Tony Blair in discussion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and Charles Moore
What part should religion play in democratic society? How should democracy respond to the challenges – and protect the positive impact – that faith can bring?
The excitement in the air was palpable as three of the most dynamic figures in Britain took the stage to address these and many more questions about the role of religion in public life yesterday at the Central Hall Westminster in front of a packed house of 450 guests.
Highlights from the event with Tony Blair, Archbishop Rowan Williams and former Telegraph editor Charles Moore, included enthusiastic debate around the protection of religious minorities and free speech, contributions of faith communities to the global society, and confessions about how the media views religion.
A lively discussion ensued around how democratic societies should respond to different faith’s truth claims. Tony Blair said, “The quality of the discourse is incredibly important. We need humility to hold our truth claims while acknowledging other’s right to hold different views.” He emphasised that democracy is pluralistic in its essence. The right to vote and democracy are two different things, Blair noted, with the later recognising the protection of the minority by the majority. He argued the importance of having religion friendly democracy and democracy friendly religion.
When discussing the added value of faith communities inthe UK, The Archbishop and Tony Blair agreed that human rights, which are about human dignity, are a huge contribution that religious groups have made to the public square and that it serves as a supreme example of why religious voices must be heard.
Toward the end of the evening, moderator, Charles Clarke, opened questions to the audience. Questions ranged from science and religion to interfaith dialogue in schools in the UK and women in religious leadership roles.
A major challenge that all three distinguished panellists recognised was getting to know the “other.” Interfaith dialogue and action was pointed to as one possible way to bridge the gap between misunderstanding, prejudice, and division; however, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams rightly noted, “the problem is how do you engage with those who don’t want to talk to you – the real purpose of interfaith dialogue?”
The event concluded the Westminster Faith Debates series supported by the Religion and Society programme at Lancaster University, ESRC/AHRC and Theos focused on the impact of religion in modern society.