“Last week’s article on falling patterns of membership and church attendance in Scotland’s churches gave the other side of other story. Secularisation is merciless in its effect on churches. It will erode to vanishing point churches which operate in traditional ways and cannot adapt. It challenges the mindset of ”˜as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be.’ But I believe that secularisation also presents a positive challenge for churches. It encourages us to develop church communities of new quality – disciples who are deeply engaged with their faith and not just of members who belong. It will be good for churches and good for faith.
“Let me surprise you first by saying that I am a supporter of secular society. My family roots are in the beginnings of what has become the Irish Republic. In the early years of the last century, Ireland was what some have called a confessional or theocratic state. The Catholic Church exercised an undue influence on the way in which government approached matters of social and moral legislation. The modern secular state is a safer place – it allows space for a proper separation of legislature, judiciary and church. In my view, there is then room for a proper relationship between church and state. The state should be the guardian and protector of religious freedom but it should not defer to religion.
“Last week’s article treated secularisation as if it was a single phenomenon. But it’s much more subtle and complex than that. It is actually a sort of ”˜double whammy’ – let me explain what I mean.