One of the most wonderful aspects of the religious pluralism that characterizes the West is how it encourages mutual respect — of believers of different types for one another, and of believers for non-believers (and vice versa). Today, Baroness Warsi of England, a Muslim and a member of the Tory cabinet, is leading a British government delegation visiting the Vatican, in reciprocation of Pope Benedict XVI’s historic visit to the U.K. in 2010. In an article in the Telegraph, she explains that she is standing side by side with the pope in the fight for respect for religious faith — and goes even further than that:
I will be arguing for Europe to become more confident and more comfortable in its Christianity. The point is this: the societies we live in, the cultures we have created, the values we hold and the things we fight for all stem from centuries of discussion, dissent and belief in Christianity.
These values shine through our politics, our public life, our culture, our economics, our language and our architecture. . . . You cannot and should not extract these Christian foundations from the evolution of our nations any more than you can or should erase the spires from our landscapes.
Perhaps the tide is indeed turning in Europe? Equally impressive is the baroness’s ability to denounce what she calls “militant secularisation” without lapsing into a pernicious religious-identity politics:
There is a crucial caveat to all of this. I am not calling for some kind of 21st-century theocracy. Religious faith and its followers do not have the only answer. There will be times when politicians and faith leaders will disagree. What is more, secularism is not intrinsically damaging. My concern is when secularisation is pushed to an extreme, when it requires the complete removal of faith from the public sphere. So I am calling for a more open confidence in faith, where faith has a place at the table, though not an exclusive position.
Some of our politicians in the U.S. spit out the word “secularism” as if it were a dirty word; some of them, even, who are smart enough to know better, to realize that there is a legitimate secular sphere that is influenced by people of faith, and influences them in turn. The Founders could have established the U.S. as a confessional republic, but they knew that the Christianity in which most of them believed would thrive much better without a national establishment. In the best of American political thought, and in the best of theology for that matter, “religion” and “secularism” are not mutually exclusive categories. In a pluralist society that respects religious liberty, they reinforce each other. (H/t to Rod Dreher for pointing out this important and encouraging story, and Godspeed to the baroness and her delegation.)