Thursday, 16 June 2011

WE NEED LEVEL PLAYING FIELD FOR THIS VITAL DEBATE

Allan Hayes's First Person column appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
We need level playing field for this vital debate
Allan Hayes considers the merits of the Archbishop of Canterbury's criticism of the Government
The article by the Archbishop of Canterbury in last Friday's New Statesman raises important and fundamental issues for our society: it deserves to be considered carefully. The Archbishop's sometimes allusive style can make it difficult to see what he is getting at, but the implications of phrases like "managerial politics, attempting with shrinking success to negotiate life in the shadow of big finance", "an increasingly audible plea for some basic thinking about democracy itself", "things that cannot be left to chance" and "confusion about the means", are absolutely clear – we must join together in thinking deeply and seriously about where we are going.
His call for an open probing of the current reworking of our education system is particularly relevant to schooling in our city, and I join him in asking whether we are forgetting our duty to educate our children as carriers of our humanity and not just as contributors to our economy.
He lists things that we must take seriously at a national level and cannot be left to localism: child poverty, youth services, access to good education and sustainable infrastructure. The first of these has just been brought home to us recently in the television programme "Poor Kids", and the more general problem of unequal distribution of wealth is increasingly being recognised as maiming society, besides being morally unacceptable.
He is concerned about cultural fragmentation and Balkanisation. These too are important issues for our city. His idea of a "community of communities" should be looked at, but with proper emphasis on the overarching culture and community that we all belong to.
He takes "ironic satisfaction" from the way several politicians are "quarrying theological traditions". It would be surprising if several thousand years of religion had not produced something worthwhile. We have a common heritage of humanity that we can share and draw on independently of belief.
The Archbishop ends with a call for "a democracy capable of real argument about shared needs and hopes and real generosity" and asks "Any takers?" The answer from all people of goodwill, and certainly from secularists and humanists, will surely be "Yes", but then we may ask "what terms and conditions apply?" 
Is he willing for his church to contribute without seeking to control? It may seem churlish, but what sort of "real argument", what encouragement to hopes and generosity is it when the Church is seeking more state schools than the quarter it has, when it has privileged access to government, and bishops in the House of Lords, when non-religious beliefs are all but excluded from religious education and a daily act of worship is imposed on schools?

Allan Hayes is director of the Leicester Secular Society

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