The Charles Gore Lecture 2005 No. 2
Start Date: 28th Sep 2005
End Date: 4th Jan 2016
Start Time: 00:00
End Time: 10:15

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Public Truth or Private Conviction?  The Christian Church, pluralism and Establishment in the Twentieth Century

Charles Gore died in 1932, leaving a daunting legacy for anyone who would presume to lecture in his name.  Theologian, educator, controversialist, bishop, pioneer of a new form of the religious life in Anglicanism, Christian Socialist, Anglo-Catholic, Liberal Catholic - the range of his intellectual and ecclesiastical engagement was vast, his learning formidable, and his principles immoveable.  Above all, he was an ardent advocate of the public truth of Christianity - the relevance of the Christian gospel to the values and beliefs that shape society.  For Gore, government and civil society were morally accountable.  This was not without its difficulties.  Gore criticized the treatment of conscientious objectors during the First World War, for example, and lamented the retaliation bombing of German towns.1 These views were not popular.  But Gore was unabashed.  "Justice is a divine thing", he said.2 And again, he said that the Church "has constantly been occupied in picking up the wounded in the battle of life…when it ought to have been thundering at the gates of tyranny".3

This lecture cannot hope to emulate Gore's eloquence and breadth.  But it can try to address his concern for the public relevance of Christian faith.  To do so, I shall circle around three interconnected subjects, namely the history of religion in society, particularly secularization, Church-State relations, and the rise of the pluralist society. On two of these at least - religion in society, and Church-State relations - Gore had much to say, though you will forgive me, I'm sure, for not quoting him directly again. It is perhaps surprising that he had little to say on the question of pluralism, given that one of the great exponents of the political theory of pluralism - Neville Figgis, to whom I shall return - was a member of Gore's own religious community.  But then again, perhaps it is not so surprising. Even in Gore's day - for all the claims of latter-day social historians that the churches were in full-scale retreat in Britain - in fact church attendance remained remarkably high, other faith communities were remarkably small, and Christianity was a remarkably dominant social fact.

1. Religion and the pluralist society

In all three areas on which I shall concentrate this evening - religion in society, Church-State relations, pluralism - British society has seen immense change since Gore's death.  So much is obvious.  In recent months, a more searching light has been turned on the last of these three - pluralism - than ever before.  When four British-raised suicide bombers blew themselves up in London on 7 July, one could have predicted that the limits of toleration of diverse religions would be explored in the ensuing debate as never before.  Crises of this kind expose the hidden conflicts of our culture, as well as our neglects, and our failures.  The voices of the liberal elite have been conspicuous for their disagreement.  Has 7 July exposed the blindness of our culture and government to the depth of social dislocation experienced in the Muslim communities of cities such as Leeds and Bradford? Are more Muslim schools, measures to protect religion, and the active pursuit of coalitions of Muslim moderates the answer? Or, conversely, do such things merely provide an umbrella under which 'extremism' can thrive?  Is the answer a more radical settlement of religion and society - the end of faith schools, the banning of certain kinds of distinctive religious symbols and dress, the absolute exclusion of religion from all public or state institutions, including Parliament?  Writing in the Guardian, Madeleine Bunting warned against the temptation to impose ever stricter cultural tests on Muslims, and to lump moderates and extremists together.  In the wake of 7 July, what is troubling, she wrote, "is how exacting British society is becoming of its Muslims.  A new set of 'cricket tests' are [sic] being imposed on British Muslims - they are expected to sign up enthusiastically to every aspect of western secular society and to jettison any part of their intellectual heritage that is critical of the west."4 That is a view of the world entirely contradicted by another Guardian columnist.  Polly Toynbee has renewed her attack on the religious establishment, and on government capitulation to faith communities.  Her particular target is faith schools, and the way they blur public values and private conviction: "never was it more important", she has said, "to separate the state from all faiths and relegate all religion to the private - but well-regulated - sphere".5

