All 4 entries tagged Christianity

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October 31, 2006

In Search of God

As someone who tends to avoid religion like the plague, I think it was the presence of John Humphrys that made me listen to a programme about the subject tonight.

Humphrys in Search of God is a three-part programme about his personal search for faith, which has been thoroughly shaken by his observations as a journalist. He points to the tragedy of Beslan as the moment he became certain there was no God.

While he may be a tough, uncompromising, and sometimes over-passionate interviewer, he’s also demonstrated both on Radio 4 and in hosting MasterMind that he’s probably a fairly nice bloke on the inside.

And the questions he was asking Dr Rowan Williams tonight were exactly the same ones that I would use to describe my allergic reaction to anything which can only be justified by ‘faith’.

The striking thing – and the thing that made the programme so interesting – was that even the Archbishop of Canterbury could offer few promises or guarantees to Humphrys about God and faith. Perhaps I’ve been warped by seeing too many documentaries about the loony religious Right in the U.S., but I expected Williams to have some answers.

The fact that he didn’t makes finding answers to Humphrys’ questions even harder, but it also makes Williams a far more compelling speaker.

October 08, 2006

In the States, religion is above the law.

There’s a fascinating article in today’s New York Times. Diana Henriques reports on the growing trend for U.S. legislation to have exemption clauses which benefit religious groups over others. For instance, in Alabama, day care centres are subject to rigourous inspections to ensure that children are not being abused. But for no especially good reason, religious-based day care centres are not.

In Boulder County, Colo., the Rocky Mountain Christian Church is using a new federal law to fight a county decision preventing it from expanding on land designated for open space.

In some places, religious organisations are not subject to planning restrictions, meaning they can build in locations that others can not.

The Inland Revenue aggressively investigates all businesses in the U.S. to ensure they are paying their taxes correctly. But not religious organisations, even those that aim to make huge profits. The I.R.S’s ability to investigate these investigations has been limited by legislation.

Religious organizations defend the exemptions as a way to recognize the benefits religious groups have provided operating schools, orphanages, old-age homes and hospitals long before social welfare and education were widely seen as the responsibility of government. But while ministries that run soup kitchens and homeless shelters benefit from these exemptions, secular nonprofits serving the same needy people often do not. And rather than just rewarding charitable works that benefit society, these breaks are equally available to religious organizations that provide no charitable services to anyone.

It’s a brilliant article, and while long, well worth reading to understand who governs the world’s most influential nation.

July 02, 2006

Multiculturalism won't work in this country until…

…Christianity gives up its privileged position.

Flicking between TV and radio stations today made me realise something: the Church still has a massive influence over British life despite being far less relevant than it used to be. On Radio 4, for instance, Sunday Worship blared out of my alarm clock, even though I had no inclination to listen to a religious service.

This alone wouldn't be a problem if it wasn't for the fact that Christian services are given much higher priority than any other religion. Now I don't expect there to be 'atheist' programmes, because – let's face it – Big Brother alone makes that section of society very well catered for. But I don't understand why one religion seems to defy the pluralist tendencies that this country is built on now more than ever before.

The House of Lords has (I think twelve) Lords Spiritual, all of whom are Church of England and can – and do – influence policy by rejecting things which they find to be out of kilter with Christian beliefs. There doesn't seem to be a particularly good explanation for why this is the case in the 21st century, when there are no specifically chosen Muslim, Sikh, Hindu or even Catholic leaders in the House of Lords.

I'm not against religion in public life, but it seems to be that there is a specific elite which consists almost solely of one faith, who not only wield influence, but do so disproportionately.

And the larger problem is that if this country wants multiculturalism to succeed – which everyone in the mainstream does – then the priority given to one minority over all others is completely ridiculous and untenable.

For a society based on equal representation (in theory at least), non–Christians are grossly under–represented because of structures that have been in place for centuries when immigration from non–Christian countries was unheard of.

Yes, the UK is still (again in theory) based largely on Christian values, but I think we face a choice: we can either retain those values, keep the Church at the heart of the state, allow Christian voices to dominate discussions of public policy and shun the beliefs of those who aren't Christian. Or we can put the Church on a level footing with other religions while still bearing in mind that there are more Christians in the UK than there are people of any other religion. These two choices present different policy outcomes with different degrees of realism about the people who live in the UK.

At the moment, I think we still seem to be stuck in the former position when the latter choice would be a far more sensible approach to tackling the problems of integrating non–Christians into our supposedly pluralist country.

March 07, 2006

Christianity and its Discontents

I've been watching with interest over the past few weeks and notice the amount of debate on Warwick Blogs about Christianity has been increasing quite steadily.

I'm guessing there's a few factors involved in this sudden interest:
– the Christian Focus week on campus this term
– delayed reaction to the Jerry Springer musical and the Danish cartoons
– evangelicalism and its increasing efficacy
– increased interest in the abortion issue

But I'm particularly interested by the number of TV documentaries studying the new role of Christianity in British society.

First there was Richard Dawkins' polemical The Root of All Evil? a couple of months ago – a programme I enjoyed, although it was hurrendously biased and could have been less one-sided. And yesterday evening was Rod Liddle's Dispatches documentary about evangelicalism and its role in the new City Academies.

Rod Liddle's documentary was probably a more accomplished piece, as it had a lot more journalistic rigour, and Liddle came at the subject as a Christian himself, albeit one worried by the rise of evangelical Christianity.

He noted the involvement of the owner of the Reg Vardy car dealership in City Academies in the North of England. There, the school ethos is driven by Vardy's Christian values, but in a slightly cynical fashion and also in a comprehensive school. The key problem here was that people within the school's catchment area that disliked its Christian principles had no alternative but to send their children there.

Exclusions at the school were sixteen times higher than any other local school, and evolution was taught alongside creationism, a practice which is technically illegal. Parents were understandably angry.

It wasn't so much a damning criticism of Christian beliefs as a criticism of the government's blatant scramble for cash that provided the motive for City Academies.

I don't think there's been a particular resurgence in the ability of Christian groups to spread their message, although the slow rise of evangelicalism is a notable long-term trend. So why is there this sudden reaction to a force that has been around for so long, and used to be such an integral part of British life?

I'd suggest that many of Christianity's critics are becoming more vocal now because there's a sense of urgency following the failure of multi-culturalism in the UK. For if cultures are to be successfully sewn together, wouldn't a neutralisation of religious beliefs enable greater cohesion?

Alternatively, is this attempt to neuter Christianity a way of making followers of other religions appear more radical to the casual observer?

I hope that if it is deliberate, then the neutralisation of religion in British society is because of the first reason, not the latter. But in attempting to soften the impact of Christianity, its critics need to remember that such a tactic may provide greater impetus for the more radical sections of that religion, notably evangelicals.

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