Source: Diocese of Nottingham
Last weekend, Bishop Patrick McKinney was invited to speak at a ‘Festival of Faith’ hosted by the High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, Professor Harminder Singh Dua, CBE. Leaders and scholars of various faiths gathered at Nottinghamshire County Council Assembly Hall to share on ‘appreciation of religious tolerance in Britain’. The event was a celebration of religious freedom in the UK and also a celebration of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee.
Bishop Patrick stressed the importance of faith for Her Majesty the Queen and her recognition of her moral and practical contribution in the life of the Nation. He then spoke about the positive role of religion in the public square and commented that religious illiteracy or a superficial understanding of religion risks undermining, stifling or even preventing the practice of religious tolerance in our society. The Bishop encouraged everyone present “to continue to seek ways to promote and encourage dialogue between faith and reason in all areas of our national life.” He emphasized the place of freedom of religion as an essential foundation of any truly open and democratic society and concluded that “you don’t have to be religious to want to protect it”.
The full text can be read here:
I think we would all agree, Queen Elizabeth is an utterly remarkable woman of faith who over the years has become more open and comfortable talking about the place of faith in her life . Here is what she said in her 2002 Christmas message:
“I know how much I rely on my faith to guide me through good times and bad. Every day is a new beginning. I know the only way to live my life is to try to do what’s right, to have a long view, to give my best in whatever the day brings and to put my trust in God… I draw my strength from the message of hope in the Christian Gospel.
In her speech at Lambeth Palace in 2012, as part of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations, the Queen gave us real insight into how she understands her own role, in relation to our topic, ‘appreciating religious tolerance in Britain”, and also its recognition of the moral and practical contribution of the various religions to our society. She says:
“Our religions provide essential guidance on how we live our lives and how we treat each other. Many of the values and ideas we take for granted in this country and others find their rooted in the ancient wisdom of our traditions Even the concept of a Jubilee is rooted in the Bible.
Faith plays a key role in the identity of many millions of people, providing not only a belief system but also a sense of belonging. Indeed, religious groups are proud to have helped those most in need, including the sick, the elderly, the lonely and the disadvantaged. They remind us of the responsibilities we have beyond ourselves.”
The last point in particular, the “proud record” of faith groups in helping those most in need” has certainly been borne out over the past two years of the Covid pandemic. We have witnessed, particularly at this time, the positive and generous contribution of the various religious communities, here in Nottingham and in Nottinghamshire, to help people in any kind of need, far beyond their own immediate communities.
It is an essential aspect of religious tolerance that the positive role of religions in the public arena is recognized. I say this because there are still those who would advocate that the voice of religions be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of holidays such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the dubious belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue – ironically with the intent to eliminate discrimination – that people of faith holding public office should sometimes be required to act against their conscience. These are disturbing signs of a misunderstanding not only of the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also of the legitimate role of religion in the public square. While certainly appreciating and applauding the degree of religious tolerance that exists in the UK, I would still like to encourage all of us here today, in our respective spheres of influence, to continue to seek ways to promote and encourage dialogue between faith and reason in all areas of our national life.
But we can only tolerate what we see and understand. And religious illiteracy risks undermining a fuller practice of tolerance in society. Unfortunately, some ministries and other institutions have sometimes demonstrated only a superficial understanding of religion and religions, which can stifle or prevent the practice of tolerance.
Following the murder of Sir David Amess last October, considerable concern was expressed that a local Catholic priest had been refused permission to cross a police cordon to administer the Sacrament of L anointing of the sick to Sir David Amess as he lay dying. In the aftermath of Sir David’s murder, a joint group convened by Dame Cressida Dick and Cardinal Vincent Nichols met to consider the issue of pastoral care for victims of crime, and the College of Policing subsequently put to update its guidelines on the management of investigations. The relevant section of the guidelines, Requests for Third Party Access to a Scene to Assist a Victim, now states: “Immediately following an incident resulting in death or serious injury, a third party (non-emergency may request access to the scene to assist the victim, such as a priest of the victim’s faith or religion requesting to administer last rites or other religious needs, or a family member wishing to comfort a loved one dear.
From my perspective, this is a positive example of how a better understanding of religion and religions can lead to increased religious tolerance or respect.
I also believe that as people of different religions, we can all play our part in overcoming prejudice and intolerance between us, in the way we talk about other religions. This is why I believe that interfaith dialogue is so important and why I congratulate Professor Harminder on these gatherings which he and others have organized as part of his year as High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire. We are people of faith and the more we come together to get to know each other, to question and learn from each other, to find ways to work together in service of the common good, the more we have integrity and respect for each other. we will have to denounce intolerance, prejudice and hatred. Who among us here cannot say that the testimony of faith, whatever it is, lived generously, has not taught us something about the truths that we hold in a special and precious way?
So what about the value of freedom of religion? Have we remained faithful to the value that the drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights gave it? Are we able to defend its value for our contemporary society when asked?
Article 1 of the Declaration does not explicitly deal with freedom of religion, but speaks of its importance for a healthy democratic society. He says: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and must act towards each other in a spirit of brotherhood. There is an understanding in this text that the highest abilities we have as human persons are exercised in our use of reason and conscience. These are the aspects of each of us that involve the highest capacities of our nature. And, in the Christian tradition, these capacities are the result of the spiritual reality of each one.
This then brings us to the value of freedom of religion. It is in the practice of religion that these higher gifts are used. Using reason to ask why? Questioning what is truth? Where and how can I find it? And the precious capacity in all of us that is our conscience. This sacred ability and responsibility to assess what is morally right and wrong, and through such practice to become better people.
There is no deeper freedom for a human person than to consent to what they believe to be true, to determine what is good and to do it, and to choose to pray to God when they believe in Him. This deeper understanding of the freedom and tolerance of religion is more and more a gift for our society which sometimes risks forgetting these values, whether one is a believer or not. It is a gift because these practices of freedom and tolerance are the essential foundations of any truly open and democratic society. And you don’t have to be religious to want to back that up.
Keywords: Nottingham, Bishop Patrick McKinney, Interfaith, Queen Elizabeth II, Professor Harminder Singh Dua, CBE
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