The Challenge of Secularization
by Aidan Nichols
Secularisation is far more of a challenge to Christianity in England than is Islam, and yet by seemingly strengthening the case for secularism, the issue of Islam has moved centre-stage. I believe that England, or more widely the United Kingdom, has to decide between three possible responses to the growth of the Islamic community not only in numbers but also in self-confidence.
The first of these is communitarianism, which allows each faith community (or non-faith community for that matter) its own version of public space. This seems to be the road along which—at least in the judgment of some of his more careful interpreters—Archbishop Rowan Williams would wish to travel. But communitarianism means the further disintegration of the cultural system of the nation as a whole. The phrase “the community” must signify first and foremost the national community, which is the form humanity has taken under Providence in this piece of earth.
Other communities within this greater whole need to “own” the overall public space, while simultaneously, no doubt, making a distinctive contribution to it. For an immigrant population with a peculiar (in the non-pejorative sense) religious and, in part, ethical system, that will take considerable energies of adaptation. It is, it would seem, unwise to deflect its members from that primary task. On the other hand, a distinctive contribution by Muslims will mean their maintenance of whatever in their own customs and practices is noble and of good report.
One important criterion of those qualities—nobility, good report—is congruence with the common law, whose name means: What is accepted in the King’s (Queen’s) courts as legal norms, which all other juridical instances must respect. Unfortunately, in recent times, the effect of parliamentary statute (and European legislation) has been to elide certain norms that were based on the good custom and proper tradition of a Christian society. The constitution of the family by the heterosexual, monogamous household, and the invulnerability of innocent human life from before birth until natural death, are no longer secure at law. On the second count, and to a degree on the first (monogamy aside), traditional Islam concurs with Christianity. The pertinent legal developments—which license abortion, civil partnerships between the identically gendered, and the withdrawal of basic medical care from the irreversibly ill—are unthinkable without the aggressive incursion of secular liberalism. Typically, secular liberalism finds it impossible to base rights discourse on anything other than the parity of each and all as they choose the way of life they prefer to follow, whether their preferences be well-founded in the objective moral order or not. Inevitably, this is a recipe for irresoluble quandaries in matters social: How should one adjudicate the preference of a feminist employer not to accept a polygamous employee?
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