Thursday, June 05, 2008

John Sentamu on Faith and Politics

Ruth Gledhill has posted in full a talk on religion and politics given by John Sentamu last night. Lots of good stuff in it, and I imagine his critique of New Labour will get more attention than his critique of secularism. Though Sentamu doesn't mention the vote on 42 day detention, it must be in his sights when he comments on liberty and state power.

Here's a chunk of it, on whether excluding religion from the public sphere is a good thing:

Organised religion is always ambiguous. It can be both an instrument for good or for great evil. When I consider the history of organised religions the world over and look at the present state of our world and the countless acts of violence committed in the name of God, is it any wonder that the third commandment given to Moses on Mount Sinai was not to misuse the name of the Lord?

Such acknowledgements of wickedness give succour to those dogmatic atheists or illiberal secularists for whom any Utopian vision requires the eradication of all religion. Yet we only have to look to the Third Reich, the former Soviet Union and the present regimes of North Korea and Burma to consider that a society without religion rapidly loses faith in humanity.
People become essential means of production – except, of course, the ruling classes.

It isn’t by accident that every totalitarian movement of the last century sought to eradicate the influence of belief in God prior to imposing its despotic will.

In our new century organised religion has become not so much the enemy to be eradicated but the tool to be abused. Whether it be the so called Salafi-Jihadism of Al Qaeda claiming the lives of innocent people perversely in the name of Allah or those narrowly focussed political parties attempting to usurp religious values and heritage, the purveyors of hatred and violence cover their wickedness with a religious cloak, or to use the words of Rabbi Lionel Blue, “the terrorists covering their own inner violence under a fig leaf of faith”.

Such abusers of religion lay easy claim to centuries of heritage with their lip service whilst their actions, and in some cases perverse ideologies, twist out of shape the garment of faith woven over centuries by faithful scholars and adherents.

For those who claim the mantle of faith, the ultimate injunction must be for us to know God better, to know God more, and to love and serve our neighbour better. In doing this we fulfil our obligations not only to God but also to the society which we share.

Such duties and obligations form the bedrock of a religious approach to politics that extends far beyond the comparatively modern term of “social justice”. Rather the prophets and the law lay the foundation for our primacy of care for the other and in so doing lay down the foundation for the role of religion in politics.

He goes on to spell out where religion and politics intersect under the headings of Responsibility, Service and Liberty. Plenty to chew on. Other speeches by the ABY here, on his website.

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