Now we might pause to reflect with some perplexity on the suggestion that a policy of sharp containment and regulation would actually reduce Islamic extremism in Britain.  But it is pointless to dwell long on the conflicting views of Bunting and Toynbee.  This conflict of opinion is not confined to the Guardian, nor to the media.  It is a general feature of contemporary discussion, and it highlights a contradiction in liberal democracy's view of religion.  On the one hand, given the fact of religious pluralism, the State cannot afford to uphold and propagate one religious perspective.  It is part of the long and honourable achievement of religious toleration in the West that all citizens, whatever their beliefs, are fully entitled to the same privileges and the same rights.  Religious belief must therefore be set to one side when we vote, when we fill in a tax form, when we apply to university, and so on.  This is all very well when religion is rational and moderate, and willing to accept a clearly demarcated role.  But, on the other hand, much religion - arguably all of it - is not rational or moderate.  Of its very nature, it makes particular claims that are, to say the least, controversial.  It cannot be indifferent to the State.  And therefore the State must - and will - be ever vigilant against the danger of religion intruding into areas of public policy. So the State's view of what is good or harmful for its citizens will inevitably conflict from time to time with the value systems of the religions.  And that means that the State cannot stand altogether above competing religious values.  It must, whether it likes it or not, take a stand of sorts with regard to many of the issues and perspectives for which different faiths contend.

It is worth considering briefly how we got to where we are.  I used the words 'long and honourable' just then when I spoke of the tradition of religious toleration in the West.  This is a Europe-wide question.  Toleration, for all that it came to be clothed in the language of rights, and an apparently secularized language at that, actually originated in a desire to protect religion from its own internal demons. Religious difference, after the Reformation, brought civil war in its wake.  When the wars of religion were drawing to an end, the guiding belief of rulers in Europe was not that the State should be indifferent to particular religions.  Rulers were, on the contrary, convinced that religion - their religion, of course - was essential to the health of the body politic. The settlement of the German states after the peace of Westphalia in 1648 continued to presume the propagation of particular religious values in particular states.  It was precisely because of this continuing tradition that even as late as the 1870s, Bismarck could attempt, through the Kulturkampf (the 'cutlural war') to turn the Protestantism of the Prussian royal family into a binding national ideology against Roman Catholicism.  In Britain, too, the Act of Toleration that followed the ejection of James II in 1688 was not intended to create a level playing field in religion - far from it.  It presumed the continued support and legal privilege of the Church of England.  Dissenters were barely tolerated, and had to register their meeting houses with the local Anglican bishop.  In these states, and in others, including absolutist France, such legal toleration as eventually came into being was a concession to the fact of religious difference.  Yet it came to be defended above all by religious people, who perceived the threat latent in religious conflict.6 The argument that religion itself would benefit from toleration was enormously attractive.  This was true even in Britain, when growing religious diversity in the nineteenth century forced the State to begin cutting the main links between the constitution and the Church of England. Practically all of the main opponents of Establishment in the nineteenth century had as their goal not the secularization of British society, but the very opposite.

If the motives for the gradual evolution of religious toleration were rather more religious than often assumed, it is true that what came to be uppermost in the minds of informed citizens was the idea that the gap between Church and State expressed something more than a mere legal distinction.  It marked a definite downgrading of the social role of religion.  The social history of religion in Europe is intimately connected with the history of Church-State relations, and many of the lingering peculiarities of Europe's diverse religious history can be accounted for by the particular national permutations of that relationship.

The end result of this process of historical development has taken us far from the religious origins of toleration.  It is the view that the State is, or should be, indifferent to religion.  Associated with it is the historical assumption that, in Western Europe, Christianity is on an inevitable downward trajectory.  Christianity can be irrelevant to politics, or rather politics can be indifferent to Christianity, because no one takes it seriously any longer. And so, it is argued, the political force of Christianity is diminishing rapidly - possibly to the point of disappearance. The evidence is everywhere, not just in emptying churches.

Of course, there must be a public ethics of sorts.  But its principles must surely be self-evident, so the argument runs.  They do not need support from a position of faith.  We can take it that murder, armed robbery, rape, and child abuse are all self-evidently crimes.  That's a matter of common sense.  Other matters are determined largely by changing majority opinion - this is especially true in the field of medical ethics, where 'what the public will wear' is often the decisive consideration.  Other questions still are profoundly contentious and irresolvable at the level of consensus - such might be, for example, consideration of the death penalty.  But none of these matters require support from a faith perspective.

