Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Baroness Warsi and the place of religion in UK society

Yesterday, I posted sympathetically on Baroness Warsi's article in the Daily Telegraph, an article which was a synopsis of the lecture that she gave later in the day to the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in the Vatican. Cranmer was less sympathetic, which prompts some further observations on my part.

The first thing apparent to me in reading Baroness Warsi's Daily Telegraph article was that there was a proximity between what she was trying to say and the position presented by Pope Benedict XVI in his Westminster Hall address in September 2010. That address was, for me, the most significant speech of the Papal Visit. In her speech at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, Baroness Warsi explicitly recognised her debt to that speech:
On a personal level, I heeded the words of the Holy Father during his landmark speech in Westminster Hall.
Now, it seems to me of tremendous significance that anyone in a key position at the top of one of our major political parties - oh, and in the Cabinet, too - should recognise the significance of that speech in Westminster Hall. So far as I can gather looking in from the outside at the world of politics in the UK, the warmth with which that speech was applauded has been equally matched by the ignoring of its content in the subsequent activity of politicians. Baroness Warsi excepted, who has at least spoken of its significance.

I think that there is also something to be recognised about the nature of "membership" organisations, such as political parties and, within my own experience, trade unions. Such organisations have their processes for arriving at policy positions adopted and prosecuted by the organisation as organisation; but they retain within their membership a certain pluralism between those who supported and those who opposed a particular policy position. Members make prudential judgements about remaining members of such organisations when they adopt a policy that they individually would oppose, as they can still support the range of other policies that the party or union promotes. I point this out as a way of understanding Baroness Warsi's position as a member of a Government which seems about to implement a policy with regard to marriage that flies in the face of the position about the place of religions in relation to politics that she has expounded. It is my judgement that she has expressed not  what one might term a "personal view" that is contradicted in her practice, but a view that is genuinely lived in her political practice, and it is helpful to understand how this is done in relation to the different approaches of other political colleagues.

But Cranmer does have a point. The forthcoming consultation/legislation about marriage between same-sex partners really is a testing ground for that appropriate inter-relation of religion and political decision making that Pope Benedict advocated in his Westminster Hall speech and which Baroness Warsi took up again in speaking to the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy:
One of the arguments of the liberal elite is that faith and reason are incompatible.

But they don't realise, as the Holy Father has argued for many years, that faith and reason go hand in hand.
As he said to us in Westminster Hall:
"...the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief...need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilisation."  
In other words, just as reason should not be excluded from debates about faith... too spirituality should not be excluded when we look at worldly matters.
Will the consultation about marriage for same-sex partners really enter into a proper dialogue with representatives of religion, genuinely recognising that the style of reason that comes from religion needs to be a full and effective partner in the final outcome? Or will it just run with the ideologically motivated premise of "equality" that is not essentially equal at all? Has the coalition government been "nobbled" by the gay rights lobby as was the Blair administration (cf the admission by Sir Ian McKellen in a speech at a Stonewall event that he had visited Tony Blair on behalf of Stonewall before he became Prime Minister, and that Tony Blair had agreed at that meeting to deliver on a pro-gay agenda)? Since Baroness Warsi is not the lead on this question, this is perhaps a question for her
Government colleagues, but it does need to be put to them.
Or, as Cranmer put it:
The problem isn’t the paltry number of ‘militant secularists’ or the rise of ‘aggressive secularism’: it’s the gulf that exists between what Baroness Warsi is preaching and what HM Government is practising. If Pope Benedict has got half a brain (which he surely has, along with two or three other halves as well) he must be wondering what on earth this woman takes him for.
Cranmer might be reassured about the three halves of Pope Benedict's brain by this, taken from the last paragraph of the joint communique issued at the end of the British ministerial delegation's visit to the Holy See (remember that the Holy Father has on more than one occasion recently referred to marriage as being between one man and one woman):
...appreciation was expressed for the significant contribution which the Catholic Church, and Christians in general, have made and continue to make to the good of British society. The Holy See emphasised the need to ensure that institutions connected with the Catholic Church can act in accordance with their own principles and convictions and stressed the necessity of safeguarding the family based on marriage, religious freedom and freedom of conscience.

No comments: