Without the guilt of [Tony] Blair, the narrow vision of [George] Carey or the imperviousness to rejection of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, though, is there anything attractive to be said for casting off inhibitions about religious faith in the public arena? Before Pope Benedict arrived in Britain this autumn, there was a lot of focus on the abuse scandal, yet when he got here he managed, more or less, to win a grudging respect from his audience ”“ religious or not ”“ by his transparent sincerity and by touching a nerve over concerns about the pace of secularisation. If you could bottle the essence of his success during those four days in September, it would be summed up in the phrase: “Don’t be so shy about your faith”.
Benedict used his visit to shine a light on the undeniable benefits faith and the faithful bring to society, by going to church-run old people’s homes, and by sharing a platform in Hyde Park with community groups working with the poor, the needy and the marginalised. That is something all believers should feel proud to trumpet.
Not being shy is, moreover, quite distinct from Lord Carey’s call not to be ashamed. In its essential defensiveness, the latter feels like an act of aggression. Making religion less invisible, on the other hand, allowing its role in the lives of individuals, communities and society to be acknowledged and discussed, is more nuanced, more achievable, and does not necessitate doing anyone else down into the bargain. It is also undeniably vaguer, which may be a comfort for we spiritually shy, but not for long.
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