Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali and Pope Benedict: Salt and Pepper?

Anglican Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali recently stepped down from the Diocese of Rochester (Bishop St John Fisher’s diocese). His Wikipedia page is here. He has been described as a “controversial figure” in England. That’s “controversial” in the same sense that the Holy Father is controversial. In many ways, the two men – Bishop Michael and Pope Benedict – are chalk and cheese – or perhaps salt and pepper might be a better analogy. But I like both salt and pepper on my food.

Today I spent a number of hours listening to Bishop Nazir-Ali speaking in Melbourne as the guest of Family Voice Australia (the-artist-previously-known-as “Festival of Light”). While his audience was a few kilometres “right of centre”, I was pleasantly surprised by the Bishop himself. I had gone along largely because the sessions had been advertised with the titles “Courage in a hostile world: promoting the kingdom of God in an increasingly hostile world / the challenge of radical islam and agressive atheism”. I was concerned that this might become just another anti-Muslim session.

There was no question that that was the expectation from a number of people who attended, but that isn’t what Bishop Michael gave them. Instead, he spoke about things like
– uniqueness of Jesus Christ
– Dialogue and evangelisation
– Economic justice
– answering agressive atheism
– the omission of Christianity from the preamble to the European Constitution
– laws on marriage and homosexuality
– formation of conscience
– defence of the dignity of the human person
– opposition to slavery a constant in Christianity
– language of natural rights

etc. etc. Sound familiar? I am very interested to get a hold of some of his books (someone stuffed up at the FAVA office – they had the whole collected works of Rev. Mark Durie for sale, but none of Bishop Michael’s own books) to see how much evidence there is of direct influence of the Catholic Church’s teaching on these issues on his own thinking. He was, by the way, a member of ARCIC for many years, and in response to a question I asked about cooperation between evangelical and Catholic christians, he said that he was embarrassed and disappointed that the ARCIC dialogues came to an end because of the actions of some members of his Communion. He said this afternoon that he remains an Anglican because that is the form of Christianity in which he came to know Christ (not a sufficient reason for remaining one, in my experience, but there you are). Also answering my question, he commented that he believes it is time for the Catholic and Orthodox Churches to enter into a “differentiated” dialogue, recognising that the dialogue with the mainstream Anglican Communion can no longer have anything other than mutual friendship as its goal (“and that’s okay”, he said, “nothing wrong with that in itself”) but that we should be pursuing serious dialogue with “orthodox bible believing Anglicans” to seek agreement on the Gospel. He said it, not me.

In the end, he said very little about Islam. He did mention that there are difficulties with the Muslim’s committment to the Umma rather than to the nation of which he is a citizen (sound familiar? That’s what they said about Catholics in the past too – loyalty to the Church meant we were a fifth column in the society), and warning against the evils of Sharia law (of course, the only aspect of Sharia that has any foothold in Australia is Sharia finance, which is basically a system of finance to avoid charging interest – I pointed out to some others there that of course both Jews and Catholics have separate legal systems in operation in this country, but that didn’t seem to help much).

In the end, though, Bishop Michael said that Islam wasn’t really the problem. The problem was the gaping hole, the huge vacuum, that secularism has created in our society – and people are seeking a simple answer to fill that hole. That means that we have only ourselves to blame if Islam, rather than Christianity, is filling that hole.

Another point he raised – which I have been meaning to raise for some time now – is how so much of the violence that westerners are accustomed to attributing to the religion of those committing this violence can in fact be attributed to the “honour/shame” culture in which they live. We think it is about their religion, but rather it is about the “shame” they feel when their religion (or race or whatever) is felt to be denigrated, and the “honour” they seek to regain for themselves and their faith by means of violence. This isn’t therefore a “muslim” thing – it is the same thing you could expect from anyone brought up in a strict honour/shame society. I am expanding a little on what Bishop Michael said, but I think it is an idea worth exploring a little more deeply.

Anyway, I appreciated the opportunity to listen to Bishop Michael. I am still very uncomfortable with the prevailing “anti-Muslim” sentiments among many in our society, but I can’t say that Bishop Michael did anything to fan those flames. As for the “anti-muslim” sentiments themselves, I fear that they are largely irrantional. Yes, there are dangerous people in the world, and some of these are Muslims – but that hardly translates into a rational fear of Islam. And the idea that Australia is somehow going to become a Muslim state with Sharia law is, I think, just laughable. Australians are too bloody apathetic to practice Christianity, let alone Islam, which is a far more demanding religion.

Advertisements

9 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

9 responses to “Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali and Pope Benedict: Salt and Pepper?

  1. Fears about Islam and sharia law irrational?

    The problem is that relatively small sized population groups can be disproprotionately influential, particularly in the face of an apathetic majority. And small incremental changes gain momentum as numbers reach critical points.

