Opinion: Secularism: the cure to religious extremism?

The first Turkish president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, once stated “He is a weak ruler who needs religion to uphold his government”. Although falling short of advocating a fully secular state, Ataturk highlights the weakness of a state reliant upon a particular religious doctrine to lend legitimacy to a government.

Secularism, according to Dictionary.com, is the view that public education and other matters of civil policy should be conducted without the introduction of a religious element. In simple terms, the separation of church and state. The separation of religious influence from public policy is greatest within OECD nations such as the United Kingdom and Belgium. Article 20 of the latter nation’s constitution states: “No one can be obliged to contribute in any way whatsoever to the acts and ceremonies of a religion, nor to observe the days of rest.”

Take a moment to absorb how revolutionary that excerpt is and how controversial it would have been in 1830 when the Belgian revolution created a new sovereign, secular state within a Europe dominated by religion. However, I am not interested in assessing whether secularism has been a success in these relatively stable nations, but in examining whether it can provide a long term cure to the epidemic of religious extremism sweeping in from the Middle East.

What Ataturk wanted is not a state where religion is excluded from mainstream society but a state neutral with regard to religion, as Belgium has been for 185 years. This means a state whose institutions neither favour nor disfavour a particular religious doctrine. Whilst this is taken for granted in most countries in the Western Hemisphere, to many in countries where the state stands as a ‘defender of Islam’ or where the dominant religion is ‘protected by the state’ the idea of a secular state is an absurd notion, sometimes even heretical.

However, terrorist attacks such as the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris earlier this month are on the rise and a viable solution is needed before the situation worsens. With the number of people killed in terrorist attacks having increased five-fold since 2000, it is essential that this solution is proven to prevent the cycle of religious extremism that has occurred throughout the last two decades.

A secular state, in its idealistic manifestation, would favour no particular religious doctrine. This would promote greater political stability in nations, such as Iraq and Pakistan, where religion is divided, both internally via a sectarian divide and between competing religions. For example, much has been made of the divide between Sunni Islam and Shia Islam and it’s permutations for the Middle East and the wider world.

Dividing church and state is rational. No religion is favoured so no religion is treated unfairly, religion is kept out of public schools unless it is in the form of educating students about a religiously pluralistic society and there are fewer fatalities due to religious violence in secular nations.

The terrorists want to divide and conquer, so it is about time we showed them that a fair society where all religions are equal can defeat even the most hate filled extremist.

* Jack Davies is a Liberal Democrat activist and district council candidate for New Forest District council. He lives in Pennington, Hampshire and is 19 years old.

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66 Comments

  • France is an aggressively secular society, and it’s notable how religious extremism never ever happens there. Or in other secular states, like Australia or, I don’t know, Denmark.

    So clearly this is the magic bullet to solve all the problems of the Middle East! Let’s do it immediately. But it doesn’t look like it is going to happen spontaneously any time soon so let’s… I don’t know… maybe we should invade and install a secular state? No way that could be a problem, right?

    Yeah! Go secularism!

  • I was told at school that Ataturk had abolished irregular verbs in the Turkish language. I still do not kow if that is true, maybe there is a Turkish speaker out there who can confirm? But I would like it to be true.

    I was told it at a time when I was struggling to learn O-level Latin, French , German and English. So Ataturk became a bit of a hero. His rational approach to rebuilding Turkey, his enthusiasm for modernity, the example he set with his wife about the role of women in society have all been of benefit to Turkey over the last hundred years. He was not perfect but he changed many things for the better, for the good of all.

    The benefits to Turkey of secular government since Atataurk seem obvious.
    Compare the progress in Turkey since 1920 with the growing feudal nightmare that is Saudi Arabia.

  • Personally, I think secularism is an end in itself, but it would be very difficult to achieve in a lot of the Middle East. There is no magic solution to Islamic extremism. However a secular at least makes a clear statement that we hold liberal and progressive ideals of progress that are not going to buckle in the face of religious fanaticism.

  • Jack Davies 4th Mar '15 - 10:49am

    Hi @Dav
    I understand that secularism is not the only solution to religious extremism but, throughout history, it has helped to calm down tensions between competing religions and different sects.

