Christ, religion and ‘other religions’

In this paper I will argue that the Christian faith creates and sustains the public sphere. Christianity creates a distinction between faith and the public sphere, religion and politics, church and world, and it does so because the gospel serves the world, and indeed creates the world it serves. When this distinction is extracted from the Christian faith and allowed to become a separation the good functioning of society is threatened. It is the Church that makes the public square public, the secular sphere secular.

The Christian faith has a public and therefore institutional identity and articulation, which means Christianity is a religion. It is a tradition amongst other traditions, and it gives an account of itself. The Christian gospel is also in itself the most radical demythologizing, secularizing and anti-religious force. The Christian faith is itself critical reason, because it refers to the judgment that is true, and the public square does ultimately depend on the truth. The concept of religion used in discussions of ‘other religions’ and ‘inter-religious dialogue’ does not serve the public sphere as well as it claims. The concept of ‘Other religions’ is the way a different understanding of religion is being forced on the Christian Church. ‘Other religions’ is the presenting issue, but neither ‘other religions’ nor ‘secularism’ represent a crisis for Christianity. It is liberal secularism that is suffering the crisis, which takes the paradoxical form of a massive act of projection, but we have to say that the crisis of religion, and of ‘other religions’, is not our crisis.

A religion is a set of ideas about what it is to be human, accompanied by a set of practices that relate to a particular community. All traditions give an account of what it is to be human and a member of society. We reason from long traditions of thought about human being, which the very privileged study in the Humanities departments of universities – Humanities are traditions of thought on the subject of being human. Some but not all such traditions are called religions.

Every tradition of thought is a tradition of self-control, through the acquisition of a set of virtues, by which we may hope to grow to maturity and freedom. For those in the original Academy the definition of human being seemed to be manliness in the sense of valour, to which was added wisdom, and then self-control, which could be promoted by an act of self-purification perhaps by withdrawal from society, perhaps by a reframing of society. Our ability to master ourselves is essential to being human – self-control is freedom. But self-control does not mean avoiding the control of others. We may become our own masters by learning from and continuing to accept the authority of those with the appropriate expertise. We may become free and mature by accepting the restraint of others mediated by that accumulated expertise of generations that we call tradition.

Three particular traditions within the humanities are regarded as religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Their long wonderful histories can be studied through their interaction with a common Greek inheritance. But there is another tradition that should also be regarded as a religion, although it opposes religion and denies that it is itself a religion. I will call it ideological secularism. Though it is a tradition of thought and practice that relates to a particular community, ideological secularism does not like to think of itself as one tradition among others, so it has to be coaxed to the table to lay out its claim with all other traditions. In some ways it is this makes it most religious. So the first account of the world to which Christianity must respond is not Islam or ‘other religions’, but ideological secularism. But ideological secularism is itself a Christian product: it employs the conceptual resources of the Christian faith against this faith and all religion. It says that we are the victims of restraint imposed on us by others and by the past, and that our task is to free ourselves from such constraints.

So the crises of ‘religion’ and ‘other religions’ is a crisis for the liberal secularist, who wants such traditions to be excluded from public discourse. He wants to see these traditions kept under guard in the universities where anthropologists can exhume, dissect and rebury them and keep a perpetual watch on their grave. One consequences of this is that we lose touch with these vital intellectual resources that teach us how to put up with one another, or more positively, how to grow up into responsibility and freedom. Without them we remain in an adolescent resentment, always in crisis because we cannot find anyone to focus our resentment on. This secularizing impulse is not opposed only to Christianity. It does not understand that we have to understand the Western intellectual tradition as a living tradition, that we have to remain in conversation with the founders of the Academy, Plato and Aristotle, in order to flourish. The sort of secularizing that we now see in universities is hacking at the roots of the university, and it will have the same effect on the public square. Who can help us here?

