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Newsline 30 August 2013

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On homophobia and racism

On homophobia and racism

Opinion | Thu, 29 Aug 2013

Two weeks ago the Archbishop of Canterbury was in Monterrey, Mexico where he delivered a sermon to the effect that Anglicanism is standing on a precipice and risks falling into a "ravine of intolerance".

Mr Welby said the Church had to steer a course between, on the one hand, compromising so much that it abandoned its "core beliefs" and, on the other, becoming so intolerant that it fractured completely.

He said the atmosphere in the Anglican Communion was rather like the English civil war: what the church was fighting about was "incomprehensible" to people outside it.

He revisited the same territory this week in a speech to a group of evangelical Christians when he told them that young people considered the Church's attitude to gay marriage as "cruel" and "wicked". Even young evangelicals thought so.

Yet he still maintains that he did the right thing in voting against gay marriage in the House of Lords. It's worth quoting him in detail:

"What I voted against was what seemed to me to be the rewriting the nature of marriage in a way that I have to say within the Christian tradition and within scripture and within our understanding is not the right way to deal with the very important issues that were attempted to be dealt with in that Bill.

"The Bill was clearly, quite rightly, trying to deal with issues of homophobia in our society.

"As I said at the time in the House of Lords, the Church has not been good at dealing with homophobia — it has at times, as gods' people, either implicitly or explicitly supported it and we have to be really, really repentant about that because it is utterly and totally wrong. But that doesn't mean that redefining marriage is the right way forward.

"That discussion is continuing and the Church is deeply and profoundly divided over the way forward on it.

"I am absolutely committed not to exclude people who have a different view from me, I am also absolutely committed to listening very carefully to them.

"If the same thing happened again I would vote the same way as I did then but I am continuing to think and listen very carefully as to how in our society today we respond to what is the most rapid cultural change in this area than there has been for a very long time.

"We have seen changes in the idea about sexuality, sexual behaviour. We have to face the fact that the vast majority of people under 35 not only think that what we're saying is incomprehensible but also think that we're plain wrong and wicked and equate it to racism and other forms of gross and atrocious injustice. We have to be real about that.

"I haven't got the answer one way or the other until my mind is clear on this. I'm not going to get into the trenches."

So, the Archbishop is facing up to the intractable problem that defeated his predecessor. A church that is, on the one hand, deeply and hatefully homophobic (in its African divisions at least) and increasingly liberal in its European and American branches. It's the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. Rowan Williams didn't have an answer, and neither does Justin Welby.

The reason? There is no answer that will satisfy all parties. The only solution is to split, something the bishops are desperate not to happen. The Church is weak enough as it is, but would be even weaker broken into ever smaller warring factions.

Justin Welby's dilemma is insoluble, but he does not make it better by saying on the one hand that he deplores homophobia and five minutes later practising it in the most disgraceful manner.

If you put yourself up as a moral arbiter, you had better be consistently moral yourself. Mr Welby hasn't got there yet.

And in a similar fashion, we must take to task the Runnymede Trust which has recently published a pamphlet saying that Muslims in Britain must not be stereotyped — in fact, to do so is "racist".

The pamphlet then goes on to indulge in the worst kind of stereotyping. Even its title "The New Muslims" immediately herds everyone who has come from a Muslim heritage into being "a Muslim". If you happen to live in an immigrant community that originates from a Muslim majority source then, according to the Runnymede Trust, you are a Muslim.

Imagine if they did the same with "Christians". Imagine if, because you are white and Anglo Saxon (and perhaps live in the Home Counties), you were immediately identified as a "Christian" and lumped into a category that they had chosen for you rather than one you had chosen for yourself.

The Runnymede Trust says that it is "racist" to imagine all Muslims are the same. That is true, and we have long recognised that Muslims originate from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds. The Somalis have little in common with the Pakistanis and the Sri Lankans share little common ground with the Bosnian Muslims.

But what if you come from one of these countries and you don't regard yourself as a Muslim? What if you have grown indifferent to the "faith" that your parents (or the Runnymede Trust) assigned to you? What if you feel actively hostile towards it, as some do?

Just like in the general population, there are people from Pakistan and Iran and other majority Muslim countries who simply aren't interested in religion.

I have seen only one small survey of "Muslims" which measured their mosque-going. It showed that about a third of those questioned never went to a mosque. This is not to say that they didn't regard themselves as "Muslims" — in the same way that people who never cross the threshold of a church can still regard themselves as Christians.

But there are many "indifferents" in both Christian and Muslim heritage cultures.

This is something the Runnymede Trust doesn't seem to recognise. But it is a message that Maryam Namazie and the Council of ex-Muslims in Britain has been trying to get out for years.

So, who are the real "racists" here? Those who genuinely judge a person on his or her individual qualities and merits or someone who can think only in terms of "Muslims" and "Christians"?

Report from Australia: secularists score political parties on their levels of religious favouritism

Report from Australia: secularists score political parties on their levels of religious favouritism

Opinion | Thu, 29 Aug 2013

Meredith Doig, president of the Rationalist Society of Australia, reports on her country's continued privileged treatment of religion.

One area of the political debate that does not receive much attention during election campaigns is the question of religious influence on party policy.

This is a gap. Australians clearly prefer a separation between church and state. According to a Herald/Nielsen poll conducted in the lead up to the 2010 federal election, 84% of people surveyed agreed with the statement ''religion and politics should be separate''.

In Australia's increasingly complex society of many different cultures and different types of beliefs or lack of belief, that would seem to be the only sensible approach.

Given the public holds a firm position on the relationship between religion and politics, the Rationalist Society of Australia has taken on the task of assessing each party's commitment to the principle of secularism by monitoring comments, statements, and parliamentary voting practices on key policy issues and scoring each party accordingly.

Political parties that received a "Fail" essentially took the view that church and public policy is inseparable, particularly on policy pertaining to end-of-life decisions, termination of pregnancy, same-sex marriage, religious instruction in schools, and preferential treatment of religious organizations.

Parties that presented mixed and contradictory messages on these issues received a B or C grade.

And parties awarded an A presented a consistent commitment to the principle of separation of church and state, ensuring the provision of government services does not discriminate on religious grounds.

How each party scored is in the public interest and, more importantly, in the interest of voters.

See the Secular Scorecard 2013.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the NSS.

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NSS Speaks Out

The NSS has been busy in the media during Newsline's break — we were widely quoted in the story about the soon-to-retire Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks who gave an interview on Radio 4 saying that society was falling apart because of the rise of secularism. Stephen Evans was quoted on the BBC and Keith Porteous Wood was quoted in the Independent

Meanwhile, the story of the Harrogate Girl Guide troop, led by Christians, who had decided not to implement the new secular promise, included comments from Stephen Evans in the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph. When they backed down, the Daily Mail and Huffington Post covered the news. The story was taken up by the Press Association which ensured that it also appeared in numerous local and regional newspapers.

A real silly season story about the Bible being dropped from Desert Island Discs originated in the Independent and was devoured by the news-hungry Telegraph and Daily Mail.

NSS Scottish Spokesman Alistair McBay had this letter in the Scotsman.

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