Or does it?  A sharp and rigid distinction between religion and the State is, on reflection, impossible. Religious people serve on many different public bodies, and help to shape public attitudes and policy, and may obstruct or facilitate the implementation of policy.  And even policy itself is hardly without implications for the churches. Churches are subject to charity law, to health and safety regulations, to fiscal regulation, and so on.  Could a church, standing for a particular set of moral values, decide to eject or dismiss a minister who openly defied church discipline, or at least acted in such a way as to undermine their own proclamation of the gospel?  Various recent cases suggest that, if the answer is currently 'yes', it will not always be so.  Can or should a church that conscientiously rejects the ministry of women advertise for men only?  Or for married candidates only?  Where indeed does conscientious objection end and discrimination begin?  My point is not to highlight the rights or wrongs of particular cases, but simply to show that the presumed separation of public interest and religious value is a charade.  It is a nonsense.  It does not exist.

Nor is the secularizing narrative that underpins it very convincing.  To the advocates of the secularization framework, such as the sociologist Steve Bruce, there is an intrinsic link between the nature of modern society and the marginalization of religious belief.  The key issue for Bruce is that of plausibility.  "The difference between a religious and a secular world", he says, "is not the possibility of imagining religious ideas.  Anything can be imagined by someone.  It is the likelihood of them catching on."7 As religion becomes less persuasive, its ability to function as a satisfactory world view declines.  But to the critics of the theory, such as David Martin and Grace Davie, the evidence for declining plausibility is much less certain.  Conceding that there is a decline in churchgoing, they can point nevertheless to the high proportion of the population who continue to profess belief in God.  They can also point to the ways in which churches remain large, multifaceted communities of value that in all sorts of ways contribute to many different aspects of life in Britain. According to Grace Davie, churches are better certainly than political parties in promoting, for example, "networks of neighbourliness and reciprocity…the face-to-face human contacts and the myriad of voluntary organizations which resist the impersonalities of late modernity".[8] The underlying fact of church decline has to be brought into line with a much more differentiated account of secularization than has been common.  Yes, churchgoing began a gradual decline somewhere in the late nineteenth century, but this was not a steady decline, and the peak of English church attendance, for example, was actually reached in the 1920s.  Churchgoing remained high into the 1950s.  Its sudden contraction in the 1960s has caused one historian to write of the 'death' of Christian Britain.9 But that is obviously exaggerated. Churches have been marginalized institutionally, religious practice has attenuated, and so religion has been displaced from the main currents of British public life.[10] But this does not necessarily involve a trajectory of disappearance. Various forms of religion, including quite sectarian forms, continue to flourish.  The churches remain powerful players in society in all sorts of ways.

Let us take stock.  Islamic extremism, and the reactions it has provoked, have exposed a latent vulnerability in common assumptions about religious pluralism in Britain.  If the abiding contemporary myth is one in which religious tolerance has been achieved through the deliberate distancing of the State from religious conviction, that myth nevertheless has been constructed in denial of the powerful claims religious belief makes to inform and affect public conduct.  Once its presuppositions have been exposed and subjected to critical enquiry, it is evident that the myth is tenuous or unstable.

2. Pluralism and its discontents

There is a tempting short cut here.  It would be very easy to assume that, by exposing the fault-lines in this secularizing account, we overthrow it, we show that it has lost its power to convince.  There is a great deal of this sort of wishful thinking in the churches at the moment.  Talk of the collapse of the Enlightenment narrative, of the post-modern overthrow of secularization, and of the retrieval of local narratives, is very common.  But in the meantime practically all the relevant indices point downwards.  Controversy over religion is evidence of the continuing power of religion to shock and affront, but it is not by itself evidence that our society's story of itself, of the indifference underlying its religious pluralism, is losing conviction.  The great arbiters of much that has passed for cultural value in the late twentieth century were the Bloomsbury set, who pedalled a patronizing, sneering view of the religious and moral history of Britain.  When the Woolfs met the great Richard Tawney, one of the century's most influential Christian Socialists, he was marked down simply as an "idealist with black teeth".11 Under this and other influences, much of the history, art and literature of Britain was filleted of its religious conviction.  As a result, it is as if the history of British culture can be interpreted without reference to its Christian past.  Poets are recruited to an 'Eng Lit' view of the world, as if, for example, one could seriously appreciate Milton or Coleridge or even Tennyson without having to think of their religious beliefs.  According to the philosopher Simon Blackburn, it is indeed possible to appreciate religious art without having to subscribe to the religious beliefs out of which it arose, because its greatness lies in "the domain of emotion rather than that of ontology".12 But that is not my point.  The secularizing mythology of contemporary British culture has wilfully suppressed its Christian past, and reinterpreted its history in terms that its own participants would not have recognized.  This myth is powerful, ongoing, not easily to be displaced.

If that short cut is not available - if, in other words, Christians have to continue to inhabit a public domain hostile to their beliefs - how are the churches to interpret the dilemma of religious conviction in a pluralist society?  The fact of religious pluralism in British is of course unquestionable.  Peter Brierley's figures for Christian Research suggest a church membership in 2004 - for all Christian churches in Britain - at somewhere around 3.5 million - perhaps just 7% of the population.  For all that it is difficult to make accurate comparison between faiths, the numbers of believing Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Jews represent a significant proportion of the faithful of all religions in Britain - perhaps, taken together, more than a half.13 But you do not need me to point this out.  It is not the facts of pluralism to which I want to attend, but rather the theorizing of pluralism that has accompanied this increasing religious diversity.

Here there are a number of significant people whose influence has mostly been forgotten now, but who once attempted to forge a way of seeing the churches, alongside other associations, that would help to challenge the absolute power of the State.  The great legal historian, Fredrick Maitland, was one, but they include one of Maitland's disciples, whose particular interest was precisely the relationship of Church and State.  This was Neville Figgis, to whom I have already referred.  Figgis drew attention to the way in which the development of the modern State had erased the authority of bodies intermediate between the individual and the State.  Following legal practice, he called these bodies 'corporations', but they included churches along with other voluntary associations.  For Figgis, corporations - churches, for our purposes - should have an inherent, living power of their own, underived from the State.  They were corporate personalities.14 "What really concerns us", he said, "is not so much whether or not a religious body be in the technical sense established, but whether or no it be conceived as possessing any living power of self-development".15 Churches, like local guilds and corporations, had possessed something like this 'living power of self-development' in the Middle Ages, but in a merely pragmatic sense, and not as defined legal doctrine.  The rise of absolutism - democratic as well as monarchical - had crushed their independent life.  "The theory of government which is at the root of all the trouble", he said,

is briefly this.  All and every right is the creation of the one and indivisible sovereign; whether the sovereign be a monarch or an assembly.  No prescription, no conscience, no corporate life can be pledged against its authority, which is without legal limitation.16

This theory of State absolutism ignored the fact that there is something more to society than the State and individuals, or, as Figgis puts it, the State as 'super-man' ruling individuals who are really 'below man'.17 For - in a passage with echoes of Edmund Burke's praise of the 'little platoons' - Figgis reminds us that personality is social.  As individuals, we come to recognize ourselves as members of societies, and in particular of families.18 Rather than the State standing alone over and above the individual, in fact we find in any real society a hierarchy or network of overlapping bodies - "a vast complex of gathered unions, in which alone we find individuals, families, clubs, trades unions, colleges, professions, and so forth".19

Figgis saw signs that the destructive effect of rampant State sovereignty was being recognized, and had begun to be mitigated.  His argument for restoring autonomy to the intermediate bodies, including churches, has proved enormously attractive to writers today.  The late David Nicholls was one.20 Another is Mark Chapman who, in his recent searching critique of Blair's Britain (2005), has drawn on the pluralist tradition to counter what he sees as the authoritarianism at the heart of government policy.21 It looks like a persuasive case for a theory of pluralism that, if made actual and embodied in law, could help to address the contradictions of religious pluralism today.  If churches and other faith communities are regarded as having their own inherent living authority, then there seems no reason why they should not be permitted to act in a way that gives effect to that authority.22 They would, with other associations, become a buffer between individuals and the State, and the State might accept the limiting of its authority over them.

But of course this cannot be.  The theory of pluralism, following Figgis and others, has two catastrophic weaknesses. The first is historical, the second political.  The historical weakness flows from adopting an early twentieth-century argument and applying it to the early twenty-first century, because the situation has changed fundamentally in between. Figgis died in 1919.  Not only did European society go on to witness, after his death, a massive enhancement, rather than a contraction, of the absolutist State he had described, when across Europe totalitarian states came into being, but the very reaction, after 1945, to the rise of totalitarianism took the form of a development of the language and concept of human rights that entirely side-stepped Figgis's corporations. In his outstanding book on the origins of the United Nations declaration on human rights, John Nurser has recently pointed out how much that was influenced again by religious considerations.23 But this rights language has itself in time come to obliterate something of the inherent, living power of religious bodies.  It has enhanced and ring-fenced the rights of the individual, and invested their protection in the power of the central State.  Where today we see conflict between religious bodies and government, almost invariably it concerns, at root, questions that are articulated through the concept of individual rights - whether it be against discrimination on grounds of race or gender or physical ability, or against lack of equal opportunities, or against risk to personal life and well-being.  The language of rights is now so powerful that almost nothing can stand against it.