  • matt (Bristol) 4th Mar '15 - 11:01am

    Belgium as a nascent bi-denominational Christian state emerging from intercommunal conflict, had a vested interest in maintaining peace by ensuring balance between Catholic and Protestant. Secularism was grasped at not as an ideology but as a compromise.

    In modern France, by contrast, there are groups propogating a worldview that they claim to descend from a religion; they further claim themselves to be inherently and eternally in conflict with what they see as a culture of non-religion.

    If making peace between communities on the Belgian model is the aim, It might take a long and painful while of bridgebuilding and mutual listening for all groups in France to regard a form of secularism as the answer (and there are various forms, its not a monolith), since at least one (small but militant) group of factions seems to regard it as part of the problem. Particularly where France is welded to one and only one version of secularism.

  • matt (Bristol) 4th Mar '15 - 11:23am

    And Mustapha Kemal (so-called Ataturk) may have some admirable qualities (if you really think so) but he is not the solution to the Middle East. He provides clearly a precedent for the ‘strong man’ ex-miliatry officer leader whos dubious successors include Sadaam Hussein and Gadaffi (among many others).

    He sought to abolish religious power, not by consensus, so that he could establish a state whose ideology he sought to dictate, using one-party rule and a strong army as his tools. Where other political parties did exist during his reign, they existed because he told them to exist; they were subservient to him.

    Tito’s ‘seculraism’ was similar – it was the servant of an enforced unity, not a consensual democratic relationship between communities.

    He is in no way a liberal or a democrat as we would understnad the terms.

    Nation-building and constitution-founding are not easy, otherwise everyone would get it right every time, and it is patronising and naieve to think one political or ideological idea if transferred to other people’s heads in the correct way will automatically solve everyone’s problems.

  • I don’t know why we don’t just get 19-year-olds to solve all the world’s problems. It is so easy for them to spot exactly where everyone is going wrong and what they should be doing instead.

  • Jack Davies 4th Mar '15 - 11:47am

    @Dav I’m sorry but I find that comment insulting.
    I am not stating that secularism will solve the world’s problems. I’m just attempting to start a debate on the subject.

  • Dav 4th Mar ’15 – 11:37am
    In view of your ridiculous statement in another thread, are we to assume you are five centuries old?

    The fact that the author of the original article is 19 years old simply shows that someone of that age is better at writing a coherent and well argued piece than someone who hides behind the three letters “Dav”.

    Keep up the good work Jack Davies and ignore ageist nonsense.

  • Jenny Barnes 4th Mar '15 - 11:58am

    If you think Jack’s ideas are contestable, then contest them. It’s no argument to suggest that because of some personal quality (age, gender, race, sexual orientation, etc) they aren’t worth considering.

  • matt (Bristol) 4th Mar ’15 – 11:23am
    Your criticism of the “military strongman” are entirely valid.
    People often fall for the military leader image even in mature democracies. Some of the things that some Liberal Democrats used to say in praise of Paddy Ashdown were not always in line with the best beliefs of our party. Paddy was no doubt more embarrassed by such comments than the rest of us.

    This thread is about secularism. Other comments have mentioned that there are a variety of versions of secular state. In comparison with religious states set up in the last 100 years (Pakistan, Israel, Saudi Arabia for example) the secular states by and large have been far more successful and better places for their citizens to live.

  • If you think Jack’s ideas are contestable, then contest them

    Not so much ‘contestable’ as ‘absent’.

    But okay then. Quite apart from the fact that religious extremism flourishes just as much in secular as theocratic societies (sometimes more, as extremists who would be persecuted in their home-states move to ‘Londonstan’ where they are, because we value free speech, tolerated), what exactly is the author’s suggestion for how to turn Pakistan, or Iran, say, into a secular state?

    After all, if you’re suggesting secularism as a ‘long term cure’ presumably you have some ideas for how this ‘cure’ could be applied? So let’s hear how you’d going to get the population of a theocratic state to all decide that actually they want a complete change of direction and a secular government (and here’s a hint, it is not true that everybody really, underneath it all, wants to be a modern Western secular liberal and live in a democratic state, and if the forces of oppressive theocratic rule are removed then a modern Western secular liberal state will naturally arise in the vacuum).

    So, then. Plan, please.