1. A theological answer
To the question of religion we must first give a theological answer.

God is love, a fellowship or society of persons. God is a public, the true and real public, who brings into being and sustains all publics. These persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one: plurality and unity are co-equal in God: it is not that the oneness of God comes first while the persons or society that God is, are less primal. Society is truly established in God.

God is his Word, and so is communicative and articulate; God is the conversation of the Son with the Father – in which they not only speak and give but also hear one another and receive from one another. God communicates with us. the conversation of Father and Son has brought the world into being, and the world itself continues to be many conversations. God does not simply speak to the world. Having spoken he listens and waits for it to answer. The world is many words. By speaking gently and patiently to it, God brings the world up to be his creature and a partner in conversation with him. He intends to the world to answer back. He intends that the world not only hear him and really receive him – but that each human creature should really hear and receive each other human creature. God intends that we should hear one another and respond to the prayers and requests that we make of one another.

The Church is the event in which God is heard, and the first community brought into being by this conversation. It is a foretaste of the life and freedom that God intends for the world as whole. The Church engages the world in conversation, to tell the world that it is loved, and addressed and heard by God. Christians listen to and intercede for the world, passing the complaints and requests they hear on to God, bringing to the attention of rulers to the situation of their people. With patience God will overcome our resistance to one another, enable us to hear one another and come into a clearer conversation.

God who is intrinsically vocal, makes his people vocal and communicative. The Church is the front end of the society of God, making itself visible to us here, and which keeps the Church new and living. The church is not old or dumb, and does not have to be propped up or resuscitated by any new contemporary hermeneutic. Christianity is intrinsically public discourse. The Church’s words do not need to be extracted from the Church and restated as ethical statements valid also in its absence, and the Church does not have to pushed into conversation with other religions.

The doctrine of God
The first claim of the Church, that the Lord is God, calls us to give an account of ourselves. The claim ‘there is no god’ means that we become tyrants, who put themselves beyond the earshot of all others, unable to concede the real otherness of other people, so those who suffer our exercise of power have no one to whom they can appeal over our heads. Because God is truly other than us, he is able to ensure that we become finally other to one another. I will not finally be able to make you just a function of me. Christ will establish your identity in independence of me, so that there will finally be you and me, a society.

Liberalism claims that the truth of God is not out there and reachable, but only ‘within us’, and so a matter inner piety, beyond public reach or knowledge. But any God about which we can wonder whether he is exists is not God, but our own construction. A concept of religion that was content to say that God is ‘within’ serves to make ourselves secure so we do not have to hear the question of God, where is your brother?’ So the Christian faith is a real listening, to the world and to God.

Encounter and confrontation
The Christian faith is also a real engagement and confrontation. The Western tradition is not one tradition, but two, one Christian, the other non-Christian, and so is itself a meeting of different traditions of ideas, forms of reason and ways of life. The Christian tradition is in conversation and confrontation with non-Christian thought, and so Christianity represents one side of a conversation and is intrinsically an act of witness to traditions other than itself.

Though centuries of encounter with other thought, the Christian faith has developed a comprehensive account of its claims, represented by a theology, a system of doctrine. The non-Christian tradition does not appear as a explicit free-standing tradition, with its own doctrine, is simply as a protest and refusal of the Christian tradition. Nevertheless we can articulate this non-Christian tradition, and having given it a name, ideological secularism, we can give it a history and so show where it stands in relationship to other traditions.

2. Apprenticeships and traditions
What is a tradition, and what a religious tradition? A tradition is an apprenticeship in being human, through which we may learn to take responsibility and so becoming free. We are free to the extent that we are not ruled by our passions, and to this end we exercise self-restraint or self-mastery. Like every other religion, the Christian faith is a way to acquire self-mastery (‘continence’, ‘abstinence’) and so freedom. An outworking of Christ’s service of us is that we are able to acknowledge that service and give thanks for it, and self-control is one outworking of this Christian response of thanksgiving to God.