The political weakness of the theory of pluralism is related to this, but takes a different form.  It arises from the question about public value.  Even if some measure of restraint could be imposed on the legislative and regulatory functions of the State, to give churches and other intermediate bodies greater freedom, there is still the question about what overarching system of values should guide those restraints that would remain in place.  The problem of finding some sort of binding national ideology or ethics still, therefore, remains. Unless one conceives of the vast network of associations, businesses and churches - the corporations of the pluralist theory - as complementary value systems, which is not very plausible, there will obviously be conflict between them. Anglers will clash with canoeists, huntsmen with hunt saboteurs, ramblers with landowners, satirists with true believers, and so on.  In this situation of potential conflict, where else can one turn for negotiation of the difficulties ensuing but to the State?  And if the State's role is indeed to arbitrate between different corporate bodies in a society, then what public principles will be articulated to guide the actions of the State?  The pluralist theory does not get us off the hook.  In a virtual monoculture, this might not be so much of a problem.  But the whole point of departure for this discussion was the obvious point that we do not live in Britain in a monoculture.

3. The historicity of churches and faith

We have - as I said at the outset - circled round the related questions of secularization, Church-State relations, and pluralism, and come back to where we started. Given religious pluralism, attempts by the State to delineate clearly and separate the respective roles of private conviction and public value are bound to fail.  Faith schools, the religious hatred bill, religion and the monarchy, medical experimentation, abortion - the list of areas of contention goes on and on.  Government finds itself unable to extricate itself from the morass of conflicting ideologies.  Yet were it to try absolutely to stand aloof, as the secularists desire, still there would be a profound difficulty about determining an agreed basis for public policy.

It would be a mistake to think a solution was readily at hand.  To suppose it was, would presuppose the possibility of a 'steady state' in public affairs.  It would be inherently utopian, putting forward a 'blueprint' solution to what is actually an area of intractability.  Christians, if they live their faith to the full, Christianly, as it were, must perforce also come to terms with an uneasy yet profound dislocation from the pervasive secular myth of public life.  To achieve equilibrium in this relation with the State would require either that they convert all the functionaries of the State, and run State institutions themselves, or that they modify their own beliefs and practices in order to conform.  The former option is no longer available, given the fact of religious pluralism and the decline of organized religion.  The latter would empty faith of much of its distinctiveness.  This, I think, rules out a system of common public ethics, rather like the global ethics advocated by Hans Kung.  Christians have to find a way of living with the dynamic tension that results from the conflict of Christian faith and Christian values with the State.

That tension is not merely a historical accident.  It is not merely the result of the decline of Christendom.  It goes to the very heart of Christian faith. Theo Hobson's recent critique of the Archbishop of Canterbury's ecclesiology reminds us, unwittingly, of this. For when Hobson seems to lament what he sees as the tension in Rowan Williams' theology between his ideal of the Church and the messy and unsatisfactory practice of the Church, he fails to notice that that is not so much a question against Williams' theology as against the Christian Church itself.24 It is a tension latent in the existence of the Church as body of Christ in time.  It is a function of history, which in Christian understanding is a provisional and penultimate reality, standing under a judgement revealed in Jesus Christ himself, and yet still to be completed for all creation.  It is a tension between the outworking of love and truth.  If we might see toleration and the acceptance of others' differences as an outworking of the divine command to love one another, still we must also reckon with the divine command to go forth and make disciples of all the world.  Now I say 'tension' advisedly - tension, and not contradiction.  Both commands are necessary for Christians. The balance, and reciprocity, of love and truth for which Christians must contend is, as a divine reality of course, not contradictory - indeed, it is utterly in harmony, for, as Thomas Aquinas reminds us, "all perfections existing in creatures divided and multiplied, pre-exist in God simply and united".25 And yet in this world of time, when our energies and resources are limited, when our desires are often in conflict, when our perception of what is good and true is always likely to be limited at best, if not downright mistaken, the desire to love those who differ from us is often in tension with defence of the truth.  It is not a counsel of despair to suggest that a resolution of that tension is not readily at hand.