  • matt (Bristol) 4th Mar '15 - 12:34pm

    John: “This thread is about secularism. Other comments have mentioned that there are a variety of versions of secular state.”

    Yes, and I was the main one who did, and that would be the main point I would want to make, over and pabove my Turkish digression. In fact, you could argue that isnce the Act of Toleration, we have in this country had for a while a particularly weird form of limited secularism. We certainly don’t have a theocracy, and it also needs to be remembered that there is not one ‘state church’; there are different religious settlements and different state-church relationships in the different nations of the UK. But the main thrust of the article was not about this country, it seemed to be about the Middle East.

    Given that there had been some (in my own little opinion) slightly overdone statements in praise of Mustapha Kemal in the article and in the thread. I felt it reasonable to put a corrective to that viewpoint. I thinkk, in particular, the quote from him at the start of the article may not mean what Jack thinks it means.

    But I think my main point in response to Jack would be that democracy and consensus is crucial — lasting peace between competing religious perspectives in a state needs to arise by organic ground-up listening; not by imposition.

  • Stephen Hesketh 4th Mar '15 - 1:30pm

    Jack Davies
    “Dividing church and state is rational”

    Jack, I’d go further, to link them is irrational and potentially dangerously illiberal.

    Secularism protects the rights of citizens to believe and practice their ‘chosen’ faith or none

    It should also ensure the state and religious organisations are not able to impose any given religion or sect on fellow citizens.

    Liberal Democrats, as part of our wider constitutional reform package, should press for dissestablishment of the Church of England, abolish the constitutional link between crown and church and ensure that whilst those of faith are protected, they are not able to exercise greater than ‘pressure group’ influence over the rights of those who do not – I think immediately of Equal Marriage and the Right to Die/Assisted Suicide.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 4th Mar '15 - 2:06pm

    Before we start lecturing other countries, maybe we should sort out our own state. We have religious representatives in parliament who are there only because of their religion (just like Iran), we have a head of state who is also the head of the state church, we have an official state religion, etc.etc.etc.

  • ” the weakness of a state reliant upon a particular religious doctrine to lend legitimacy to a government.”

    I note particularly the use of the words ‘reliant’ and ‘particular’. Whilst it clearly criticises those states and governments who claim they are enacting “god’s will” through their actions. What it doesn’t do is to criticise states who have a religion and who’s customs and rituals are (heavily) influenced by particular doctrines. Hence I see no issue with a state having a preferred religious doctrine such as that held by the CoE, which informs decisions etc. but isn’t used as a crutch to justify actions.

    The Equal Marriage and the Right to Die/Assisted Suicide are good examples of the fine line between the use of our society’s preferred religious doctrine/set of beliefs to inform debate and decision making and the dogmatic use of the same doctrine to justify a different viewpoint. I anticipate we would see exactly the same dichotomy of viewpoints occurring in a secular state…

  • Jack Davies 4th Mar '15 - 2:45pm

    @StephenHesketh
    A valid point. There is definitely a very strong argument for the C of E to be disestablished from the Crown but it will be difficult to enforce.
    Perhaps if a codified constitution was created, which included laws to this effect, then that change could be implemented.

  • Jack Davies 4th Mar '15 - 2:47pm

    @Dav
    I will be writing an upcoming piece on how we got to this situation as well as what we can do to ensure people who follow a particular religious faith are protected without lending undue influence to any particular religious group, causing others to get jealous.
    As for your comment on ‘Londonstan’, I am interested as to why you would call it that.

  • Jack Davies 4th Mar '15 - 2:49pm

    @GrahamMartin-Royle
    I know what you mean. There needs to be serious constitutional reform that takes Britain out of the Victorian era into the modern day.

  • Jack Davies 4th Mar '15 - 2:51pm

    And Thank You @JohnTilley and @JennyBarnes !!!
    I already experience ageism on a daily basis, just for standing for election. I didn’t expect to be hounded on her as well!

  • matt (Bristol) 4th Mar '15 - 2:57pm

    I think, Jack, I would be more interested to hear you on how these issues relate your local area – how much is balancing the competing aspirations of different faith communities and the assumptions of secularists and religious leaders going to impact on you as a potential District Councillor?

