A report on the British Academy series of public debates on faithby Sameer Rahim / May 19, 2016 / Leave a comment
Who cares if Britain isn’t a Christian country? 28th January 2016 in London
Opening the debate, Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford, questioned whether Britain had ever been a unitary Christian country. At least since 1656, “these islands have been officially multicultural.” Catholics were a persecuted minority and Protestantism was divided. This required the kind of compromise that forms the basis of parliamentary democracy. The Church can act as a “referee” between faiths, he said, “despite the present idiocies of the Church of England’s leadership,” adding that on sexuality, church leadership has been “wooden” and “unimaginative.”
Iain McLean, Professor of Politics at the University of Oxford, said that British Christians often diverged from their leaders: 80 per cent support assisted suicide, for example, in line with the population; 47 per cent support same-sex marriages compared with 60 per cent of non-Christians. It’s just that “those who are opposed tend to be fervently so.”
Polly Toynbee, Guardian columnist and Vice President of the British Humanist Association, said she “welcomed the decline of religious belief.” Religious schools were “profoundly divisive.” The presence of bishops in the House of Lords “makes us the only theocracy in the west.” She objected to Radio 4’s Thought for the Day for taking only the “mild and sweet voices” of faith.
Mona Siddiqui (above), Professor of Islamic and Inter-religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh, contended that Britain is still largely Christian, even though “religion has lost its public hold.” But Islam has recently been seen as a challenge with its “visible and awkward” practises. While once there was a “Jewish Question,” there is now a “Muslim Question,” with politicians loudly defending Christian heritage.
For Siddiqui, the rise of conservative Islam had brought the question of faith back into the public sphere. The urge for certainty was “frightening.” Toynbee complained she had been labelled “Islamophobe of the Year” for expressing the same critical views on Islam she had always held about Christianity. Siddiqui added she had been put on a list of top 10 Islamophobes. “I’m up there with Donald Trump,” she said to audience laughter. Toynbee and Siddiqui agreed that the term Islamophobia has ceased to be useful, and “shuts down debate.”
Picking up Siddiqui’s phrase about the “awkward” nature of Islam in Britain, Iain McLean said that there…