That is why, incidentally, I remain perplexed at the level of public debate about establishment.  Three years ago I contributed an essay on Church and State to a book with the embarrassing title, Anglicanism the answer to Modernity (2003).  As you can probably imagine, this provoked the rather obvious witticism from a colleague that, if Anglicanism was the answer, what on earth could the question possibly be?  It was described as a collection of essays by 'young Cambridge deans' - it is very flattering to see the term 'young' raised to an average mid-40s.  I was perplexed to see some reviewers assume either that I must have been writing against establishment (actually the more plausible view), or for it, when the gist of my argument was that, following Figgis, it is not really helpful to rely on abstract arguments for or against Establishment, but rather to take account of the actual historical circumstances of any specific relationship of Church and State.  For establishment in England, the case cannot be clear-cut.  What remains of the constitutional establishment of the Church of England is largely residual.  Yet the critics presume that abolition of the constitutional or 'high' establishment will tidy up, or iron out, the contentious relationship of Church and State - and that, as we have seen - simply cannot be the case. Some would even argue that a weak and declining establishment serves a pluralist State much better than a rigid and absolute separation of Church and State.26 All the time there is a faint acknowledgment of a particular church within the constitution, arguably the very tension I have been describing between the imperative of religious truth, and the need for containment and mutual respect, is somewhat concealed. On this, I am surprised to find support even from so sceptical a direction as Simon Blackburn, again, who says "I suppose I regard the Church of England as an old family pet: a bit moth-eaten, prone to scratch its own fleas (gay marriages, women bishops) but familiar and somehow comforting, best when it is not making too much noise".27 Now I'm not pretending for one moment that Blackburn defends establishment, or that I would want to defend the Church of England on the grounds that it is best when weakest.

For establishment is actually a marginal matter. The problems of the pluralist society confront all religious believers, Anglican and non-Anglican, Christian and non-Christian alike.  The implication of what I have been saying is that the pluralist society - from the perspective of religion - is inherently unstable.  High walls cannot be built around the sphere of private conviction, to protect it altogether from public intrusion.  From one side or other, such walls as we build - and must have - will always be broken down. We cannot rid ourselves altogether of the instability now built into the relationship of communities of faith and the so-called secular society.  But we can perhaps contain the instability.  We can acknowledge it, and keep an eye on it. This is just one way only of theorizing about the relationship, but I am struck by the fact that the philosopher-poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was troubled by just such a question as I have been exploring here today nearly two centuries ago, when the historic arrangements of Church and State in England were under attack.  Adapting a traditional three-class categorization of society, Coleridge tried to elaborate a way of seeing the relationship of State, society and Church as something like a tense, dynamic triangle.  Their contributions could each be summarized as order, freedom and human flourishing.  All three must be present as conditions for a nation as a whole to thrive, even though they pull in their own directions, and are not simply compatible.  The details of Coleridge's scheme need not concern us.  But note his description of the task of the institutions, including churches, which existed to promote human flourishing - "to secure and improve that civilization, without which the nation could be neither permanent nor progressive".28 This is not today exclusively the task of churches and other faith communities, but it is still a vital part of their task, of their contribution to the well-being of society as a whole.

Once we have accepted the provisional, tension-ridden basis of religion in a pluralist society, two things follow.  One is that the Christian churches increasingly have to acknowledge that they live in the interstices of civil society, not exclusively at the centre of it, but not exclusively at the margins either.  They straddle it awkwardly.  They are involved and not involved.  They are criticized and resented, and also sometimes appreciated.  And that means that, for their own good, and out of the instinct for compassion that is a fundamental part of their values, they should continue to build partnerships in the many different dimensions of public life. This must be with other faith groups, but also with community action groups, and with voluntary associations and charities. This already happens, of course, but it's good to underscore its value.  And I suspect it is a feature of the conditions under which churches operate in this country that will increase in importance, rather than decrease.

