Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Baroness Warsi on faith

Speaking during the Pope's visit, Baroness Warsi addressed the Bishops of the Church of England. She outlined how the Coalition Government will put the contribution of faith and faith communities at the heart of the Big Society. His Grace has had this for some time, wondering what to do with it. Unusually for him, he has decided to post it without comment. He simply wants to preserve it in order to discern the outworking five years hence. The Baroness said:

I am having a divine week. First, I celebrated Eid-ul-Fitr. Last night I was at dinner with the Chief Rabbi, who has just marked the Jewish New Year. Today I am delighted to be here with you, the Bishops of the Church of England. And on Friday I will be meeting His Holiness the Pope.

So if anyone suggests that this government does not understand, does not appreciate, does not defend people of faith, dare I even say, does not "do God", then I hope my schedule this week will go some way to banishing that myth.

But to be serious, I think everyone here will agree that we have had a big problem in Britain in the way the state has been handling issues of faith and religion.

Indeed, I would go even further: I think we have a big problem in the way we think about faith in our society as a whole.

This isn't the first time I've talked about this. Last year, I spoke out at the Conservative Conference about the growing suspicion of faith by the political elite in Britain.

That feeling was fuelled by a flurry of stories in the media: The nurse suspended from her job for offering to pray for the recovery of a patient; The think-tank report suggesting that we downgrade Christmas to help race relations; And reports of faith charities being put off from applying for public funding by a barrage of bureaucracy.

Whichever way you see it, it's clear we have got into a real mess when it comes to talking about the relationship between faith and society. The political elite in particular have got things badly wrong. Far too often, too many intellectuals, journalists, commentators and politicians have been too quick to dismiss faith and its contribution to society.

Unpicking these problems is a huge operation, but today I want to make a start and focus on one part of the confusion: The role of government.

Now I don't want to score big political points this morning. It's clear that there are people of integrity in all parties and beyond. What's more, whatever is said about the previous two Prime Ministers, there is no doubt they were men of faith and spiritual sincerity.

But at the same time, it seems clear that the previous government did get things profoundly wrong. It got things wrong because it sent the wrong signals about the right relationship between state, faith and society.

To quote the Archbishop of Canterbury last year: "The trouble with a lot of government initiatives about faith is that they assume it is a problem, it's an eccentricity, [and that] it's practised by oddities, foreigners and minorities."

Oddities, foreigners, minorities. Some people would say I fall into all three categories.

But of course, faith isn't something confined to these people. `So the question is why the last government came to the impression that it was.

And as I see it, it was because of the following things:

* they misjudged the actual state of faith in our society - they thought that faith was essentially a rather quaint relic of our pre-industrial history;
* they were also too suspicious of faith's potential for contributing to society - behind every faith-based charity, they sensed the whiff of conversion and exclusivity;
* and because of these prejudices they didn't create policies to unleash the positive power of faith in our society.

As a result of all this, the relationship between state, faith and society got out of kilter.

We urgently need to put that right - and that means starting by doing three things.
First, we need to understand the current state of faith in Britain.
Second, we need a richer recognition of the Anglican and wider faith-based contribution to society.
And third, we need to draw the right conclusions for policy, especially when it comes to voluntary action, social cohesion and the Big Society.

Let me take each of these steps in turn.


First, the current state of faith in Britain and the world.

Twenty years ago, Soviet communism came to an end revealing shocking information about how terribly Jewish, Christian, Muslim and other minorities had been treated by the Soviet Empire. Soon afterwards, Bosniak Muslims were ethnically cleansed in Bosnia which reminded us of the horrors of the Holocaust.

And then, just as some were claiming that a clash of faiths and civilisations was inevitable, came the terrible events of September 11th.Sadly, some took that day as the excuse to scale up their attacks on all people of faith. Others kept pushing the myth that religion had died out in modern societies and was the source of most conflict in less developed ones. And meanwhile we have seen the rise of a new kind of intellectual, who dines out on free flowing media and sustains a vocabulary of secularist intolerance.

But is faith actually in decline? Is it a symptom of economic backwardness? And with the progress of history, is faith something which will ultimately fade away? Not as I see it.

For a start, we know that the proportion of people in the world who adhere to the four biggest religions has actually increased in the past century.