  • Jack Davies 4th Mar '15 - 4:03pm

    Hi matt,
    I would obviously be religiously impartial. However, I would actively support an initiative by any religious group to improve the local community without actually promoting the adoption of that faith.

  • Eddie Sammon 4th Mar '15 - 4:17pm

    Jack, this would be a good article if it were written by someone who had been in politics for 30 years, so for a 19 year old it is brilliant.

    You taught me something new. I was only very vaguely aware of the Belgium revolution, having been more interested in the French, Russian, American and the English civil war up to now.

    I agree that the state should be broadly neutral regarding matters of religion. The only thing I have a small qualm with is the use of the word secularism so much. For me this has connotations of aggressive atheism. I prefer to talk about religious equality and tolerance.

    Regards

  • Secularism is not a panacea, but a privileged position for any religion or religions in the machinery of the state or in politics is clearly wrong.

    The key to a truly secular society is not just keeping religion out of politics, but being wary of any party or ideology, nominally secular, that attempts to acquire a quasi-ecclesiastical domination over the minds of citizens.

  • As an Anglican I wish the UK was a secular state and believe that were they afforded the chance to vote on this the majority of our citizens would agree.

    But secularism needs to be consensual and I see no will for this in Pakistan, Iraq was secular under Saddam Hussein, minority religions are more at risk there now than under him……

    Part of our problems with our recent dealings with the Middle East, especially Iraq, is that we try to impose our world view on a culture that is vastly different to our own.

  • Jack Davies 4th Mar '15 - 6:11pm

    Thanks Eddie! This is a topic which I am particularly interested in. Hopefully, you will enjoy more of the articles I will publish.

  • Jack Davies 4th Mar '15 - 6:13pm

    David-1
    I agree 🙂
    Though preventing a party winning power due to popular support would be undemocratic.

  • Jack Davies 4th Mar '15 - 6:16pm

    Steve Way
    You make a fair point, it would make sense that, should the opportunity for constitutional reform arise, that a referendum should decide it.

  • Jeremy Bennett 4th Mar '15 - 7:57pm

    I’m with Steve Way on disestablishing the CofE. As an active Anglican I can see no justification for the Queen as Head of State appointing bishops advised by the PM (who may not even belong to the Church), nor therefore any justification for bishops to be in the House of Lords by right.

    The bible seems to support this position. In Matthew 22 verse 21, Jesus instructs “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”. In other words keep state and religion separate. Mind you the religious hierarchy didn’t like it much then either.

  • Jack Davies 4th Mar '15 - 8:17pm

    Agree there Jeremy! I think the common phrase is something about God divining the land to the men not for men to decide.

  • America is a secular country and yet very religious, many of the secular European countries have more Jihadi’s per capita than the UK.

  • Jack Davies 5th Mar '15 - 8:42am

    Hi David,
    As stated above, I’m not stating that secularism is the be all and end all. Secularism is a complex issue which will affect a huge swathe of society in the countries where it will have an effect.

  • Lauren Salerno 5th Mar '15 - 11:59am

    I question if secularism will achieve this division of church and state

    Look at Europe and count the number of Christian Democrat parties or at the U.S. where the religious right are a power house

    The states may be nominally secular but when the politics are heavily influenced by faith is this a practical reality?

    Perhaps best to have faith links out in the open?

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Mar '15 - 1:05pm

    Jeremy Bennett

    I’m with Steve Way on disestablishing the CofE. As an active Anglican I can see no justification for the Queen as Head of State appointing bishops advised by the PM (who may not even belong to the Church),

    So why are you an Anglican? The Church of England was founded in order to be a tame state-controlled Church.

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Mar '15 - 1:14pm

    Jeremy Bennett

    In Matthew 22 verse 21, Jesus instructs “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”. In other words keep state and religion separate.

    This is a common but incorrect interpretation of those words.

    What we have here are some hypocrites, who are all holier-than-thou when it comes to not paying Roman taxes – but are perfectly happy to have Roman money jingling in their pockets (or whatever it was they had instead of pockets back then). It would be better read as “If you think involvement with the Romans is wrong, then cut off all involvement with them, including all that involvement that benefits you by giving you money”. It’s pure speculation, but I always imagine Jesus as saying this to someone from the fishermen community who has just sold a big catch to the Romans, and that’s why he has Roman money on him.