The Christian apprenticeship has much in common with other apprenticeships. The Christian life is learned and lived like any other vocation or career, with the same element of adventure, its path is not entirely clear from the outset. There is no simple contrast to be made between Church and secular audiences, so well-argued Christian theology is not a private language, but a community-specific technical language. When a lecturer in law or medicine talks in public, he or she talks like a lawyer or medic, from the conceptuality of their profession. We do not insist that they find some value-free domain and neutral language in which everything they say is instantly comprehensible to every member of the public. We are all aware of the appropriateness of the vocabulary and conceptuality of each distinct area of expertise. All vocations require long apprenticeships and not everything can be comprehended by those standing at the beginning of that apprenticeship.

The Church as public service
The Christian life in the Church is the form of life in which we can most truly be together. It is life with Christ. The proper identity of Christ is established by the Father, so Christ does not have to establish his own identity, which makes him free to be our servant, and to remain so, forever.

Christian politics rests on this understanding that we are served, by Christ. Christ is not wrestling for power with us as we wrestle with one another. Free from any concern to establish his identity, he endures and will overcome our all power play, against him and one another. The assumption that, if God wields more power or responsibility we are left with less, is entirely untrue of the Christian God. God intends us to become like himself, self-controlled and so free to take our delight in one another and find service of one another its own reward. Christ shares with us the self-control by which he is always free, even whilst being our servant. With Christ fully free, and therefore fully therefore master in all his service of us, we may participate in his self-mastery and freedom. In Christ we participate in the relationships which he shares with all others, and in his freedom in all relationships. Then we are free to receive and pass on the love and care, discipling and mutual correction, which is the form his grace takes.

Members of the church serve one another. The household of mutual service (leitourgia – liturgy) which the Church is, spills out beyond the Church to serve those outside it, so Christians serve whoever is ready to receive their service. The Church serves the world because not to offer guidance, correction or intervention when it seems to be required would be a lack of love. Such love comes as provision of care, protection and order, and explicit teaching about these. Long-term concern for justice, government and education, and public dialogue about them, is an outworking of the gospel, not an addition to it. Through time this outworking does become ossified into the national institutions of justice, law enforcement, education and health services. The service which the Church offers to anyone who will take it, is the extension of the self-government, that is the mutual subordination, of the Church which is the public form of Christ’s service of the world.

The state as public service
Christianity is the politics of this promise of God to extend to us the peace of his rule, within which we may participate in Christ’s royal, priestly and prophetic offices. The people of God will be happy to accept one another’s service, rule and judgment, so when God is free to be God for us, we will become more truly a people, a healthy and active citizenry, and within that people, become unique individuals. This eschatological reserve is essential to Christian politics.

Leaders exercise judgment for us so that we may grow to maturity. They do not rule us so we do not have to rule ourselves, but precisely so we may learn to rule ourselves. The processes of government are not neutral or inevitable, but demand effort and generosity. We are all of us invited to take responsibility and so in some way to become statesmen, and society exists only to the extent that its members learn to engage with one another. The state is that set of people given the public recognition of the additional responsibility that they have taken on for our oversight. Government is simply the outworking of other people’s good self-governance.

The Church models good government, and so is pastor to the society to which it is sent. Christian politics does not aim for rule by a clerical caste, so Christians do not set out to grasp the levers of power, indeed we do not concede the there are levers of power in a mechanism in a neutral field. Rather real power is the exercise of ministry (diakonia) and a society is healthy to the extent that its members are willing to live together in mutual service – that is to take orders and give orders. Societies and their states can have crises, break down and disappear. If they continue it is because they cultivate the resources of law and tradition, and the virtues and practices of public service and public speech.

The classic statement of all this is given by Augustine. There are two politeia, two societies or jurisdictions. The politeia of God for man is generous: it extends outward to give space to a much more modest politeia, that of man who is not yet with God. The society of man, even turned in on himself, and against God, is some kind of society; but it does not live from any resources of its own. All society is derived from the society of God, so all human societies are free-riding on the company of heaven, which makes itself present here for us in the communion of saints of earth, the Church. The secular sphere is entirely the product of the generosity of God, revealed in the gospel, made visible in the Church. The Church is the colony of man with God holding out in the territory of man without God, but though this little colony is under siege its inhabitants lower the good resources of God over the walls down to their besiegers, and daily march out on mercy missions to them.