And right here in Britain, despite what many say, religion is certainly not going away.

Not only did up to eighty per cent of British people say that they had some kind of religious belief in the last census but there is evidence to show that religious attendance actually seems to be rising. Tearfund tells us that number of people attending church each year increased between 2007 and 2008, from around one in five adults to around one in four. Cathedral worship has increased since the turn of the century. And the Baptist Union have been recording rising attendances - especially among the young.

Part of the problem of course is that for decades university social science departments taught that as societies modernised they would become more secular. And they suggested that as the 'modern' state grew, faith-based voluntary action and social care would wither away.

One of the most extreme examples is the sociologist Peter Berger. Back in 1968, Peter Berger predicted that "by the twenty-first century, religious believers are likely to be found only in small sects, huddled together to resist a worldwide secular culture". Fast forward three decades, and he has had to retract the prediction completely.

The fact is that our world is more religious than ever. Faith is here to stay. It is part of the fabric of human experience. And in Britain faith is very much alive and kicking.

Deny it and you deny the ability of a huge part of society to articulate where they have come from, what they are working for, and who they are.


Nowhere is this better demonstrated than when you consider the social action of millions of British believers and the work of the almost 30,000 faith-based charities.

And that brings me to the second point I want to make.

We have to come to a deeper understanding about the contribution of these faith communities to our society. In other words, why they do the good things they do. Unless we understand what drives people of faith to contribute to society, we cannot hope to help them on their way.

Now there will always be people who look at faith-based charities and think they are something sinister. There will always be people who think that religious organisations are up to no good or on the make. You can see it in the debates at the end of the 19th century, when some parliamentarians argued that the rise of convents and monasteries was a threat to our liberty. You can see it in the way that many modern sceptics criticise Mosques, Temples, Churches and faith-based charities over the social work they do.

They fail to see the vital link between these peoples' faiths and their contribution to society. They fail to see that these people feel inspired to help others because of their faith.

Let me give you just a few examples of what I mean.

The 2008 Citizenship Survey suggests that those who are religiously observant are more likely to volunteer and give than their non-believing or non-practising counterparts. Again and again you see similar patterns taking shape whether it is the care of Jewish social welfare charities, the huge generosity of Muslims and others in response to the floods in Pakistan or the work of local church groups to help those overwhelmed by drink, drugs, or crime.

When you think about it, it's incredible that many people of faith give up their evenings to work as street pastors making sure that young men are less at risk of knife crime and young women less likely to run into trouble after a night out.

A second line of attack from secular fundamentalists is that faith communities are "intolerant" and their welfare provision is "exclusive" or "contractual". But recent research by York University shows that faith based provision for the homeless was both more open and inclusive than other agencies. It also came with far fewer strings attached, because it less often danced to the tune of 'targets'.

But when you try to tell the "new atheists" about these sorts of facts, too often, they simply do not want to know.

An increasing body of evidence reveals the economic contribution of Cathedrals their important work in running faith schools and the emotional support offered in hospitals, prisons and other social institutions by faith-based charities.

And very often, faith communities offer us innovations which the whole of society can learn from: The Fairtrade movement was launched in an Anglican theological College in the North East. Churches were integral to the emergence of the anti-homelessness and the anti-slavery movements. The story of overseas development cannot be written without the names Christian Aid, CAFOD Islamic Relief, Jewish Care, and Muslim Aid.

Of course in England it's hard not to notice the presence in every community of a parish church served by clergy. It's absurd to stereotype these parishes as 'holy huddles'. They are hubs around which people of all faiths and none can meet, greet and build relationships in what can be a fragmented society. As you know better than any of us, they are also the bases where post offices, libraries and job clubs have been co-located. They are the place where self-help groups for those facing addictions can meet affordably.

So the real question is not: "how should big government be controlling faith-based organisations"...

....but "how can government help people of faith do even more to build the Big Society?"


And that takes me to the third point I want to make.

Once we are clear about the reason why faith-based charities do all the good things they do, we can put in place the right policies to support them responsibly. It's simple:

Faith gives rise to huge numbers of personal kindnesses and other civic contributions; Faith shapes beliefs, behaviour and a sense of purpose; And so what government should be doing is helping people of faith express themselves in this way.

