Thinking Anglicans

Commission on Religion & Belief in British Public Life

Updated Monday afternoon and evening, Tuesday evening, Friday evening

The Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life has published its report this morning: Living with Difference: community, diversity and the common good. The report is 104 pages long, but there is a three-page executive summary at the beginning.

The Commission was convened by the Woolf Institute, Cambridge, to:

a) consider the place and role of religion and belief in contemporary Britain, and the significance of emerging trends and identities

b) examine how ideas of Britishness and national identity may be inclusive of a range of religions and beliefs, and may in turn influence peoples self-understanding

c) explore how shared understandings of the common good may contribute to greater levels of mutual trust and collective action, and to a more harmonious society

d) make recommendations for public life and policy.

Press Release from the Commission: UK needs ‘New Settlement’ for religion & belief says Butler-Sloss

Ed Kessler, founder and director of the Woolf Institute, writes for The Huffington post UK about Living With Difference.

press reports

BBC News Call for fewer Church of England bishops in House of Lords

Jonathan Owen Independent Britain is no longer just a Christian country, says major report

Harriet Sherwood The Observer Top judge leads calls to scrap mandatory daily Christian worship in UK schools
The Guardian Coronation of next monarch should reflect ‘less Christian’ Britain, report says

John Bingham and Steven Swinford The Telegraph Britain is no longer a Christian country and should stop acting as if it is, says judge

reactions to the report

Church of England Response to report from Commission on Religion & Belief in British Public Life
[copied below the fold]

National Secular Society Woolf Commission’s multifaithism ‘completely at odds with the religious indifference that permeates British society’

Updates

Angus Ritchie and Shana Cohen (who are two members of the Commission) The Guardian Don’t be suspicious of faith-based charities – let us speak truth to power

Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith Catholic Herald The Corab report is grossly unfair to Catholic schools

Caroline Wyatt BBC News We should do God, says report into religion in public life

John Dickens Schools Week Religion should have the same importance as English and maths, new study claims

Charles Moore The Telegraph We need more religion in our schools, not less

Chloe Farand Independent Mandatory Christian prayers in schools ‘should be axed’

Eliza Filby The Telegraph Faith integration is bad enough in Britain; reducing the role of the Church will only make it worse

Tim Wyatt and Margaret Holness Church Times ‘New settlement needed to overhaul public life’
[updated article and link]

The Guardian editorial The Guardian view on religion in public life: education may be the answer

Andrew Lightbown Some issues with Butler-Sloss

Frank Cranmer Law & Religion UK The CORAB report: Living with Difference

Richard Harries Church Times Faith now is more about food than beliefs

Church of England press release

Response to report from Commission on Religion & Belief in British Public Life
07 December 2015

We welcome the call in this report for greater religious literacy and the highlighting of the scale of social action by the Church – as well as its recommendation that where a religious organisation is best placed to deliver a social good, it should not be disadvantaged.

“We also welcome the acknowledgement that the establishment of the Church of England has helped the integration of non-Christian perspectives in British society and helped them to make their voices heard in the public sphere. The Church of England, through its dioceses, parishes and at national level has been at the forefront of work to increase understanding between the different faiths.

“We are however disappointed that the report misunderstands the role of Church of England schools in providing a rounded education to more than a million pupils from all backgrounds as part of our commitment to the common good. If there is a significant problem with our schools it is that many of them are so popular that they are oversubscribed and not every parent who wants to can send their children to one.

“The report also misunderstands collective worship in schools. We believe that if the law on collective worship were repealed schools would risk losing this vital element of shaping a community that reflects the full breadth of human experience. We know, for example, that the response of many schools to the horror of the Paris attacks will have been in the context of collective worship.

“The report is dominated by the old fashioned view that traditional religion is declining in importance and that non-adherence to a religion is the same as humanism or secularism.

“In a fortnight where we have seen overwhelming public support for the Church of England over the Lord’s Prayer cinema advert, it is important to remember that most public opinion is strongly opposed to the marginalisation of Christianity.

ends

Blog by Nigel Genders, Church of England Chief Education Officer

Blog by Dr Malcolm Brown, Director of Mission & Public Affairs

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Susannah Clark
Guest

If we are a multi-racial society, it stands to reason that we are also a multi-faith society, as well as atheism and agnosticism deserving recognition too. My own path is Christian, but I advocate ‘open christianity’ in the sense of Christianity being an open door which people can choose to enter at will, as well as being an open door through which Christians can go out into the community, to listen to others and try to understand the beliefs that matter to them. Personally, I am opposed to faith schools in a multi-cultural society. I think faiths and spirituality and… Read more »