    So much of what Jesus says is an attack on religious hypocrisy – people who make a big outwards show of it, but their inward thoughts and actions are in contradiction to the real values that their religion should be about.

  • @Matthew Huntbach
    The Anglican Church of today is far from a tame state controlled Church, hence why the Government were unhappy with their recent letter and why Thatcher hated the Faith in the City report int he 1980’s. There is also a number of doctrinal issues with, for example, the Roman Catholic Church, Female Clergy, Female Bishops, Papal infallibility etc.

    In fact the Anglican Church is probably better described a very loose association of churches rather than a single entity. So perhaps I should have identified as member of the CofE although this wouldn’t change your point.

    For whatever reason it was first established it has evolved over time.

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Mar '15 - 1:24pm

    Steve Way

    As an Anglican I wish the UK was a secular state and believe that were they afforded the chance to vote on this the majority of our citizens would agree.

    Well, I was a bit rude to Jeremy, but actually though I’m not an Anglican, I don’t see any problem with it. It’s just a quaint historical relic. It doesn’t really mean anything.

    If secularism was the answer, and what we have now the problem leading to violence, where are the marauding bands of extremist Anglicans wishing to behead Muslims which your argument and Jack’s would seem to suppose what we have now would lead to?

  • That’s not my argument at all, I just believe in separation of Church and State in our Country. I also pointed out that we should not try and impose our worldview on other nations….

  • For me the question is what kind of secularism.
    I certainly do not approve of the French model which dictates to women what they are not allowed to wear.
    And much worse than that, how about The regimes of Saddam Hussein or general Assad? Or Stalin or North Korea.
    I point this out not to suggest that anyone here supports those kind of regimes, but that tyrannies are not the sole careation of religion, and we also need to decide how we stop secular States from becoming tyrannical as well.
    I personally am a secularist but I find that some secular voices are intolerant of religion and are not helpful to the cause of diversity. I even know one Lib Dem PPC who as a matter of principle will not even visit a mosque despite the fact that the seat is almost impossible to win without substantial support from the Muslim community. I also have liberal Christian friends who feel excluded by strident secularists within the party.
    I think this is an important matter. As far as the Lib Dems are concerned we are not a vehicle to persuade people either to be religious or not religious.
    I would prefer all countries in the world to be both secular and tolerant of religions.
    As far as the Middle East is concerned, whether it is Israel or Iran, it is a pipe dream to imagine those countries will become secular States anytime me soon. In fact the more we try and persuade them to be so, the more non-secular they become. They do not have the same history as us. In the UK we are where we are today because off our history, our culture and language. We want other countries to be more like us, but other countries will be influenced by their own history, culture and language. And that will mean they are different, often in ways that we do not want or like.

  • Jack Davies 5th Mar '15 - 2:09pm

    I definitely like Geoffrey Payne’s point on the different cultures. This is something I am currently working on and should make for interesting reading!

    I would like to think that all Lib Dem PPCs care enough about their potential constituents to put their own opinions aside for the sake of their local community.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 5th Mar '15 - 4:30pm

    @Geoffrey Payne
    ” I also have liberal Christian friends who feel excluded by strident secularists within the party”.
    “I would prefer all countries in the world to be both secular and tolerant of religions.”

    Isn’t that second sentence a bit strident? 🙂

  • But, sad to say, the current situation in Turkey, with the current President and his AKP party is going backwards. Hence the Gezi Park riots and disquiet since.

  • Jack Davies 5th Mar '15 - 9:56pm

    Turkey is very worrying. Democracy has taken a u-turn.

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Mar '15 - 5:39pm

    Steve Way

    That’s not my argument at all, I just believe in separation of Church and State in our Country

    But what does it actually mean in practice? Almost nothing. State support of religion is far stronger in many other European countries where there are formal taxes collected and given to religions.

    Bishops would be out of the House of Lords if we had an elected Second Chamber, which I’d like to see. But is there any recent case where Bishops’ votes have had an impact on legislation?