My conviction is that in a stronger and bigger society the scope for people of faith to take their places as equals at the public table should become easier not just on so called 'stake-holding' bodies but as the vanguard of an increasingly decentralised civic society.

Let me explain what I mean.

As Lord Wei will be saying later, our aim with the Big Society is to build a culture where we don't just look to government to solve all our big problems. Where people are empowered and feel encouraged to take control of their local communities and neighbourhoods. And where we foster a new culture of social responsibility - not by legislation but by example and collaboration.

Just imagine if the whole nation could give to charity at the same levels as people of faith already do. The question is how can government help to bring that about?

One big part of it is about giving you - charities, churches, faith groups, community groups - the chance to do even more good. That means giving you the chance to take control over local community buildings or run services where the community thinks that you could do that well.

Under our plans, you will have more power, more responsibility, and more choice over how to get involved in your communities and over how to apply your skills.

Another part of it is about showing that we are all in this together, and ensuring that no community and no corner of society gets left behind.

That's one of the reasons why the Cabinet Office plans to establish a new fund to invest in poorer communities, called the Communities First Fund.

And then there is the funding you will be able to access through our Big Society Bank - a bank built up not of new taxpayers' money, but unclaimed bank accounts.

But above all we want to encourage a bonfire of the petty rules and prejudices that have held you and others back for so long. It seems crazy for the state to offer support to the voluntary sector and then shackle it with so many targets. And it's crazy that bidding for funds as a faith-based charity is made more difficulty by a kind of religious illiteracy in local authorities.

All of this needs to change and be challenged - and that's what this government will be about.

So I don't just want to say to you that you have a lot to contribute to building the Big Society. I want to tell you that for me you are at the heart of society already and key to its future, and that this government will be on your side.


As I have said today, we urgently need to rethink the way we think about faith in society. The challenges of the late 20th century and early 21st century have revealed a world which is more religious than ever. It is a world where faith inspires, motivates and sustains - despite what the sociologists thought they could predict about the modern world.

We need to get the relationship between state, religion and society in sync with this new reality.

In Britain the resilience of religion gives us the confidence to reject the intolerance of secularist fundamentalists. It should also give us the confidence to recognise fully the huge contribution of believers everywhere.

And to do that, we need first and foremost a government which understands faith, which is comfortable with faith, and which when necessary, is prepared to speak out about issues of faith.

And so that leaves me with the last point I want to make.

It would be easy to make this speech and walk away, maybe with the promise of returning next year. But I am serious when I say that I will be thinking about all these issues long and hard over the next few months. And I will always be ready and willing to speak out and help lead the debate.

Because however things pan out over the next five years, I don't want anyone to look back and say: "This government thought that people of faith were eccentrics or oddities."

Instead, I want this to be a new beginning for relations between society, faith and the state. Thank you.


Anonymous Michal said...

I take some issues with the greater worldview presented here. Baroness Warsi makes it sound as if faith would be indispensable, or perhaps some sort of highly valuable addition to the otherwise uninspired world where people lacking in religious belief live.

Churches integral to anti-slavery movements. Very good. Faith of those people definitely acted as a positive catalyst here. What about religious belief integral to upkeep of slavery (and racism in general), in deep American south?

I also read here: "And very often, faith communities offer us innovations which the whole of society can learn from."

Are those positive lessons necessarily tied to faith? What about the religious communities who are also teaching us all sorts of lectures on morality the western world might be rather disapproving of - Taliban, scientology and the like? I wonder, how durable would their lessons be without faith to prop them up?

No doubt faith-based initiatives had some very positive impact on the world, but I doubt they couldn't do any better without it.

14 October 2010 at 00:57  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"No doubt faith-based initiatives had some very positive impact on the world, but I doubt they couldn't do any better without it."

Well, Michal, let's take faith out of the world then, and see what happens, shall we?

Oh wait...seems we're having some trouble eliminating faith. Wonder why that could be?

14 October 2010 at 03:47  
Blogger Gnostic said...


That was less about faith and more about Big Society.