Iain mclean
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Iain mclean

Malcolm Brown doesn’t get it. He decries state neutrality between religions, which is precisely how the USA became the home of religious freedom when it adopted the First Amendment in 1790. He thinks religions should be represented in Parliament in proportion to their contribution to the common good: i.e, most dibs for the c of e. This is the same Malcolm Brown who argued vigorously against what Parliament has determined to be the common good, in the Pemberton tribunal. Fine (for religious freedom), but utterly incompatible with establishment. And to cap it all he talks of our nation, confusing England… Read more »

James Byron
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James Byron

“The report is dominated by the old fashioned view that traditional religion is declining in importance and that non-adherence to a religion is the same as humanism or secularism.”

When did this view become “old fashioned”? What, according to the Church of England, is the new view, and what’s the evidence for it?

That this modest report (it doesn’t even advocate disestablishment and secularism) was not only dismissed out-of-hand by the church, but ridiculed by the British government, shows that religion has a lot more power and influence in Great Britain than is commonly thought.

rjb
Guest
rjb

I think the point is that ‘religious neutrality’ is impossible. There is no ‘religiously neutral’ space, because the ideology that lays claim to religious neutrality – secular humanism – is really just another sort of religious ideology (indeed, the dominant one in our society). So all schools are ‘faith schools’ of one sort or another: all schools and public institutions have some kind of underlying religious rationale, whether it’s Catholic or Muslim or Anglican or secularist. I have recently been reading John Milbank on the subject of ‘religious neutrality’ in the United States: Milbank’s claim is that America is the… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

While sincerely honouring the Church of England’s traditional ties to the State (after all, I was a product of its Baptismal and Confrmation policies); I do wonder why the Church of England clings to its privileges of State sponsorship in a situation of a more diverse community. Perhaps it would arrest the membership decline if it had to foot it with other religious communities, making membership more of an active commitment, rather than a state department. Other Provinces of the Anglican Communion have to find their own financial and organisational support – a stern reality that marlks us out as… Read more »

David Beadle
Guest
David Beadle

Nigel Genders writes: “The recommendations for our schools from The Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life are not new and are regularly peddled out but rarely by parents. We do listen…” The Church of England desperately needs to start practising more respectful engagement than this, and perhaps employ an advisor on unintentional irony. The point Susannah Clark makes is an important one. CofE schools would be strengthened by selection on grounds that children and their families would be willing to support and uphold the Christian ethos and worship of their schools, regardless of their own beliefs or… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Rjb, more bunk from Milbank? How can, say, the Southern Baptists conceivably be described as subscribing to “Enlightenment liberalism,” and how exactly does Johnny Boy suggest that any religion is “required” to bend the knee to rationalism?

Milbank, we’re told, has a thundering intellect. He’s certainly got a slab of a Thesaurus, but like Rowan Williams, his genius appears far more frequently in the telling than it does the showing.

John Bunyan
Guest
John Bunyan

I don’t know what Fr Smith means by suggesting the C.of E. is not “open to all” and that other Anglican Churches are. I should also note that the Church of England does has to find its own financial support – though it receives some help to maintain historic buildings etc, and assistance in some social and other areas, but so too does e.g. the Church of Australia – and all the schools of the latter (mostly elite and very expensive) receive really massive funding from our Commonwealth Government as do most of our Church’s social and even mission agencies.… Read more »

JCF
Guest
JCF

“There is no ‘religiously neutral’ space, because the ideology that lays claim to religious neutrality – secular humanism – is really just another sort of religious ideology…Milbank’s claim is that America is the *least* religiously-free nation in the West, because beneath its veneer of secularism it requires all religions to subscribe to the nation’s civic religion of Enlightenment liberalism.” I do and don’t agree. I don’t agree that the secular neutrality which PERMITS a “public square”, is itself a religious ideology. However, the problem (in the U.S. now, as well as probably previously in the U.K.) is that the *religion*… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

JCF, I totally agree that new atheism is far too frequently treated as synonymous with secularism (in England, this confusion isn’t helped any by the fiercely anti-religious National Secular Society).

I disagree, however, that anti-theism is a religion. It has none of the customary features, such as, well, custom, shared ritual, appeal to external authority for meaning, etc. The NFL has better claim to being a worship-shop.