    The days when it would have been considered normal to have had a Church of England presence at state events have long gone, and the days when it was assumed anyone who had not formally stated any other belief was an Anglican have long gone. So the idea that formally removing whatever quaint bits of legislation still make he Church of England “established” will somehow end Islamic extremism here seem to be to be barmy.

    If anything, it seems to me that the secular attitude helps extremist religion flourish by pushing religion underground in a way that makes it easier for the extremists to take it over and pretend that they are the real thing. I would say the Church of England is nice and moderate precisely because it IS the “established” Church. I would also say that the biggest thing that has helped moderate Catholicism in this country is the system of state Catholic schools.

  • Jack Davies 6th Mar '15 - 11:01pm

    There I contest your point, Matthew. In my own personal opinion, it was the changing social attitudes of the people (brought on by the two world wars) that forced religion in Britain to become more liberal in thinking thus it became more moderate.

  • One of the major factors in stopping the onslaught of the Vikings was them becoming Christian. I would suggest that a person who is religious and supports violence is demonstrating their inferiority complex , self pity and resentment.

    Human society evolves and therefore so does the status quo. If one has a certain view of life which enables a certain comfortable life to be lived, anything which causes one to lose status can lead to violence. One could say that hurt pride often causes people to lash out, but one could say if that person was truly enlightened there would be no pride to hurt.

    If one looks at Christianity in the UK , St Wulstan in 1008AD was preaching against slavery and it was Christians who led the movement to ban slavery without the need for violence. I would argue that it was Christianity which opposed the warrior society of post Roman Europe where might was right and introduced compassion for the weaker members of society , healing of the sick ,education and feeding and clothing the poor. Both the Nazis and Communists have persecuted Christianity and attempted to destroy it.

    When it comes to the influence of monarchy, it Queen Elizabeth1 who moderated some of the more extreme Protestants . After all it was the Church of England which enabled Dissenters and Non-Conformists to exist and thrive , who largely gave us the Industrial Revolution. I would argue one needs to look at what organisations have done and not done.By doing nothing one can allow others to flourish.

  • Helen Tedcastle 7th Mar '15 - 1:55pm

    I agree with Matthew Huntbach. Where are the marauding hoards of jihadi Anglicans coming out of their faith schools? The claims of this article are wishful rather than born out by fact. France is great example. It separated church and astate and is now one of the most religiously and socially divided societies in Europe.

    ‘ Dividing church and state is rational. No religion is favoured so no religion is treated unfairly, religion is kept out of public schools unless it is in the form of educating students about a religiously pluralistic society and there are fewer fatalities due to religious violence in secular nations.’

    Making a bald statement that it is ‘rational’ to split church and state is a pure assertion.

    As we have faith schools serving our communities and contributing to society now, I would like to see the evidence from the author of the article which shows that English faith schools are producing more violent adults.

  • Helen Tedcastle 7th Mar '15 - 2:04pm

    @ Jack Davies
    ‘ In my own personal opinion, it was the changing social attitudes of the people (brought on by the two world wars) that forced religion in Britain to become more liberal in thinking thus it became more moderate.’

    This seems to assume that Christianity was extreme before the wars. Have you got any evidence for this? A cursory glance at the history of Christianity in these isles for the last thousand years would show how there have been a long dialogue between strands of Christian thinking, simply termed liberal and conservative.

    The wars certainly shifted cultural attitudes but the current meme doing the rounds which lumps all religious expression in with the kind of violent extremism we are witnessing in a tiny number, is a dangerous distortion of reality.

  • Jack Davies 7th Mar '15 - 2:15pm

    Firstly, France is an aggressively atheist model, you could also argue that attempting to ban the burka didn’t help matters!
    Secondly, I was going by my own experience of religion. As someone who attended a state school, I was taught religious studies, most of this was based around Christianity, though we were taught briefly about Islam. Whereas in state schools religion is examined in a much more critical manner, in faith schools religion is usually actively encouraged and promoted at the expense of individual thought. As a social liberal, and someone who believes in the individual right to make your own decisions so long as it is within the law, I am of the opinion that state schools will encourage more people to be aggressively religious, to the exclusion of all religions except the one which is practised. Someone is far likely to be radicalised when they learn of only one path, rather than examining a variety of different religions.

