Religions: neither privileged nor ignored Archbishop says

Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols says religions must be free to “speak from their traditions”, and that their involvement in national debates “enriches democracy”.

He warned that if respect for a wide range of opinions is abandoned, society will deteriorate into a situation where we become “either dominators or dominated”, while the abandonment of Christian teachings puts us on “shifting sands”.

Nichols made his comments in a lecture delivered on Wednesday evening at the Thomas More Institute in Hampstead.

Nichols says new opportunities for religious belief exist.

“Slowly a new place for religious belief in the public square is being marked out, not with a power or desire to impose religious beliefs or their consequences, but with the recognition that a mature and enlightened public square should reflect the beliefs of those who share its space, in dialogue with one another and with secular protagonists, to the enrichment of all,” he said.

“The secular public square should not be faith-blind but faith-sensitive, welcoming and testing reasoned argument.

“Religious voices should not expect special privilege because they are religious, but nor should they be excluded either.

“And whilst public authorities will rightly seek to justify their actions by reference to reasons which all can accept, in contributing to public debate religious and faith voices should be free to speak from their traditions as well as to adduce reasons in their support.

“Encouraging their willing and full participation enriches democracy and at the same time facilitates the necessary dialogue between the world of secular rationality and the world of faith.”

In a further reference to the risk of abandoning traditional religious teachings, he said: “The rejection of the wisdom and foundations of the past – as with the place of Christianity in Western culture – does not give us unrestricted freedom to do what we like now, but puts us in danger of building on shifting sands which have not been tested for their stability or their capacity to bear the weight of our culture.”

The Archbishop went on to say that one of the most urgent tasks in the world today is “exploring the reality of the diversity of human living”.

“Give up on respect for diversity, and we are impoverished and eventually become either dominators or dominated.”

He described the importance of faith as a basis for community, and a defence against loneliness, pointing out that the church is one of the few places where “people from all different classes” sit next to each other “and assume both an equality and a mutual identity”.



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