Some of you may have seen Polly Toynbee’s article in The Guardian yesterday (17th October). In response, I’d like to encourage Ms Toynbee’s Enfield taxi driver to take another look at the church school in his community.
Enfield’s newest school, the Oasis Academy, opening in September 2007, bears values that spring from a Christian ethos of inclusion, and will accept pupils regardless of their faith or church attendance. This will hardly "aid segregation". The academy is sponsored by Oasis Community Learning, which is one of the partners of the Faithworks Movement. Our members are committed to building a better world through unconditional service to all people, regardless of their faith, gender, age, disability, race, ethnic origin, sexual orientation or physical and mental capability. We do not seek to convert, but to work for a fair and just society, where diversity is celebrated. Many groups from other faiths work on the same basis.
Ms Toynbee’s answer to segregation is a secular society. If all the faith groups currently working for inclusive and just communities ceased their work tomorrow, we would be in a sorry state indeed. Schools, youth clubs, healthcare centres, housing initiatives and countless other community projects up and down the land would simply shut down.
In the 2001 census, only 15% of people identified themselves as having no religion. This hardly points to Great Britain as being "the least religious of all nations". The call for a secular state smacks more of old arguments than it does an openness to build a healthy and vibrant society. It ignores the deep Judaeo-Christian values upon which Britain is built. Once again Ms Toynbee has compared secularism’s best with religion’s worse – a naive and dangerous choice in which she exhibits the bias of her own humanist religion.
We should remember that Judaeo-Christian values have brough us the notion of the autonomous and dignified self, the defence of a sphere of community and civic responsibility, and the ideas of leadership accountable not only to those who are led, but to a higher authority. It is a Christian faith which has contributed to a diverse and celebrating culture in Britain, and it is Christian faith which played a central role in abolition, penal reform and overcoming some of the evils of industrialisation – not to mention the strengthening of universal education, and the importance of strong family ties and support.
Perhaps Ms Toynbee needs to doff her cap to the other secularists such as Umberto Eco and Regis Debray, and acknowledge that our society owes a great deal to the motivational and transformational power of Christian faith. We work with the poor, the excluded and the marginalised. We listen. We love. We serve. Perhaps we need a slightly more unbiased debate with Ms Toynbee – one I would be delighted to engage in.
My argument is simple: faith works, secularism doesn’t.
What do you think?