Monday, May 26, 2008


Here's a very good article by Stephen Heap, who coordinates chaplaincy services at the University of Bedfordshire, on how we negotiate uneven and sometimes deeply antagonistic base-level convictions in a plural society. The answer, he suggests, is to create the space to face one another, rather than to try to write 'the other' out of the script. The term he uses for this, with an awareness of its richness which is wholly lacking among many who merely use it as an anti-religious slogan (including some respondents to this article), is 'secular' -- which, as he points out, "does not mean a space where there are no claims to absolutes, but one where together we learn to face the undoubtedly real and disturbing conflicts our opposing claims create."

"It means a level of public discourse in which truth and truth claims are dealt with without ridicule but with a deep acknowledgment that we disagree, at times profoundly so, and yet somehow have to survive together on the same plot of land. Creating such properly secular spaces is a major challenge to which we must rise if our conflicting allegiances are not to tear us apart."

This is no woolly liberalism, though. Heap gives some concrete examples of ways in which Christians and others may find themselves strongly at odds with the social or legal consensus on issues like war and civil rights. The idea that religious convictions must always be discounted or subsumed to the interests of the state is as dangerous and unhelpful (to all concerned) as the idea that they can or should claim dominance or special privileges. Rightly handled, our disagreements keep us moving forward together. Wrongly handled, there is hell to pay.

1 comment:

Jane said...

Thanks so much for pointing to this Simon. The last paragraph of Stephen's article is particularly powerful I think.
It made me realise that the Eglise Réformée continually tries to be part of such a secular space within France and in a very small way also has tried to create that place of honest debate between truths which don^t agree.
Very interesting