Less heat and more light needed on religion and extremism

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Responding to an article by the president of the National Secular Society (NSS), which accuses “apparently harmless liberals” who practice religion of being "brainwashed" and “enabling the fanatics” who promote intolerance and use bombs, Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow has called for a more informed and less inflammatory debate about faith in public life. [See: Secularist leader accuses religious liberals of aiding fanatics]

Simon Barrow of the UK Christian think tank Ekklesia commented: “The idea that people may simply be divided into categories like ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’, or ‘religious’ and ‘non-religious’, is not one that bears a lot of scrutiny. But it does seem to appeal to people on all sides who feel confused, threatened or angry about how to respond to public religion in a plural society.”

He continued: “The concern has obviously been solidified by the growth of extreme and violent movements that justify themselves in religious terms – and by the activities of, say, the ‘religious right’ in the USA.”

“Many people of humanist and non-religious opinion – including, I suspect, members of the National Secular Society – will be saddened by this article, which does few favours to reasoned debate,” says Barrow. “The truth is that bigotry knows no ideological or religious boundaries, and by the same token it is opposed by people of ‘good faith’ in all religions and none.”

“Similarly, many of the staunchest opponents of war and prejudice in the Christian community would not describe themselves as ‘liberals’, but as people who see the core Gospel message as being strongly counter cultural.”

The Ekklesia co-director concluded: “The one area I do agree with Terry Sanderson is that it is not good enough for people of faith to regard all religiously sanctioned extremism as extrinsic. It is important to tackle the corruption that can reach to the very core of our convictions. Of course this is a challenge to all human beings and systems of thought and practice, not just to those who may be conveniently written off as ‘the religious’ or 'liberals'.

More comment: Resisting the polarizing mindset.