HTLGI2013 Politics, Power & Religion

May 27, 2013

My first panel session and we have some interesting people.  Simon Glendenning is a thoughtful Philosopher and I have booked other sessions with him.  Philip Blond I enjoyed last year in part because I find myself agreeing with a lot of what he says even though I don’t want to.  The third player is Linda Woodhead a sociologist of religion from Lancaster who now runs the Religion and Society programme.  This is one of a series of events linked to ValuesQuest sponsored by the Club or Rome which has a noble purpose.

The question posed is if turning away from our religious heritage a good thing and the debate centres about how to you create values and a somewhat disturbing focus on surveys.  Interestingly there is no critical review of the value of asking people about religion in a direct way so I’m sorry but I simply do not trust the data.   What is interesting is the question of values, how they are derived and maintained where religion, if not institutional religion does appear to still hold sway.  This idea that the leadership of religious institutions is divorced from the attitudes and beliefs of their members will be a common theme.   Mind you the idea that you can solve the problems of the Church of England by giving everyone a vote (advocated by Linda) is a little questionable.

It was a big group and I had booked for the lunch which was meant to continue the conversation so I didn’t ask questions.  The lunch however was a disaster.  There was a folk group playing to us, the group was spread out over an L shaped table and the speakers were not engaged.  Philip spent most of the time demanding wine and reluctantly responded to comments but in a dismissive way.  I managed an interesting conversation with Linda about McCabe, but she would not engage on the question of surveys.   Generally a disappointment although the food was OK.

I’m planning some longer blogs on religion in the future so I’ll hold on further comment for now – the notes are pretty comprehensive.



SIMON normally framed as we are becoming more secular, but its a mistake that a preference for secular institutions involves a turning away from religion.  He things on the contrary that we should think of secularism as an outgrowth of a specifically christian religious position.  Secularism as an ideology would be opposed to religion – an atheist movement that wants religion to disappear.  Religion is a way of thinking how should we organise ourselves in the public domain.  Rowan Williams defends procedural secularity saying that in the reis publica affords maximum public  debate etc. plurality of voices with mediation as the legal system.

LINDA we are in a muddle about religion as one sort of religion grabs the headlines but its only a small part of it.  Woolwich as an example, you cant say it has nothing to do with religion.  It also has a lot to do with disgruntled young men of an adolescent mentality seeking to impose themselves.  It could have been anarchism or marxism in the past.  The scout leader who intervened is the other face of religion,  The majority of people 77% say that they believe in God.  She asked a scale on believe in God not yes/no   half are definately or probably, atheists are the smallest group.  Religion is declining but institutional religion declining more than private belief.  Churches are not near where most christians are. There are good ordinary christians who are unchurched.  Most people’s religious attitudes are the same  70% are in favour of lapsing rules on euthanasia and its the same for anglicans and catholics so we have harmony of moral position way distant from where their leaders are.
Philip things that humans always have some sort of group identification.  We descend from a small group.  The story in Europe is that we don’t need religion all we need is rights.  That is demonstrably and philosophically wrong.   Why?  Rights  have no way to decide what is a right and how we decide between them.  So  if you forgo the normative culture on which they are based then you institutionalise conflict and destroy society.  Right based discourse in the US (you don’t have to build normative based groups) is paralysing as polarised.  You are seeing similar things in Europe.  At some point the facists may rule with the breakdown of Europe.


Need a transcendent form of identification and you are then in a religious realm.  Historically its religion that has brought peace, it brings in the language of equality for the first time.  Religion is the original of most of the discourses on which rights are based.  There is no secular settlement that can do this without religion.  SO the real issue is between bad and good religion.  Bad religion is certainty, absolutist,.  Good religion means that we know the truth only partially.  Europe without religion will not survive,


Philip – Moral realism now dominates
Simon referencing Linda’s poll sees it differently.  The top line in the believer was ‘creedal avowal’ which means they are religious theists.  That percentage across Europe was 19% and at the other end, the properly atheists is 13.5% which leaves a huge majority in the middle.  Worries about the idea that a loss of the transcendent is a part of this.  More open these days in experiments in living.  Freedom to engage in own conception of the good if it does not interfere with others.
Linda says you can’t just talk to religious leaders as they no longer have respect.  Does not agree with Phillip that everything is falling apart.  Says we have a huge consensus about big moral issues like abortion etc.  Vast majority of population is liberal on those topics.   8.5% disagree on abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage.  Only 3.6% are deeply religious in Britain with those attitudes.  People are finding new ways to be religious and spiritual.  Lots of creativity in a disorganised way.  US is better Obama has a faith commission etc.
Phillip says we have naive popularism in particular that surveys are disclosive of how people think.  The same surveys show that Britain is fractured etc.  Utilitarianism does not work as a form of politics.   We can have consensus about what we believe and still have a crisis.   We are the middle of two credible and orthodox account of the world and things are changing, the basic of the  liberal settlement has resulted in massive concentration of wealth and the destruction of human stabilities.
Simon says we should think about the rolling out of the enlightenment thesis and the idea that society will become more secular, from a primitive to a modern society.  Under that religion would wither way, he sees Phillip as worried about it but in fact its false.   Problem when we think the reasoning about religion is an issue so against Dawkins.  We lack a narrative for our own understanding of our development out of our own modernity.
Simon difference between secularism as an ideology which wants to destroy religion and secularity as political practice with the laws as legal mediator without the rule of religion in the public sphere.
Philip thinks religion is fundamental to normative institutions and without that we lapse to a mad place, however that space does not have to be completely religious.  There is no way of doing away with this debate.
Linda  is not happy with the US idea that religion and the state should be different OK from them as its how they state but would not work in Europe
Philip something always rules something always governs and it indoctrinates you.  Liberalism as much as anything else.  What is credible any more?   Its not just religion which has problems.  We have to have a meta narrative, the question is what is it?  Liberalism has and is failing so what replaces it?  Learning of other religions and its a bit like the Middle Ages at the moment where the three languages of book came together but it mustn’t be a pick and choose relationship.

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