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

“I have recently been reading John Milbank on the subject of ‘religious neutrality’ in the United States: Milbank’s claim is that America is the *least* religiously-free nation in the West, because beneath its veneer of secularism it requires all religions to subscribe to the nation’s civic religion of Enlightenment liberalism. This is why religious groups – including the Episcopal Church – have been so ineffectual in challenging the dominant myths of American public life, above all individualism and capitalism. State secularism provides an illusion of religious freedom, but in reality (as we are seeing in France) it is necessarily intolerant… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

There is an almost universal assumption that because different Christian denominations have unique liturgies that the priests / minsters / vicars must also be separate.

I think the time has come for a grand ecumenical consolidation. Priests in many parishes should be non-denominational and lead worship at different times for each liturgical tradition. The congregation can then attend whichever liturgy / time suits them.

Then rather than having statistic for Anglicans we would get statistics for Christians and the importance of Christ would again be manifest to all.

Priests could then specialise if they wished to be Bishops.

MarkBrunson
Guest
MarkBrunson

While I can agree that anti-theism is not a religion – though I’d argue that it does, indeed, appeal to external authority for meaning – it is a faith position.

Father David
Guest
Father David

My heart sank when I heard Baroness Butler-Sloss being interviewed on the wireless about this latest report. Its release in December just before Christmas made me think – is this “a good day to bury bad news”? For this report is most certainly “bad news” at a time when the Church is proclaiming the “Good News” about the birth of Jesus Christ. This week at our local Church of England Primary School I have attended a very traditional (not an elf or an alien in sight) and highly delightful Nativity Play when all 120 children from Years One and Two… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Mark, anti-theism is simply an objection to the existence of a theistic god: if it’s mere disbelief, no faith is required; and if it’s an affirmative belief that no such god exists, given the self-regulating world around us, it’s less faith than it is a reasonable inference from the available evidence.

Iain McLean
Guest
Iain McLean

“Milbank’s claim is that America is the *least* religiously-free nation in the West, because beneath its veneer of secularism it requires all religions to subscribe to the nation’s civic religion of Enlightenment liberalism.” – rjb on Tuesday, 8 December 2015 at 12:15am GMT. Coming to this rather late, but if that is really Milbank’s claim, it is extraordinary. It is not supported by any expert on law and religion known to me. I would refer rjb and Prof Milbank to the excellent site run by the ICLRS (International Center for Law and Religion Studies) at Brigham Young University. Would be… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

The UK has faith based publicly funded schools that REQUIRE daily Christian prayer, and rjb says that the US is religiously intolerant? Wow. Freedom of religion has always meant freedom from religion as well. I suspect that having Bishops in the House of Lords and forcing parents to send their children into a situation of coerced prayer is responsible for a lot of the resentment towards religion that you seen on the CIF section of the Guardian. And the teachers in these schools are subject to discriminatory practices as the CoE is exempt from equality laws? I’m really starting to… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

@ Mark Brunson, “While I can agree that anti-theism is not a religion …it is a faith position.” No its’s not, its a form of rationalism, although it does share with some manifestations of religion a bent for intolerance and ideology.

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

@ Cynthia, “Good Lord, deliver us from blaming the Great Satan of America rather than looking at your own intolerance.” Your patriotism is showing, but your argument is something of a spin. You state, Muslims,”are not as constrained by racism, religious intolerance, and economic limitations here.” But then you write “the rhetoric here is dreadful, unbelievably dreadful. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have take a chapter out of Goebbels book.” You make it sound like its just words, that rhetoric does not lead to serious constraints, that rhetoric is offered because it successfully feeds on and is reinforced by bias… Read more »

MarkBrunson
Guest
MarkBrunson

To state definitively that there is no God, is, logically, the definition of *anti* theism. That requires faith, as there is no conclusive proof that there is no God. There is an effort to draw a false distinction between rational observation and blind faith, but the simple fact is those of faith also have rational and observable facts to back their beliefs. It is, again, a false distinction. Both rest on observation, reception of data from outside sources and a subjective decision about what that data means, along with a conscious decision to act on that meaning. To call one… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

I’m not saying that the rhetoric is harmless. I would never say that. In the US, the largest terrorist group is white men with extreme right wing beliefs, like white supremacy and those anti-government looney tunes. The rhetoric emboldens them and that is horrific in a country that allows any idiot to buy assault weapons and unlimited amounts of ammunition. rjb was saying that the US was the least religiously tolerant country and that is absolute poppycock and a diversion from real issues. We don’t enforce prayers in our schools. No one is forbidden from wearing religious garments or symbols.… Read more »

Laurence Cunnington
Guest
Laurence Cunnington

“Freedom of religion has always meant freedom from religion as well.”

“The Incarnation happens when people are loving, kind, and compassionate, and loving All our neighbors as ourselves. All of our neighbors, or every stripe. The good people of England would not resent this Good News, even if it isn’t their cup of tea.”

