Tuesday, December 12, 2006


On 3 December 2006, Observer columnist Nick Cohen wrote an article about the often aggressive defence, or re-assertion of, Christianity in British public life. As a critic of 'establishment faith' I sympathise with many of his concerns, but he seems to write all but the most controlling kinds of religion out of the script and therefore produces an account which is in danger of veering into caricature and offers no way beyond "a plague on them all" or a war of counter-assertion. Before his piece was filed, Jonathan Bartley had briefed Cohen, at his own instigation, on the post-Christendom argument and some alternative takes on 'Christmas wars' et al. He chose not to pursue these angles, but the reference in his subsequent article portrayed Ekklesia as 'the left wing' in an intra-Anglican row. Which misses the point at more levels than one. This week The Observer published my response (below). Incidently, they entitled it 'Cohen's phoney war'. I had, of course, referred to the phoney war described by Nick Cohen. Which is different. And consciously so:

Nick Cohen ('Let's not sleepwalk with the Christian soldiers', last week) portrays my organisation, Ekklesia, as part of an 'internal conflict' within the Church of England. On the contrary, Ekklesia is an independent think-tank with no denominational affiliation.

Our argument is that when establishment Christianity puts civic self-interest before equality and justice, it betrays its own radical origins, as well as making the world a nastier place. Many religious and non-religious people are recognising this to be true in their traditions, too.

Voices for change are, however, lost in the phoney war Nick Cohen describes. That's why we need a conversation of civilisations, not the kind of clashing that only encourages sectarianism.
Simon Barrow, co-director, Ekklesia London EC1

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