14 October 2010 at 08:22  
Anonymous Caedmon's Cat said...

As soon as any politician starts to talk about faith - and especially integrating it into some big statist blueprint, I hear the strident ringing of a thousand alarm bells. The glory of Christianity is that it has historically been (without human prompting) the agency by which many of this present society's benefits have derived (e.g. hospitals, hospices, schools, building societies and universities to name but a few). This is an inconvenient fact that fundamentalist atheists and its other detractors studiously ignore. The Christian Church initiated these things despite the state - not in collaboration with it. As soon as the state gets involved with the Church, you can be sure that it wants to control it and set its agenda. The same applies to the other faiths as well.

14 October 2010 at 08:55  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace

A good speech.

Very little wrong with her analysis. Except that she makes the same error as the Left-liberals: all faiths are the same.

Now will she and Cameron prevent the destruction of the last Catholic adoption agency? Will they repeal the Religion and Belief Regulations (2003)?


14 October 2010 at 09:14  
Anonymous len said...

I think the whole 'faith' thing will end up in a similar situation as was present in Roman Times. Legal Religions ( those approved by the Roman system) placed their'gods' in the Pantheon and were allowed to worship them as long as their overall allegiance was sworn to Caesar. This was the birth of the Harlot Religious system know as Babylon (religion under the power and control of the State)
What we have now in the E U is Babylon( the Harlot Religious System)being promoted as the way forward for peace, this Religious System will be promoting a blending off all Religions with New Age /Occult leanings and Bible believing , born again Christians will be seen as too controversial,too radical for this system to tolerate.
This is a well though out ploy to neutralise Christianity dilute the Christian message and close the door to those seeking redemption.
This Harlot Religious system will be the perfect vehicle for one man, or small group of men to take total control.Political Correctness (backed by the legal system) will silence all who oppose them!

14 October 2010 at 09:55  
Anonymous bluedog said...

Your Grace

One can read the speech, taking it at face value, and with the exception of 'Oddities, foreigners, minorities. Some people would say I fall into all three categories' it is unexceptional. Indeed, it is a speech that deserves to be read 'blind' without knowing the identity of the author/writer.

However this speech could easily be reconfigured for an audience drawn from another faith rather than for Christian, specifically Anglican, listeners. The economic impact of the Cathederal could easily be the economic impact of the Mega-Mosque etc.

So it is only when one realises that this speech was written by a Muslim that paranoia kicks in. Clearly there is no call to Jihad here, but what if it is an exercise in Taqqiya? Perhaps we are looking at a justification of faith that is only designed to serve a short term purpose. Perhaps the motive is not ecumenical Faith but al-Fatih, the conqueror, Islam.

Time will tell.

14 October 2010 at 10:08  
Blogger Graham Davis said...

Warsi said

* they misjudged the actual state of faith in our society - they thought that faith was essentially a rather quaint relic of our pre-industrial history;
Her faith isn’t quaint, it is a nasty misogynist, homophobic and backward religion that is in fundamentally in opposition to democratic values.

* they were also too suspicious of faith's potential for contributing to society - behind every faith-based charity, they sensed the whiff of conversion and exclusivity;
Multi-faith’s potential for division and destruction of social cohesion more like.

* and because of these prejudices they didn't create policies to unleash the positive power of faith in our society.
Oh yes unleash the suicide bombers.

And meanwhile we have seen the rise of a new kind of intellectual, who dines out on free flowing media and sustains a vocabulary of secularist intolerance.
What B*** S***! We stand up to these religious nutjobs and we are accused of intolerance, get your own house in order before you criticise mine. I will take no advice from a Muslim and nor should you.

14 October 2010 at 10:21  
Blogger D. Singh said...

‘What B*** S***! We stand up to these religious nutjobs and we are accused of intolerance,…’

‘The world will not have truly grown up until it is rid of the virus that is religion.’

‘…and we are accused of intolerance,…’?

For Mr Davis of course white is black; up is down; right is left; the sun is the moon and the moon is the sun; the polar North has moved south and the polar South has moved north. Having wiped away the horizon by the sponge of his atheistic creed his moral compass spins and points to his exclusive centre of the Earth which is precisely where he is located so that not an hour, not a minute nor a second should be permitted to pass by that might disturb him to examine the state of his soul.

It just does not seem to occur to him that when a counter-argument is presented that it ought to be met with something more than ‘B*** S***!’ and ‘nutjob’.

