A big picture always sparks my curiosity and none more so than this week, when a new thread appeared in various media. It’s the thought that there must be more to the weary left-right posturing that characterises our political scene; more to society than the inexorable clamour of identity politics where the one who shouts the loudest takes the prize.
Wound into the new thread were discussions about compassion, about human flourishing and about the fact that beyond the economy, beyond school standards, beyond the endless drive of unrelenting social mobility, there are real human people; people living in relationships, in families and in communities. There is a searching for something more; a search that is epitomised by two voices on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Good Right and Blue Labour are both looking for moral credibility within compassionate politics. Even if their architects (Tim Mongomerie/Stephan Shakespeare and Maurice Glasman respectively) articulate the thinking in different ways, their searches share a similar focus.
And much as it scares the new atheists, who really thought that religion was in the final death throes of an inevitable fade into pre-enlightenment history, the God botherers are not only not going away, they are taking an active part in the debate – witness the Bishops’ pastoral letter. That particular debate centred on whether the letter was a left wing polemic from people who should leave politics alone and get on with the business of the Church or whether it was a call for a moral compass in politics, but the fact is, there was a debate. Even party political leaders are beginning to realise that they need to engage with people of belief. In an interview for Premier Radio this week, Nick Clegg talked quite openly about going ‘with great joy’ to Mass most weeks with his family. He sometimes thinks it would be wonderful to have faith and if it happens, he says he will embrace it. And he doesn’t have much time for aggressive secularism.
Nor does Maurice Glasman, who says that secularism must not only let go of its superior position, but also accept that faith plays a big part in the lives of many people and so those people must be part of the debate. His preferred route to the common good is clear: ‘Stay in the room and represent our interest and explore how we can be reconciled with others.’ Maybe we have entered a post-secular era, one in which Christians can express their faith in the public square; one where Christians are not forced by statute to conform to the secular liberal agenda.
This is a theme picked up by Archbishop Cranmer, the God and Politics blogger, who suggests that it’s time to reclaim our religious liberty. We aren’t asking for Christianity to become the dominant culture. We aren’t asking for society to embrace our faith. But we are asking for the freedom to be listened to as part of the social debate and to express views in accordance with ethical and moral values informed by our understanding of the Bible.
What would this mean in education? It would mean that Christian teachers could articulate their worldview without fear of reprisal under the Equality Act. It would mean that children had an opportunity to examine faith in action and understand how it informs what its adherents say, do and think. This will, no doubt, raise the hackles of those whose first and only response is the charge of proselytisation and indoctrination. Well, we have mechanisms in place to deal with that, should it occur, but frankly, I think anyone who seriously believes that you can force a person to believe anything against his or her will has never worked with children or young people.
So, as the move towards compassionate politics and a new found focus on the common good sharpens, consider the fact that Will Hutton, writing in the Observer, chose to sum up what people are searching for by quoting the words of the apostle Paul when writing to the church in Philippi: ‘Finally … whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things’. Negotiating a new normal from that premise should hold no fear for secularists, and great hope for people of faith.