Friday, November 09, 2007


This is adopted from the latest issue of the new weekly Ekklesia bulletin, which included a focus on The Economist's special 18-page report. Inter alia I observed:

There are five elements to the case that Ekklesia puts about religion and politics: First, faith communities revolve around the existence of bodies (like churches and their associated institutions) which are public and inescapably political - they deal in power, one way or another.

Second, there are domineering and liberatory forms of religion, and dominating and liberatory forms of politics (and much in between). The issue is therefore not whether something monolithic called 'religion' should or should not be associated with something monolithic called 'politics', but rather what kind of religion in relation to what kind of politics?

Third, the encounter between Christianity (specifically) and politics has been dominated by the assumptions of Christendom about the convenient alliance of different kinds of power. But there is actually a deep challenge to this kind of collusion built into the heart of Christianity, especially in its dissenting traditions, allied to sources of pluralism in biblical and other sources. These can and should be used to reconstruct the religion-politics agenda around witness (good example and civic action) rather than control (seeking self-interested power) in post-Christendom.

Fourth, we need state forms which are mediating and which are open to challenge and change in terms of fairness and justice to all (irrespective of religion).

Fifth, there are challenges for secular modernity as well as religious modernity in all of this - as LSE professor John Gray has pointed out, for example, in his controversial book Al-Qaeda And What It Means to Be Modern (Faber and Faber, revised paperback edition April 2007)).

Central to all this is the development of civil society as arena for cooperation, rather than just politics as a set of 'wars of position'. It is in civil society that post-Christendom Christianity can have a public role which does not require privilege, but rather seeks to oppose privilege on theological as well as plural grounds. Similar arguments can be made about, from within, other religious traditions.

A vigorous debate about the ethics of public roles is needed in intra- as well as inter-community exchanges, involving different philosophies, both 'religious' and 'secular' (the boundaries are again much more porous than the predominant stereotypes suggest).

The debate about religion and politics across a range of different contexts and in relation to universal aspirations (human rights, and so on) is not settled and is nowhere near concluded. In fact, contrary to the dogmatists of both religion and secularism, it is only just beginning in any meaningful sense. And this is happening in a global context which, we would be foolish not to recognise, contains very dangerous features, as well as seeds of hope that badly need watering.

1 comment:

Matt Wardman said...

>civil society as arena for cooperation

I wish you luck with the NSS people.