Religious leaders worry that faith is being marginalised

10 December 2008

by Bill Bowder

Multicultural but becoming marginalised? A church and a mosque stand side-by-side in Doncaster JOHN GILES/PA

Multicultural but becoming marginalised? A church and a mosque stand side-by-side in Doncaster JOHN GILES/PA

RELIGIOUS faith in Britain is more marginal to society than ever before, faith leaders believe, says a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) published this week. The report, Faith in the Nation: Religion, identity and the public realm in Britain today, is a collection of essays by Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh religious leaders.

In his foreword, Gordon Brown says that Britain has had a strong Christian tradition, but is now “resolutely multifaith”. The debate about the place of faith in British society is “a national conversation” from which people should not “shy away”.

But contributors to the report say that there are signs “of a growing consensus . . . that the position of faith within the national public culture has become more marginal”.

In the name of multiculturalism, politicians had responded to new religions and cultures that came to Britain as though each had a fixed identity. They saw them as “static silos rather than dynamic communities possessing complex and changeable identities”, Professor Michael Kenny says in the report’s conclusion.

The Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, writes that multiculturalism has led to segregation. “It de­con­structs everything that goes into the making of a national identity: a shared culture, a canon of texts everyone is expected to know, a collective history and memory, a code of conduct and civility, and a sense of loyalty to the nation and its institutions. No society can survive long without these things.”

The result is that minorities do not feel at home, and Britain is less tolerant than it had been 50 years ago.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, RC Archbishop of West­minster, writes that British Roman Catholics needed to get involved in the debate and, by example and by reasoned argument, help to stengthen the good in British society and correct what they believed was wrong.

“The need for an open, tolerant and vibrant public square is more essential than ever as the competing rights of the individual, backed by the Human Rights Act, increasingly come into conflict with the rights of religious groups to act according to their conscience and beliefs.”

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, writes that the Church is “a tent pitched in the middle of the public square” to which all are invited. “At a time when creeping social Darwinism is on the rise, where life is measured in terms of its ‘quality’ or ‘usefulness’, the Church remains the last bastion of defence for those who would find themselves close to jettison by society.”

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