Christianity and Islam

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:32 pm on 23rd March 2006.

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Photo of The Bishop of Rochester The Bishop of Rochester Bishop 4:32 pm, 23rd March 2006

My Lords, I am very grateful indeed to all those Members who have made a contribution this afternoon. I crave the indulgence of the House just to make one or two observations before I close, which are central to our debate this afternoon.

The first has to do with contact. From the beginning, Muslims, Christians and Jews have been in contact with one another. That is also true of Christians, Hindus and Muslims. It was not just in the 19th century that Christians encountered Hindus; there is a 2,000 year history of that. I was trying to make the point that there is a considerable change in demography that puts this contact in a new light that we must take seriously. Secondly, I have been very grateful to hear the contributions made by your Lordships about the relationships between religion and the state. We all agreed that any contribution must be persuasive rather than coercive.

Thirdly, there is the question of tolerance. I was glad to hear that word mentioned so often today. It must be engaged tolerance; it must even extend to hospitality. That word has been used. We must continue to ask where the wellsprings are from which these values come. They do not come from just anywhere. Fourthly, again and again the question was raised about the relationship between revelation—as in religious belief—and reason. As a Christian, I want to say and others will agree, that there is an intrinsic connection between religious belief and reason. Islam and Christianity, as they develop, need to examine their thought and their polity in that light; other faiths must do so as well. Certainly from the point of view of the Church of England, faith-based schools, which include people of many faiths in the case of Church of England schools, are committed to teaching pupils how to ask questions. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for pointing out the intimate relationship between the local and global. Of course, there are organisations in addition to the United Nations, such as the World Conference of Religions for Peace which do bring faiths together and we value what they do. Also, there is the possibility of interfaith collaboration on moral questions.

I have two points in my mind with which I would like to leave your Lordships today. They both end this debate on rather a sad note. First, where are the Muslim Members of this House this afternoon? I am bound to ask that question because this has been rather a one-sided conversation. Secondly, I would not over-do, historically speaking, the tolerance of the Church of England. One has to be honest about that. I understand and admire the proliferation of study centres for faith and public policy, particularly Islamic centres, and study centres in so many universities, but we must work for academic independence. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.