    The number of Muslims in Australia is growing, partly due to immigration and higher fertility rates among immigrants; partly by virtue of conversion. Still relatively slowly as yet, but gaining momentum.

    And I think we need to be careful not to underestimate the attractiveness of a religion with a clear message in the face of a culture that has pretty much lost its way, and where mainstream Christianity, including catholicism has failed to make inroads on secularism.

    And you only need a strong minority for politics to start being an important tool (indeed the deals extracted by the rural independents illustrate exactly what I mean!). Britain, for example, has already made certain areas of sharia law – including one’s which disadvantage women in divorce settlements and inheritance – legally enforceable.

    Already it is clear that from court records and public statements that many mosques in Australia have radicalised cores of adherents who do contemplate taking terrorist and other forms of direct action. Are they a majority? No. But it doesn’t take many people to wage a campaign of this kind.

    I highly recommend a read of Sandro Magister’s piece on Rotterdam as a salutary lesson on how quickly things can change: http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1338480?eng=y

    • partly due to immigration and higher fertility rates among immigrants; partly by virtue of conversion. Still relatively slowly as yet, but gaining momentum.

      No, no momentum involved at all, Terra. There are many more Catholics among new migrants to Australia than there are Muslims (immigrants keep our parishes going as well as the mosques!), and these Catholics have as many children as the Muslims do. Add to that the fact that wherever they come from and whatever their religion, the forces of secularity are almost irresistable to the “younger generations”, and Muslim youngsters are no less prone to give up their faith than Catholic youngsters. There are conversions from native Australians, yes, but not in numbers to equal the conversions to the Catholic Church. And just a reminder: Australia is not Rotterdam nor Great Britain. We have our own particular idiom here.

      And I think we need to be careful not to underestimate the attractiveness of a religion with a clear message in the face of a culture that has pretty much lost its way, and where mainstream Christianity, including catholicism has failed to make inroads on secularism.

      Well, now you have a point. The point being “the attractiveness of a religion with a clear message”. Islam is certainly a simpler (if ultimately less theologically satisfying or sophisticated) religion than Catholicism, but it is our fault if we are garbling the message. Cf. the previous posts and discussions about Catholic funerals.

      And you only need a strong minority for politics to start being an important tool (indeed the deals extracted by the rural independents illustrate exactly what I mean!). Britain, for example, has already made certain areas of sharia law – including one’s which disadvantage women in divorce settlements and inheritance – legally enforceable.

      No, you need a small majority: 51% to be exact. Sharia is made into a bit of a bogey man. Not all aspects of Sharia law are objectionable. Just as Jews and Catholics have legal tribunals (parallel to the laws of our state), it is understandable if Muslims also wish to have such tribunals. Even Aboriginals have aspects of tribal law that they observe. But at the end of the day, the law of the State is the law of the State, and that isn’t Sharia and never will be in this country.

  2. Unfortunately you don’t need 51% – you just need a government that needs the votes of the two percent! And in fact most studies suggest that the critical level for general cultural change is around 10%.

    I agree that not all sharia law is bad – but I don’t agree that it should ever be enforced by our secular state. That is what has happened in the UK and elsewhere. There is a push already in Australia to allow such deals in relation to indigenous law and others – part of the secular tolerance idea. So it is not at all far fretched that this could be extended to aspects of sharia law. And the areas being imported into general law may not be the scary punishments stuff – but that doesn’t mean they are benign, particularly when it means women lose custody of their children, don’t receive the same entitlement to child support etc, or receive a lower inheritance than men.

    I agree that Australia is not yet a Rotterdam or Britain – the point is to keep it that way!

    As to growth and immigration – already around 3.4% of Sydney’s population is Muslim (50% of the Islamic population lives in NSW). Fifty-eight percent of those reporting as Islam in the 2006 census were foreign born, and Muslims make up an increasing proportion of the migrant intake. As a result, overall in Australia Islam grew 20% between 2001 and 2006; Christianity went backwards in the same period.

    The question is, do we want Australia to remain an overtly Christian country – allowing minority religions freedom to practice to the extent that it doesn’t conflict with laws embued by Christian values?

    Or are we as Catholics willing to accept either a multi-cultural approach (which will shortly see things like the Our Father Parliament each day dropped) in the name of religious tolerance, and accept the potential long term consequences of this?

    My view is that we must fight for Christendom – after all isn’t that what the New Evangelization is supposed to be all about?!

  3. My view is that we must fight for Christendom – after all isn’t that what the New Evangelization is supposed to be all about?!

    No, Terra, the New Evangelisation is about the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, not “Christendom”. It is about the “Kingdom of God”, which isn’t the same thing as “Christendom” at all.

    The question is, do we want Australia to remain an overtly Christian country – allowing minority religions freedom to practice to the extent that it doesn’t conflict with laws embued by Christian values?

