This post continues to unpack the argument of my paper “Sex, Truth and Tolerance: some theological reflections on the Irish Civil Partnership Bill 2010 and challenges facing Christians in a post-Christendom culture”
The main purpose of the paper, using the Civil Partnership Bill and differing responses to it as a lens, is to reflect on some of the challenges that the Bill raises in terms of Christian engagement with faith and public square issues within a wider Western ‘post-Christendom’ culture.
By ‘post-Christendom’ I mean that the socio-political consensus that placed Christianity at the controlling centre of social, political, and religious affairs, is fast evaporating. Contemporary Ireland, as with most of Western Europe, is moving from a Christendom mode to a post-Christendom mode.
Christians in Ireland cannot avoid having to do business with the baleful legacy of Christendom ‘Irish style’. Such has been the horror associated with a church exercising freely given and virtually unlimited, religious, social and political power, that many people in modern Ireland are convinced that ‘religion is bad for you’ and are determined to construct a society free from its negative influence
There is a strong hermeneutic of suspicion’ regarding religion in Ireland today. As one author puts it, religion and theology are ‘viewed as a trivial, if not malign, influence in political life and are largely ignored in political deliberation.’ That’s an astonishing reversal from the days of ‘Catholic Ireland’.
So the shaping assumptions of a post-Christendom liberal secular democracy include a commitment to values which are optimistically understood as providing a path towards a healthier, fairer and more advanced society than that of the religious past. They include:
– Pluralism: where the reality of the plurality of cultures, religions, and beliefs within modern societies makes it a necessity for the state to accommodate all and privilege none. Political liberalism seeks to achieve this by making the state ‘neutral’ in terms of religious preference and therefore, in effect, intentionally non-religious.
– Tolerance: where all beliefs and behaviours within the law should be tolerated.
– Individual choice and human rights: Of critical importance here is the liberal belief that human freedom of choice is an ultimate right. Since individual choice is ‘a good thing’, the more individual freedom any society has, the better or freer or more advanced that society will become.
– Increasing separation of church and state: in the sense of dismantling the legacy of Christendom where churches had central and controlling positions
– Equality: where by law citizens must all be treated equally regardless of their beliefs or lifestyles.
So, if this is a reasonably fair description of affairs, some questions:
What expectations and ambitions should Christians have in terms of influence and impact within a post-Christendom culture?
What attitudes and behaviour should shape Christian public engagement in a context of recent and awful abuse of power by the church and where, as a consequence, Christianity in general is seen as a malign force and perpetrator of injustice?