time when British values are under the microscope and we are trying to promote increased moral and religious literacy is he right? He asserts that, "our society needs a reminder of our foundational beliefs in honesty, faithfulness, right and wrong" but do Christian people need to be the ones to provide aides-mémoires to Western culture as a whole?
The ex-Archbishop makes a useful point that, "it is right to listen and respect a variety of viewpoints and beliefs that are all brushing against each other in a plural society and, by the same token, there should be no apology by Christian people when they speak out about their beliefs."
I would add to this that all worldviews should be understood and responded to in a calm and peaceful manner.
The question is however, are we even able to engage with what others think if we cannot create an open dialogue? If so, would voicing expressly Christian, Secular or any other trenchant view improve or enhance the cultural conversation?
In education, as in academic circles, this discourse is very much alive and it is one of the tasks of the Religious Studies (soon to be reincarnated as the 'Theology and Philosophy') department at Bede's to respond to this challenge - "to listen to and respect a variety of viewpoints and beliefs," in the words of the former Archbishop.
Within our faculty, and within out lessons, we keep our students well-informed and resourced and give them the skills to deliberate and consider which world views they find the most coherent.
An essential component of how we do this is, within the parameters of coherent participation in debate, we openly and sensitively disagree with others. We talk about our differences and why our individual belief system exists, and accept that in some cases our views do conflict with the ideologies of our peers.
To do this requires a healthy sense of humanity and humility. In fact, the oldest friendship I have, and one which continues to last after thirty eight years, is with a person who was the best man at my wedding and who I named my son after, but who, unlike me, does not believe in God.
Should success in debates be measured in compromise and mutual assent?
Our opposing world views, those of theism and atheism, have not kept us from developing the deepest bonds of friendship and we engage with one another's viewpoints with total respect and consideration.
Is this kind of open-minded discussion not the best route for all parties to make progress?
George Carey finished his article with the following statement, "I say to Christians of all denominations: don't be intimidated by a hostile workplace and challenge the hostility with good humour. Regain your confidence in a loving and forthright faith. And speak of it. It is simply a matter of freedom of speech."
Is he right?