Tuesday, January 03, 2012

It's a two-way business, Mr C

A concerted programme is needed for religious literacy to be recovered in the Civil Service, Parliament and local authorities, says the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester, writing in the Telegraph at the New Year:

In his recent speech on the place of the Bible and Christianity in our national life, David Cameron showed how the political development of the nation is inextricably bound up with Christian ideas. He challenged the Church, and specifically the Church of England, to provide moral and spiritual leadership. Such a challenge is long overdue, but the role of the Judaeo-Christian tradition in national life is more important than the status of any particular church. Whether or not this or that church provides what the Prime Minister is asking for, this tradition must remain central to our public life.

Much of what Mr Cameron said is music to my ears. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Many obstacles will confront him if he tries to give effect in legislation to things he has said in his speech.

One issue is religious literacy in the Civil Service, Parliament and local authorities. What Mr Cameron said about Christian ideas being embedded in our constitutional arrangements is no longer understood in the corridors of power. A disconnected view of history and the fog of multiculturalism have all but erased such memory from official consciousness. A concerted programme is needed if this literacy is to be recovered. Church leaders can help with remedial action, but this has to do with the place of Christianity in schools, and the teaching of history. Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, knows that history cannot just be about dates and personalities, but must be a narrative of a nation's emergence from the mists of time. For such a project, the place of Christianity is absolutely central. Education on citizenship cannot ignore the fact that our cherished values have biblical roots. . .

The proper relation of religion to science is also vital. Young people must be taught to appreciate both the experimental methods of science and the ultimate values which religion offers. Such a conversation must take place in the classroom if we are not to continue being divided by "scientistic" and religious fundamentalists. . .

The Prime Minister is aware of the vast scale of social service, prison work, relief of poverty, and the like that churches and their agencies undertake. He is right to expect their help with his vision of citizens working for the common good. Churches will welcome greater participation in building up communities. But they cannot simply be surrogate service-providers. What they do springs from their beliefs; the authorities must respect these, if there is to be genuine collaboration. . .

Bishop Nazir-Ali has hit on a point that many others have missed: wanting Christian ideals is all very fine, but you can't have Christian ideals without Christianity, and the authorities, generally speaking, have not much time for Christianity.

Finding the solution to this problem is the challenge for the church - and, in particular, for Christians whose ministry is prayer.