3. A history of secular liberalism
It is a Christian doctrine, that each of us is directly before God, no one can ultimately mediate with God for us, and that we are therefore individuals, each with our own conscience. Again, this is a Christian confession that refers to a promise, so there is an eschatological component, Christian doctrine says that Christ will finally secure our otherness, our irreducible uniqueness from all others. He will do this because he can do this – we cannot do it for ourselves.

But when this teaching is wrenched out of the whole doctrinal package, and presented by an alien non-Christian logic, each individual is left simply to assert his individuality, and to do so necessarily against other individuals. Thus when the Christian doctrine of human individuality is extracted from the package that includes the Christian doctrine of communion and society, the contextless concept of the individual means that the idea of society becomes problematic. Then society and the individual are threats to one another, and thus the early modern tradition arrived at the idea that the individual has to be controlled, and that this is what government is.

Secular liberalism simply states that the individual is an individual. It does not tell us how, because it cannot, having removed this doctrine from its doctrinal context and having no other context to put it in. Then it tells us that Christianity is simply the expression of the irreducible and unaccountable individuality of each individual, and this makes Christianity a private discourse. We have to show what happens when the whole package that constitutes the Christian apprenticeship is allowed to drift apart, allowing its separate components to be re-combined by another logic to make that alternative tradition that we call modernity. We may do this by telling a little history, that identifies the re-constellation of Christian doctrines as modern doctrines in the early modern period, to show that we are by default embarked on a very paradoxical modern apprenticeship.

We are, for example, the students of Thomas Hobbes. We believe that we are driven by our passions, and that violence is inevitable until we surrender our right to unrestricted aggression to the state, which then makes life with others possible. We are the students of John Locke: we make an absolute distinction between things and persons, understand that we may possess or dispose of things but have no possessive relations with persons, so we do not believe ourselves answerable to them or for them. We do not admit that we owe people their identity and existence, or understand that if we withhold it from them, their very being, and indeed even our own being, as persons is diminished. Instead we believe that our fundamental duty to others is to keep out of their way. We are heirs of Rousseau, for our social self-understanding is informed by his belief that law, social habit and civilization are constraints which the free spirit must escape. We are heirs of David Hume’s belief that there is no assurance of knowledge of the world, so we should treat with skepticism all claims to knowledge and all reference to the good as our guide.

These champions of secular autonomy represent this non-Christian tradition for which the individual does not concede that he gives or receives anything in his encounter with others, so we appear to have no real stake in other people, and we are reluctant to commit to the toil and change that comes with life with them. This individual is already entirely himself before he comes into relationship with his peers, and therefore needs no training in the skills of life with others, so he can do without this, or any, apprenticeship. He does not need a tradition, and indeed his imperative laid on him is to exert himself against all such traditions, and thus against religion.

The greatest single advocate of this tradition, that is in denial about being a tradition, is Kant. Kant identifies freedom with a refusal to accept any externally-given definition: we must not to place ourselves under any authority but our own. This makes it difficult to see how we can learn anything from one another and so how there may be such a thing as education. It is freedom from, not freedom for. So we moderns deny that we are under any authority but our own, and we do this without understanding that we have been taught to do so, precisely because we have been born under authority – the authority of Kant.

This secularist tradition has abandoned the conceptuality by which we can say that, for better or worse, other people make us who we are and that the action of previous generations defines the social and moral constraints and opportunities within which we act. It represents a retreat from the understanding that man is a social animal, embedded in a world given to him, and they did not pass on to us those resources of memory and tradition by which we could challenge their judgment.