The second thing is that Christians would also do well, however, to remain comprehensively engaged with the society in which they find themselves.  This is - as I note Paul Avis has argued recently - a social implication of the imperative to mission.29 But it has, perhaps, unforeseen yet important consequences.  Christians need to fight the secularizing myths about British history, and to defend the understanding of past generations of Christians as Christians.  And that means they need to continue to defend the artistic, literary and musical commitments of the churches, and to be unashamed about the interface between faith and public life.  It means also that they should not give up on the need, however difficult it may be, to develop new strategies of engagement, and new forms of apologetic.  They should not retreat into communitarian ethics, or swallow the post-modern temptation to assume that my world is my world, and everyone else can leave me alone, since - if my diagnosis is correct - the society 'out there' will not let them do so with any integrity.  They must be alert to the comprehensive, universal implications of what they stand for, however awkward that is for their relationships with others.  For the awkwardness, as I have argued, is part of the deal of being a Christian today.

Charles Gore, I think, would have looked askance at much of what I have said today.  I think he would have shared the perception that Christian faith is in tension, if not even in downright conflict, with many of the dominant values of society.  Much more forcefully than I think is possible or realistic today, he would have argued for a Christian politics as a feasible, national ambition.  But even he was well aware of the magnitude of the task.  It is an immense comfort that someone of Gore's stature, looking at the failures of the Church's relationship with the poor, could write that "This…is only the cry of a permanently troubled conscience which cannot see its way".30 And Gore would surely have agreed wholeheartedly that the churches, in all their awkward, uncomfortable particularity, actually have a key role to play in building up the moral well-being of society as a whole.  They may be at odds with much that they encounter. But they can be communities of conscience, holding up the needs of others for attention, strengthening the fabric of local life, thundering even at the gates of tyranny.  The way of a public Christian theology is not entirely clear; but it is not yet without hope, either.

J.N. Morris

Trinity Hall

28.10.05

1

G.L Prestige, Charles Gore (1935), pp. 388-9.

2

Charles Gore, Christian Moral Principles (1921), p. 93.

3

Ibid., The Religion of the Church (1916), p. 191.

4

Madeleine Bunting, 'Throwing mud at Muslims', The Guardian, 22 August 2005.

5

Polly Toynbee, 'In the name of God', The Guardian, 22 July 2005.

6

This is a central theme of Perez Zagorin, How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West (2003), though, to this author, Zagorin treats the pragmatism of Europe's rulers too lightly.

7

S. Bruce, God is Dead.  Secularization in the West (2002), p. 42.

8

G. Davie, Religion in Europe.  A Memory Mutates (2000), p. 54.

9

C.G. Brown, The Death of Christian Britain.  Understanding Secularisation 1800-2000 (2001).

10

For a critical discussion of Brown's view, and an exploration of a more differentiated account, see J.N. Morris, 'The strange death of Christian Britain: another look at the secularization debate', The Historical Journal, 46 (2003), pp. 963-76.

11

A. Bell (ed.), The Diaries of Virginia Woolf 1915-19 (1979), p. 74.

12

S. Blackburn, 'Religion and Respect', unpublished paper.

13

http://www.christian-research.org.uk/pr300603.htm

14

On this, he was particularly influenced by Maitland; see, for example, F.W. Maitland, 'The Corporation Sole', Law Quarterly Review, 16 (1900), pp. 335-54.

15

J.N. Figgis, Churches in the Modern State (1913), p. 39.

16

Ibid., p. 85.

17

Ibid., p. 86.

18

Ibid., p. 71.

19

Ibid., p. 70.

20

See D. Nicholls, The Pluralist State: the Political Ideas of J.N. Figgis and his Contemporaries (1994).

21

M.D. Chapman, Blair's Britain.  A Christian Critique (2005).

22

Though we should rightly note the caution of David Runciman that, in this case, "we shall have to accept that we can have no control over what goes on there": D. Runciman, Pluralism and the Personality of the State (1997), p. 264.

23

J. Nurser, For All Peoples and All Nations.  The Ecumenical Church and Human Rights (2005).

24

T. Hobson, Anarchy, Church and Utopia. Rowan Williams on Church (2005), pp. 99-101.

25

T. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 1.13.5 (1911 translation, by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province).

26

This is a point made, for example, by Grace Davie: op. cit., p. 53.

27

S. Blackburn, op. cit.

28

S.T. Coleridge, On the Constitution of the Church and State (Everyman ed., 1972), p. 34.  I am indebted to the outworking of this in T.D. Jenkins, 'Church and Intellectuals, Nation and State', Theology, 98 (1996).

29

P.D. Avis, A Church Drawing Near. Spirituality and Mission in a Post-Christian Culture (2005).

30

Charles Gore, The New Theology and the Old Religion (1907), p. 286.

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