  • Jack Davies 7th Mar '15 - 2:16pm

    *faith rather than state

  • Helen Tedcastle 7th Mar '15 - 2:47pm

    Jack Davies

    I have to take issue with this statement: ‘ Whereas in state schools religion is examined in a much more critical manner, in faith schools religion is usually actively encouraged and promoted at the expense of individual thought’

    This is not the case. Firstly, faith schools are already in the state system. Secondly, faith schools teach Religious Education and Religious Studies. This involves a critical examination of religion. I know this because I have been a teacher and head of department in both community and faith schools and can compare them both.

    When I taught in a faith school, I taught other religions and there was critical discussion of religious ideas, even the teachings of the faith ethos of the school.

    I think you might be equating extreme examples of schools you have heard about in the press such as an Islamic free school and a creationist school, with the hundreds of mainstream faith schools. This is becoming a common distortion in some quarters and it is just that – a distortion of the facts.

    If I had indoctrinated my pupils into a faith, I would not have enabled my pupils to pass national exams at GCSE and A level, neither would I have equipped them for university. Thankfully, I and my colleagues did do our best to educate them and they did in large measure achieve success academically. They were thinking and critical young adults when they left us.

    The current meme against faith schools is unfair and not true.

  • Jack Davies 7th Mar '15 - 2:56pm

    Ok, but I am still uncomfortable with the idea that there are schools centred around religion rather than the local community. Surely faith schools are not part of the mainstream education system so do not promote community cohesion which is a major factor in radicalising young people. If young people feel ostracised, they are likely to lash out.

  • Helen Tedcastle 7th Mar '15 - 3:34pm

    ‘I am still uncomfortable with the idea that there are schools centred around religion rather than the local community. Surely faith schools are not part of the mainstream education system so do not promote community cohesion’

    I don’t know if you are familiar with faith schools (ie: the local Catholic or Anglican school) but they are part of the community. They are linked to the parishes and the children who attend the schools come from the vicinity. You seem to think these schools are ghettos. They are not.

    When I taught, there were people with no particular faith , Sikhs and Catholics all sitting in the class. They attended the school because they chose to go there and because it was local. They had a choice of community schools too but chose the faith school. It wasn’t a school with the best results – parents liked the inclusive and caring ethos and the contribution the school made to the community. The faith ethos of the school actually promoted openness and social cohesion. It wasn’t a narrow fundamentalist ethos because it was a mainstream faith school.

    I would remind you that the schools which were accused by the Tory part of the government of promoting radicalism in Birmingham where community schools which were changed into academies. This gave the governors massive power with no local government input. The schools were in areas with a high concentration of one culture but they were not faith schools. In fact, there is little evidence that those schools were radicalising children anyway.

    Young people are being radicalised on the internet as the the recent case of three girls in London has demonstrated.

  • Jack Davies 7th Mar '15 - 3:49pm

    Internet radicalisation is terrifying! Though the Conservative strategy is not the way forward.

  • Ben Jephcott 7th Mar '15 - 4:26pm

    I’m not comfortable with the ever louder demands for secularism as if it has anything to do with liberalism. We keep seeing it on this site, rather more than in the party as a whole, thankfully.

    Liberalism is about tolerance and open-ness, secularism is not. Nor am I content as an agnostic to see religious faith and practice constantly linked to terrorism as if terrorism is just religious commitment turned up a notch. It is not.

    Just as in Ireland where radical nationalists used Roman Catholicism for their own purposes over decades of armed rebellion, now pan-Arab nationalists are misusing and twisting Islam. The way to defeat terrorism is to arrest the perpetrators and tackle the political injustices which usually fuel the recruitment of new perpetrators.

    Driving out religion and faith from human culture just stokes more intolerance and we should stop wishing for it.

  • Ben Jephcott 7th Mar ’15 – 4:26pm

    Ben Jephcott — if you are under the misapprehension that Liberalism has nothing to do with Secularism can I suggest that you read The Preamble to the Party Constitution.

    If you can find anything there that suggests we are anything other than a secular party can you point it out?

  • There seems to be some lack of understanding by some in this thread as to what is meant by the word “Secularism”.

    This definition may help people —

    http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=secularism+definition&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&hl=en-gb&client=safari

  • Jack Davies 7th Mar '15 - 5:09pm

    @JohnTilley well said! We are accused of disyorting religion when they distort the very meaning of secularism.