14 October 2010 at 10:49  
Anonymous MM said...

Whilst the words are welcome, one questions whether the actions will follow - and if they do, then Call me Dave ought really issue an apology

And we ought to keep an eye on faith schools, too - there's more than a few in the Cameronian clique, and their LibDem coterie, that would like to decide which parts of the faith that faith schools can and cannot teach.

14 October 2010 at 11:18  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

How can we believe a word she says? As a Muslim she practises taqiyyah (deception of non-Muslims), and, as a politician, she tells porkies with the best of them.

14 October 2010 at 11:35  
Blogger Graham Davis said...

Mr Singh

My “soul” is as non existent as the Four Humors

14 October 2010 at 11:51  
Anonymous len said...

Graham Davis if you don`t have a soul you are indeed in a desperate situation . The soul consists of the mind,will, and emotions.
The spirit , now that`s another matter!.

14 October 2010 at 11:58  
Anonymous len said...

On the subject of the soul(mind, will and emotions) The whole irony of the situation is the Atheist proclaims himself (or herself ) to be' free' a free thinker, without boundaries, relying on logic and reason.Whilst all the time the Atheist is in shackles and chains bound to his master, the master deceiver, who of course he doesn`t believe in!
This is why God rejects the 'wisdom' of man, the reasoning of man because it is blind,in total ignorance of Spiritual realities.

14 October 2010 at 12:12  
Anonymous TheGlovner said...

Oh completely. Because all religious people are the real free thinkers aren't they. Free to think anything as long as they are told to think it by a book written thousands of years ago by goat farmers regardless of any tangible evidence which shows any different.

There is nothing that tells an atheist what s/he should think.

Nonsense. Shackled and chained my a*se.

14 October 2010 at 14:08  
Blogger D. Singh said...

'There is nothing that tells an atheist what s/he should think.'

Pedestrian crossing light at red.

So shut it.

14 October 2010 at 15:20  
Anonymous len said...

Mr Glovner,
Those who dwell in the kingdom of darkness are not even aware that they are in it!(evidenced by your remarks)
May a glimmer of light come your way.

(Might just save your a*se!.)

14 October 2010 at 15:39  
Anonymous TheGlovner said...


"Pedestrian crossing light at red."

So only atheists ignore the highway code now as well?

Is this because the bible tells christians to follow all road signs and observe other fellow road users? Therefore all christians must surely have an absolute sense of road saftey. Whereas atheists must all be driving without a licence or insurance in stolen cars?

You are a very peculiar angry little man.

14 October 2010 at 16:17  
Blogger Jared Gaites said...

To be honest Your Grace, there is something about this woman I like, and I do not detect anything sinister at all. Now to say this is to show my ignorance and small mindedness because I am of course making suggestions. Nobody can be perfect though.

People can say much worse things than what she says. I will refrain from making any predictions though, not because I have any suspicions about her motives, but there is a tendency for everything I touch to turn into excrement.

I wish her good luck.

14 October 2010 at 16:58  
Anonymous Oswin said...

I find myself agreeing with Jared. I've tried to dislike this woman, but it gets harder as time goes by ... and naturally this worries me. I am suspicious of my own thought processes here ... where will it all end? I can't help but feel she ought to be an Anglican!

14 October 2010 at 17:58  
Anonymous Simon Too said...

"As a Muslim she practises taqiyyah (deception of non-Muslims)" : I cannot comment on whether she specifically or Muslims collectively do so, but the comment sounds remarkably similar to the C17 complaints about Jesuits and their equivocation.

However, as a politician ...

14 October 2010 at 20:55  
Anonymous Oswin said...

Simon ... of course, you are correct in reminding us thus.

15 October 2010 at 01:45  
Anonymous Paladin said...

Ultimately she subscribes to the BBC creed that all religions are equally false superstitions.

Beware her, her faith is the same as that of Mr Davis.

15 October 2010 at 09:27  
Anonymous len said...

I guess we will all get what we put our faith in, Christians will get God and Heaven.
Atheists will get what they put their faith in..... nothing except a great empty void and having to listen to Richard Dawkins telling them throughout Eternity that God doesn!t exist and for them(atheists)He won`t!
There seems to be some sort of poetic justice in that.