    Australia was never established as a “Christian” country. The first European settlers who came here were religious (as most people were at the time) and (at least culturally) “Christian” in their brand of religion – although there was considerable variety concerning the kinds of Christians who came here. Some kinds were not welcomed or appreciated at certain times in our nation’s history – for instance, the German Lutherans in the Barossa Valley got a hard time during the 1st World War especially, and the Orthodox Greek and Catholic Italian migrants were regarded with suspicion as were the Irish before them. There have been Muslims in Australia for a very long time – earlier than Christians actually. This country has never demanded that its citizens sign up to Christainity as a part of being Australian. Many Chinese Buddhists and Indian Hindus have come to Australia already in the 19th Century. The ninth Governor General of Australia was Jewish.

    Our society has therefore been “Christian” (in the main) rather by default based on the general make up of its citizens, rather than by any conscious decision of our law makers. If we want to keep it that way – a lively point of debate – I believe the best way, and perhaps the most ethical and non-discriminatory way, is by means of more active and effective evangelisation. And this isn’t about “fighting” as much as it is about our witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    As to growth and immigration – already around 3.4% of Sydney’s population is Muslim (50% of the Islamic population lives in NSW). Fifty-eight percent of those reporting as Islam in the 2006 census were foreign born, and Muslims make up an increasing proportion of the migrant intake. As a result, overall in Australia Islam grew 20% between 2001 and 2006; Christianity went backwards in the same period

    And you can fairly comfortably bet on the fact that the vast bulk of the remaining 42% of Muslims are the children of the immigrants. It is not a religion that is growing by conversions from non-Muslims, as for instance is the case with Buddhism. And a 20% growth in the Muslim population (due largely to immigration) still isn’t very much when compared with, for instance, the 1% gain in the number of Catholics in the same period (largely through RCIA).

    I don’t know why everyone seems to give so much plausibility to the idea that Islam is “taking over” Australia. Do you really expect that our (very strident) family law courts are going to allow a parallel jurisdiction to proscribe judgements that mean “women lose custody of their children, don’t receive the same entitlement to child support etc”? (As for inheritance, Australia has no laws at all about this – my mother received no inheritance from her Christian father when he died 20 years ago because she was a woman.) God knows what is going on in Britain, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Australia is no Britain, and Australians are not Britons. Except for a very few odd-balls who go in for that kind of thing, religion is something that you inherit from your parents (or more often not). We are one of the most non-religious societies on earth, and I don’t see that changing in a hurry, certainly no more in favour of Islam than Christainity.

    This anti-Islam fear is simply a bogey man. We need to be careful though, because it was just such a bogey-man that existed in Germany with regard to the Jews in the 1920s and 30s.

  4. Robert

    Is there hard statistical evidence that, as David Schütz alleges, Catholics – or at any rate Catholic immigrants – “have as many children as the Muslims do?” The only statistics I have seen show the opposite.

    We know (because the 2001 Census says so) that 26.6% of Australians, and therefore 13.3% of Australian females, identify themselves as Catholics:

    http://www.catholicaustralia.com.au/page.php?pg=austchurch-survey

    But we also know (because the Australian Bureau of Statistics said so in 1998) that “two-thirds of Australian women aged 18 to 49 either use some method of temporary contraception, or have permanent contraceptive protection.”

    http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.NSF/2f762f95845417aeca25706c00834efa/e50a5b60e048fc07ca2570ec001909fb!OpenDocument

    “Two-thirds of Australian women” presumably includes a fair few of that 13.3% of the Australian female population which calls itself Catholic. My guess is that these figures are on the conservative side, given the failure of the national hierarchy to enforce Humanae Vitae‘s teachings in any systematic, or indeed visible, manner. (How many Australian Catholics under 50 would even know that Humanae Vitae exists?)

    America’s hierarchy made the mistake of assuming that Mexico’s demographic reconquista of California, Arizona and Texas would have the effect of Catholicising the country as a whole, not to mention enriching Stateside episcopates rendered cash-strapped by sex abuse payouts. Of course it hasn’t had any such effect at all; and as the “Catholic” Notre Dame University recently demonstrated by its bestowal of a degree on the pro-abort Obama, there has been no period in American history – at least since the Ku Klux Klan’s 1920s apex – in which genuine Catholicism has had less clout in the USA than the present period.

  5. I fear we are going to have to agree to disagree.

    But first a few points before I leave this debate.

    I have to say I find your comparison between contemporary concern over Islam, and the Nazi attacks on the Jews absolutely outrageous, vile slander.

    No one in contemporary Australia is making the sorts of false claims about the Jews that the Nazis did, nor are they suggesting any ‘final solution’.

    Instead, they are pointing to actual terrorist attacks that have killed Australians and planned future ones undertaken (however misguidedly according to the lights of different schools of thought within that religion) in the name of Islam; to actual experience of the types of cultural change that growing Islamic populations bring; and to the problems inherent in a large religious group that actively resists assimilation (in part due to the revival of fundamentalist ideas that is going on throughout the Islamic world).