  • Helen Tedcastle 7th Mar '15 - 6:33pm

    Jack Davies
    ‘ We are accused of disyorting religion when they distort the very meaning of secularism.’

    I have no idea what this statement means exactly, because as far as I’m concerned it’s not a matter of ‘them’ and ‘us’ in the sense of ‘secular’ and ‘religious.’ I am both and have been both throughout my time as a member of the party (30 years this year). I do not subscribe tot he view that to be a liberal means to be a secularist. If that what it does mean then this is the wrong party for me (and for many others).

    I think one can be anti-establishment and not be too concerned about the eventual disestablishment of the church but be passionately in favour of faith schools. This is a coherent liberal position because it respects diversity, the history of the country with its found tolerance of faith.

    I think the other issue for me is the article’s concern to divide people between secular and religious and equate violence with religion (all religion).

    While there are areas of the world where there is full scale violence, where Christians are beheaded and muslims slaughtered by other other muslims, I fail to accept the case made that this means we should have no faith schools in England. I understand some liberals hold it but many others do not.

    I have tried to make the case to you why I do not support such a binary view of the world – could you respond to those points?

  • Jack Davies 7th Mar '15 - 10:59pm

    As to your first point, forgive me if I have implied in my piece and in my comments that there is a ‘them’ and ‘us’. I was simply referring to the two sides of the argument. I hope this is sufficient.
    As to your second point, I never intended to equate religion with violence. I was simply referring to the use of religion as an excuse by fundamentalist groups for territorial reasons.
    I am not altogether against faith schools, I simply believe they should be regulated more closely by government in order to combat cultural isolationism between different religions.
    Finally, I understand that the rise of Daesh and the continued presence of Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al – Shabaab in Somalia are concerning but it is not only Islamist groups which threaten people in these areas, but extremist christians, Sikhs, Hindus and local tribes.

  • @Matthew Huntbach
    Please show me where I have stated anywhere that de-establishing the CofE would end Islamic extremism? Otherwise try addressing comments to what I have actually said, which is I would prefer to de-establish the CofE, but that we shouldn’t try and force our viewpoints of other countries.

    As to what it would change, nothing to do with extremism, lots to do with how the Church could grow, provide services to members and govern itself.

  • Philip Thomas 8th Mar '15 - 10:56am

    Dis-establishment has been Liberal policy for a very long time. Historically much of the support has come from non-Anglican denominations: as a Catholic I am firmly in this tradition. Most of the Anglican churches in the UK were originally Catholic churches before Henry VIII stole them and set up his own little state-church.

    At the same time, I acknowledge it would make very little practical political difference and is therefore rather low on the list of priorities.

    With regards to the Turkish state, their treatment of the Kurds, which is partly religious persecution, has been disgraceful: not exactly a shining beacon of secularism.

  • Jack Davies 8th Mar '15 - 11:00am

    I’m pleased this piece has generated so much discussion. It is nice to see so much polite discussion. I hope some of you will be at conference next week so we can continue our civilised debate.

  • I would argue that the Church of England has enabled Puritans , Roman Catholics and Jewish People to live together and thrive. The Huguenots , French Protestants ,moved to Britain after massacres in France in the 16C . The Huguenots were silk weavers, which was one of the most highly skilled and paid occupations in Europe at the time: from the accumulated money they became bankers. A main reason why the Puritan Pilgrim Fathers left Britain for America was because they objected to Catholic aspects of the Church of England. Jewish people move to Britain and were allowed to worship a synagogue from at least 1663 . The Concept of Laicite was introduced in France in 1905 due to the influence of The Jesuits in political life.

    I would argue that the Anglican Church has enabled a greater degree of religious tolerance than in most countries. The Anglican Church has not preached a message based upon fear and has allowed a tolerant live and let live attitude to develop.

  • You can argue that, Charlie, but it doesn’t make a bit of historical sense. The Church of England was bitterly opposed to every scrap of legislative toleration that came out of Parliament, particularly those giving full civic rights to Catholics and Jews.

  • Jack Davies 9th Mar '15 - 10:42pm

    I do agree with David-1. But it will be interesting to see what secularism can do!

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