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‘Best defence is to defend other faiths’

13 December 2007

by Pat Ashworth

RELIGIOUS diversity could help strengthen social harmony if governments were willing to listen to the views of faith communities, the Archbishop of Canterbury told the “Building Bridges” conference in Singapore last week.

Reflecting on the nature of religious language, Dr Williams said: “In plain English, religious violence suggests religious insecurity. When different communities have the same sort of conviction of the absolute truth of their perspective, there is certainly an intellectual and spiritual challenge to be met; but the logic of belief ought to make it plain that there is no defence for the sort of violent contest in which any means, however inhuman, can be justified by appeal to divine sanction.”

The more that religious people were “utterly serious about the truth of their convictions”, the less they would sanction all-out violence, he suggested. No religion had been exempt from violence in its history.

“As the world now is, diverse religious traditions very frequently inhabit one territory, one nation, one social unit,” he said. “And in such a setting we cannot avoid the pragmatic and secular question of ‘common security’: what is needed for our convictions to flourish is bound up with what is needed for the convictions of other groups to flourish. We learn that we can best defend ourselves by defending others.

“In a plural society, Christians secure their religious liberty by advocacy for the liberty of Muslims or Jews to have the same right to be heard in the continuing conversation about the direction and ethos of a society.”

The present diversity of religions within a mostly fairly secular social environment had meant the UK had had to think through its history again, Dr Williams said. “The apparently alien presence of another faith has meant that we have had to ask whether it is, after all, as completely alien as we had assumed . . . The fuller awareness of a shared past opens up a better chance of a shared future.”

Dr Williams went on: “There is a proper kind of humility which . . . obliges us to acknowledge with respect the depth and richness of another’s devotion to and obedience to what they have received as truth.”

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