    A few other points:

    1. You claim that “Australia was never established as a “Christian” country”.

    I beg to differ. We were established as a colony of Christian Great Britain, and our Constitution expressly invokes (from context the Christian) God, stating “Whereas the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland…”

    Indeed during the Pope’s current visit to the UK he has repeatedly argued for the continued importance of valuing Britain’s Christian heritage for its own future, and its legacy in the Commonwealth:

    “…Let it not obscure the Christian foundation that underpins its freedoms; and may that patrimony, which has always served the nation well, constantly inform the example your Government and people set before the two billion members of the Commonwealth and the great family of English-speaking nations throughout the world.”

    It is true that the constitution expressly prohibits the establishment of a specific religion by the state (ie Anglicanism), but that is a different issue.

    I’m not for a moment suggesting that adherence to Christianity should be a requirement for migrants or anyone else; just that we treasure our christian roots and work to ensure their pre-eminence in guiding our society.

    2. Can it happen here?

    I don’t think we have good figures on conversion rates to Islam, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence here and elsewhere. It is simply naive in my view to think that this is not a faith that is seeking to convert new adherents, and is pretty successful at doing so.

    As to laws – the Family Court (presumptuous though it is!) doesn’t get to decide the legal framework, government does. And Governments don’t always reflect the majority or Christian confessional views – they enact laws that reflect effective lobbying, voting blocs in marginal seats, etc.

    Yes Australia is different to the UK or Europe. In terms of our ageing demographic for example, we are about ten to twenty years behind them in trends. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be thinking about these issues now before it is too late to do anything much about it (as I suspect it is in many European countries, hence the sidewipe legislation aimed at peripheral things that give an illusion of control while ignoring the elephant in the room. So France bans burqas, but allows the streets of Paris to be blocked off for Friday prayers).

    3. The New Evangelization vs Christendom

    I think you are misinterpreting what I am saying about fighting for Christendom. We are in agreement I think that this is about the spiritual, cultural and political battle, not literally taking arms in the streets. And I’m using the term Christendom in the way Fr Aiden Nichols does – as meaning a society where the Christian faith provides the cultural framework for social living and ideally the official form of the State – hence the evangelization of culture the Pope has been talking about in the UK context.

    In practice Australia has been predominantly confessionally Christian historically (that’s why parliament starts each day with the Our Father), though certainly more tolerant of some ecclesial communities than others as you point out, and not predominantly catholic as one would ideally want.

    The move away from Australia’s historic situation has occurred firstly due to the effects of secularization, and secondly because of the growth of other religions courtesy in the first instance of immigration. The same two challenges that the current Pope has repeatedly talked about in Europe, though things have moved a lot further down the track there than here.

    The New Evangelization is indeed intended to redress this: while most of the public rhetoric focuses on those who have fallen away from the faith or were never catechized, both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have put it in the context of the ‘first’ evangelization of countries, and now the need for a re-evangelizing effort. The current Pope has repeatedly stressed the importance of returning to our roots and valuing our Christian patrimony as a counter to these twin challenges. Indeed, in his UK remarks he once again stressed:

    “..we Christians must never hesitate to proclaim our faith in the uniqueness of the salvation won for us by Christ, and to explore together a deeper understanding of the means he has placed at our disposal for attaining that salvation…”

    • adam

      Sorry – the streets of Paris are NOT blocked off for Friday prayers. Don’t know where you heard this .This is inaccurate and Ive never seen it done on any friday in Paris when Ive been there. Besides why would they be blocked off, the men are in the mosques praying. Need to get the truth on this matter. The French govt nor the Paris Mayor do not show any particular ‘favours’ to the major religions. The burqua matter just passed in the French parliament shows that reality and has come under attack within the EU.

      One point….Bishop Michael has stepped down at a young age. In Britain this was greeted with shock at his suddening departure. So unusual. I think he was brought up a Catholic, so a very interesting man and Christian. Something of a loss to the CofE whom many thought may one day have been an arch of canterbury. Not to be.
      But a man of great intelligence and insight.

      • He was never a Catholic, although he attended Catholic schools. He was received into the Church of Pakistan (United – part of Anglican Communion) at the age of 20. He told us that his father’s family were less fazed at his father becoming a Christian than they were at his Aunty marrying a Sunni Muslim (they were Shiite).

  6. Friday prayers:http://the-hermeneutic-of-continuity.blogspot.com/2010/09/muslims-block-paris-streets-to-pray.html

    The burqa (full face veil) is not required as a tenet of any branch of Islam, it is purely a cultural specific practice. As I suggested, the ban is a bit of flailing in the wind, a protest (too late) at the cultural extremes justified under the name of Islam.