I just rifled this letter to the Independent in the wake of its abysmal Saturday editorial “A God delusion”, which leads: “Britain’s poorest are suffering terribly. But clerics have no special authority in political debates about their welfare.” I trust you’ll pick up the gist of its argument from my reply.
Your “A God delusion” leader (22 February) bears more than a titular resemblance to the legendary atheist screed of Richard Dawkins. You construct a straw man and then torch it – and that is supposed to be informed and intelligent argument?
The vast majority of Church leaders do not claim a “divine right” to “meddle in politics” (as you so Thatcherly put it). How could they? The discourse of “rights” is thoroughly secular. They claim a calling not a right – a calling to be in the face of power and affluence on behalf of the vulnerable and voiceless. And you would police this vocation out of the public square? On what grounds? The liberal values of free speech and open discussion that you espouse, and that any sensible church leader would endorse? Do you really want to do that?
Nor do the vast majority of church leaders claim to speak with “absolute moral authority”? How could they? Do you really want to suggest that they are idiots in denial about their own ethical pluralism? I don’t think so. Rather they claim to speak from faithful attention to the gospel – i.e., good news to the poor – the ad-hoc policy implications of which they will construe differently. But when they do occasionally sing from the same hymn-sheet, perhaps you should listen. Certainly many non-religious people hear a melody on themes like wealth-distribution and immigration quite unlike the cacophony playing in Westminster.
Of course, the church (God knows) has its share of jerks. On the issues of gender and sexuality we deserve your best shot. But most church leaders behave themselves in civic debate. They try to listen as well as speak, to imaginatively inhabit and courteously engage different points of view. And because they are acutely aware of the church’s own faithlessness to its core beliefs of healing grace and restorative justice – you should check out the prophets: they make your own critiques of religion look tepid – they try to be self-suspicious and open to finding truth in the most unlikely of places. Maybe you should be so self-suspicious and so open too.
Revd. Kim Fabricius