I agree absolutely, Cynthia. One could hardly object to the behaviour you describe even if one doesn’t share the faith position.

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

@ Cynthia, more patriotic spin I’m afraid. If we want to trade barbs about “my country is more exceptional than yours”, Canada’s Governor-General before last was Michael Jean a black female immigrant from Haiti. Our current Minister of Justice is Jody Wilson-Raybould a first nations woman, which is quite remarkable given the current crisis in Canada with regard to indigenous women and our justice system. The first nations crisis in Canada is the true equivalent to the ongoing American racial crisis for African-Americans. When you write, ” …the rhetoric from Trump and others isn’t awful. But there is an enormous… Read more »

Interested Observer
Guest
Interested Observer

“the US numbers on that are absolutely flat. Why is that? Because Muslims in the US can generally make a good living here. They are not as constrained by racism, religious intolerance, and economic limitations here” Cynthia, you’re essentialising Muslims. Many of the Muslims in the UK arrived after the war from rural Pakistan and Bangladesh, in the aftermath of partition, as cheap labour for the cotton mills of northern England and in some cases steel mills in the midlands. They were poorly educated and from communities with deeply conservative and regressive cultures. The problems of assimilating those people and… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Guest

‘The good people of England would not resent this Good News, even if it isn’t their cup of tea.”‘

Cynthia, I think I understand where you’re coming from on this. However, I think we also need to remember that we’re never given a guarantee in our scriptures that people will not resent the good news even (and perhaps especially) when it’s faithfully and accurately proclaimed. As Will Willimon said last week, that’s one of the reasons I’m glad people don’t bring concealed weapons to church in Canada. After all, when Jesus preached his first sermon they ran him out of town.

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

” But the US has no equivalent to the deprived Muslim areas of (particularly) northern England, and just because people share a religion doesn’t make them in any other way comparable.”

Point well taken. Thank you. That matters, very much.

The overall argument was that there was less religious tolerance in the US than the UK. That claim I found astonishing given that it was illegal to be Catholic in the UK until modern times and there’s still a requirement for Christian prayer in schools…

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

“My reply to your post, which I found somewhat naive politically, should be taken from that perspective.” Rod, you should remember that as a gay person I’m on the receiving end of a lot of that nasty rhetoric. Half of those icky candidates would roll back my marriage if they could. And I have spoken extensively about how the homophobic rhetoric emboldens bullies and has dreadful impacts on teen and adult LGBTQ people. I don’t believe it is different for any group on the receiving end. I am deeply gratified to see interfaith groups coming together in support of our… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

“we’re never given a guarantee in our scriptures that people will not resent the good news even (and perhaps especially) when it’s faithfully and accurately proclaimed.”

Well, probably. When people hear that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, and that there is a cost to doing so, we can get rather fractious. BTW, not all states allow concealed carry and some churches are “gun free zones.” I wouldn’t count on it, however. I wish we could just pass a giant magnet over this country and suck ’em all up. Alas.

Anthony Archer
Guest
Anthony Archer

This is an extremely poor report which I would not have expected from such a distinguished Chair as Baroness Butler-Sloss. It may be expected to gather dust on the shelves of most influencers. Reports where there is poor attention to detail send alarm bells ringing. Its patrons included a former archbishop, correctly referenced as The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Lord Williams of Oystermouth on page 2. He re-appears on page 91 as The Rt Revd Lord (Rowan) Williams, University of Cambridge, in case we had forgotten that he is the real Rowan and now Head of a Cambridge college.… Read more »

Rod Gillis
Guest
Rod Gillis

@ Cynthia, “Rod, you should remember that as a gay person I’m on the receiving end of a lot of that nasty rhetoric.” Good point, and a helpful reminder for someone like me.

Pluralist
Guest

This report is just a combining of institutional opinions. It is not proper research. As for John Milbank, and his references elsewhere to sociology as ‘secular theology’, that secular theology gets supported by research whereas his ‘theology’ is just a bubble of his own Platonist imaginations and some wished-for institutional Church he’d regard as the basis of perfect peace. Hardly.

Laurence Roberts
Guest
Laurence Roberts

‘Cynthia, I think I understand where you’re coming from on this. However, I think we also need to remember that we’re never given a guarantee in our scriptures that people will not resent the good news…’ (Tim Chesterton)

As Jesus found in his day, I as a married gay person find, (and appreciate Cynthia’s spot on posts)the good news is resisted by the Church of any age…

More good news among lgbt very often – real ‘accurate’ too…