Monday, January 30, 2012

David Cameron's Speech on the Bible

Prime Minister David Cameron gave a speech at a large religious event on December 16, 2011 celebrating the 400-year anniversary of the translation of the King James Bible. His comments on the role of Christianity in the country as a backbone of the nation's moral code is very interesting, and, by United States standards at least, extremely bold. The rest of his comments can be read here.

"The Bible has helped to shape the values which define our country. Indeed, as Margaret Thatcher once said, 'we are a nation whose ideals are founded on the Bible.' Responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, self-sacrifice, love pride in working for the common good and honouring the social obligations we have to one another, to our families and our communities these are the values we treasure. Yes, they are Christian values. And we should not be afraid to acknowledge that."
But they are also values that speak to us all – to people of every faith and none. And I believe we should all stand up and defend them. 
  
Those who oppose this usually make the case for secular neutrality. They argue that by saying we are a Christian country and standing up for Christian values we are somehow doing down other faiths. And that the only way not to offend people is not to pass judgement on their behaviour. 
  
I think these arguments are profoundly wrong. And being clear on this is absolutely fundamental to who we are as a people what we stand for and the kind of society we want to build. First, those who say being a Christian country is doing down other faiths simply don’t understand that it is easier for people to believe and practise other faiths when Britain has confidence in its Christian identity.
Many people tell me it is much easier to be Jewish or Muslim here in Britain than it is in a secular country like France.
Why? 
  
Because the tolerance that Christianity demands of our society provides greater space for other religious faiths too. And because many of the values of a Christian country are shared by people of all faiths and indeed by people of no faith at all.
Second, those who advocate secular neutrality in order to avoid passing judgement on the behaviour of others fail to grasp the consequences of that neutrality or the role that faith can play in helping people to have a moral code. Let’s be clear. Faith is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for morality. There are Christians who don’t live by a moral code. And there are atheists and agnostics who do. But for people who do have a faith, their faith can be a helpful prod in the right direction.
And whether inspired by faith or not – that direction, that moral code, matters. Whether you look at the riots last summer, the financial crash and the expenses scandal or the on-going terrorist threat from Islamist extremists around the world one thing is clear: moral neutrality or passive tolerance just isn’t going to cut it anymore. Shying away from speaking the truth about behaviour, about morality has actually helped to cause some of the social problems that lie at the heart of the lawlessness we saw with the riots. The absence of any real accountability, or moral code allowed some bankers and politicians to behave with scant regard for the rest of society. 
  
And when it comes to fighting violent extremism, the almost fearful passive tolerance of religious extremism that has allowed segregated communities to behave in ways that run completely counter to our values… has not contained that extremism but allowed it to grow and prosper…in the process blackening the good name of the great religions that these extremists abuse for their own purposes. Put simply, for too long we have been unwilling to distinguish right from wrong. “Live and let live” has too often become “do what you please”. Bad choices have too often been defended as just different lifestyles. To be confident in saying something is wrong…is not a sign of weakness, it’s a strength. But we can’t fight something with nothing. 
As I’ve said if we don’t stand for something, we can’t stand against anything. 
One of the biggest lessons of the riots last Summer is that we’ve got stand up for our values if we are to confront the slow-motion moral collapse that has taken place in parts of our country these past few generations. The same is true of religious extremism. 
  
As President Obama wrote in the Audacity of Hope: '…in reaction to religious overreach we equate tolerance with secularism, and forfeit the moral language that would help infuse our politics with larger meaning.'
Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and a much more active, muscular liberalism. A passively tolerant society says to its citizens, as long as you obey the law we will just leave you alone. It stands neutral between different values. But I believe a genuinely liberal country does much more; it believes in certain values and actively promotes them. We need to stand up for these values. To have the confidence to say to people – this is what defines us as a society…and that to belong here is to believe in these things. I believe the church – and indeed all our religious leaders and their communities in Britain – have a vital role to play in helping to achieve this.
I have never really understood the argument some people make about the church not getting involved in politics. To me, Christianity, faith, religion, the Church and the Bible are all inherently involved in politics because so many political questions are moral questions. So I don’t think we should be shy or frightened of this. I certainly don’t object to the Archbishop of Canterbury expressing his views on politics. Religion has a moral basis and if he doesn’t agree with something he’s right to say so. But just as it is legitimate for religious leaders to make political comments, he shouldn’t be surprised when I respond. Also it’s legitimate for political leaders to say something about religious institutions as they see them affecting our society, not least in the vital areas of equality and tolerance. I believe the Church of England has a unique opportunity to help shape the future of our communities. But to do so it must keep on the agenda that speaks to the whole country. The future of our country is at a pivotal moment. The values we draw from the Bible go to the heart of what it means to belong in this country and you, as the Church of England, can help ensure that it stays that way."

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