15 October 2010 at 16:25  
Anonymous len said...

PS, And Muslims will get to spend Eternity with Mohammed, Communists with Stalin,Kim jong-il, and Pol Pot, Catholics with the Pope, Socialists with Tony Blair(and the pope) and so on................

15 October 2010 at 16:34  
Blogger Jared Gaites said...

I wanna spend eternity with Len......NOT!

No hard feelings Len, but it just wouldn't be my idea of heaven having to listen to you moaning and groaning.

15 October 2010 at 18:20  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your Grace,
Sadly I see nothing here that distinguishes the present government from it's predecessor. In fact I see a logical extension.
As many comments have said, there exists the assumption of all faiths being essentially, and reductively the same. This may be true, but I can't presume that to be the case. And the values to be seen in this reductive notion are what? The Big Society? A Government initiative? It's little more than a hotch potch of social work and fund raising. Religion is then some kind of state sanctioned telethon. "Islam raises £x....come on you Christians, can you match that figure? your part."
It amounts to the on going notion of Faith as a sub-set of Government (State).

15 October 2010 at 20:28  
Anonymous sewa mobil said...

Nice article, thanks for the information.

16 October 2010 at 02:33  
Anonymous Septimus said...

I am also very suspicious of your thought processes in this matter, Oswin.Get a grip, man. This
middle eastern Baroness is not an Anglican in real life. Although if we let len loose on her,his evangelical expertise may persuade her to change her spots.

16 October 2010 at 03:43  
Anonymous Voyager said...

Politics is the New Religion which can tolerate no rival. It is Politics as a Utilitarian Mission that has sought to eradicate any religious belief whether private, personal, or public.

It is the Universalism of Political Dogma that makes this society Quasi-Totalitarian with its mind-bending media and mendacious political class which seeks Amoral Obeisance to Authority

16 October 2010 at 05:04  
Anonymous len said...

Jared Gates,
No hard feelings ,
I hope you are satisfied with wherever your Eternal destination is.

If 'moaning and groaning' is not being conformed to this present World and all it contains I will continue to protest!

Bless you.

16 October 2010 at 09:25  
Blogger Jared Gaites said...

I don't care where it is but if you are there then I want a refund, or a room on the other side of the complex.

16 October 2010 at 16:06  
Blogger Jared Gaites said...

Somebody from China many many years ago said this:

"Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness."

Now let's face it, that is not a bad saying is it?

16 October 2010 at 16:42  
Anonymous len said...

You seem to be 'moaning quite a lot today?

16 October 2010 at 16:50  
Anonymous len said...

Jared sorry missed of the d

16 October 2010 at 16:51  
Anonymous len said...

Jared Gates, Jesus called the people to repent.
Now people today will say "repent of what? there`s nothing wrong with me!"

This is the basic problem today(And his has been discussed with Atheists ad infinitum,) they are not aware (or owning up to it) that there is any problem.So someone needs to tell them!
When people had a basic knowledge of the Bible there was a place to start from but now to Evangelise in the U K you have to start from basics,ie state the problem!

There you have given me reason to say it again!
If this offends your sensibilities don`t read my posts, not compulsory you know.

Bless you.

16 October 2010 at 17:03  
Blogger Jared Gaites said...

If only you knew Lenny, if only you knew. If I make it I will be waiting to kick your ass. Now change the dam subject.

16 October 2010 at 17:57  
Anonymous Oswin said...

What is wrong with 'moaning and groaning'? We ARE British after all!

16 October 2010 at 18:26  
Anonymous len said...

Jared Gates ,
Just got back on this one, kick my ass?
In that case I will do what every good Christian should do, turn the other cheek. (pun intended)

All the best lenny.

18 October 2010 at 18:01  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, good as this may be let us remember that this is the lady who put pressure on David Cameron to in turn pressurise the Evening Standard, Daily Telegraph and Spectator to drop Patrick Sookdeo as a contributor because she didn't agree with his critical comments re Islam.

22 October 2010 at 15:43  
Anonymous IanCad said...

Thanks for digging this up YG. Rome never changes. This is a replay of the policies of Pius X11. Stand by and watch the Jews get killed off.

25 October 2010 at 01:52  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older