Starting from the Pietist reduction of Lutheranism, that sees religion as primarily the concern of the inner man, Kant claimed to be completing the Reformation, first by taking influence away from the institution of the Church and giving it to the citizens of nations, and then by following Robespierre in throwing off all external tutelage, to become masters of ourselves. Kant announced that we must be under no authority but our own. God is distant and unconcerned, we have no one to rely on but ourselves, let us therefore be brave! Kant’s timelessly independent individual rejects all external norms and lives as a society of one.

Twentieth century religious and historical studies follow Kant in understanding religion to be not politics. Kant’s promotion of the individual over society and all the practices of social formation, and retreat into a cerebral disembodiedness that regards world and body with disdain, has become the criterion of critical reason, so all the Humanities in which we ostensibly discuss traditions of thought about society are hollowed out by a distaste for every particular tradition of thought. Secularism is a politics that does not admit that it is a politics, and thus it is an unaccountable exercise of power, that disallows any actual living tradition from being examined as a form of politics. Having decided that it is vulgar, Kant’s heirs have appointed themselves policeman of the public square to prevent Christianity from being heard in public. Until it has got over its delusion to be the arbiter that sits above all traditions, neither this ideological secularism that defines itself in opposition to religion, nor the discourse of ‘other religions’ that flows from it, can contribute to public debate in good faith.

4. Rights, consumers and victims
While to be a citizen and member of society requires some form of self-control, to be a consumer, a self-defined and asocial individual, does not. To the extent that we regard ourselves of this or that intellectual or religious tradition we are concealing an equally significant allegiance. We are members of a global economy, consumers, who by the exercise of our credit card can summon from the far ends of the earth goods at costs, personal, physical, ecological that we do not have to bear, take responsibility for, or even be aware of. The state cannot keep up with the rate at which we are abandoning the conceptuality of citizen for that of the consumer. If we place no limits on what we want, governments cannot possibly meet the expectations placed on them and government is made impossible. It cannot be the task of government to give its people whatever they demand, and the public square cannot be the place where interest-groups compete by shrilly protesting their victimhood, and so get their way. Long-term there cannot be any government, external control on us, where we abandon the discourse and practices of self-control and try to do politics solely in terms of individuals and rights. There is no politics without a view of human beings as in intention at least, masters of themselves, so we need a Christian, or at least Plato-and-Aristotelian, account of persons in relation, in order to speak of politics at all.

We have said that the Christian faith is therefore politics and religion: we learn to accept gladly the government of others so that we can the better learn our own self-government. We said that Christian service is Christ’s service to us, indeed that all society and all the service that makes it possible, is Christ’s service first. God who is communion and discourse, sustains a public within which we are together and individual, simultaneously. The intrinsically public discourse of the Christian faith makes a private-public distinction, but this Christian doctrinal distinction is turned by secular liberalism into a public-private dichotomy, which has a very different effect. By trying to privatize and interiorize judgment and reason, and so to divide Christian public service from its rationality, ideological secularism It attempts to separate heart from head, and hands from heart, so we have public service, activism, charity without any indication of its source. The driving of the rationale of service into some inner chamber of private belief from which it may never be articulated, empties the public sphere of ideas, and all the inane chattering of the media cannot fill the hole.

5. Religion as encounter
That the issue of debate and inter-religious dialogue is thought to be new to Christianity and has to be forced on it simply reflects on the great extent to which Kant and the pioneers of ideological secularism succeeded in belittling the big traditions of Christianity and Platonism, and consequently in privatizing and rendering invisible the politics, tradition, doctrine memory and practices of the Western tradition.

Everything that the secularist constituency discovered in twentieth century in the great Eastern religions and regarded as new to Europe was not new at all. Pre-Socratic thought, expressed by Parmenides, Heraclitus, Empedocles, Pythagoras was fully conversant with the metaphysics of the great empires of Mesopotamia, Persia and India. Though much was lost, some of this glorious tradition was mediated to us by Greece and Rome, and adopted as vital dialogue partner by Christian theology. These many metaphysics are not always explicit religious traditions but underground currents that move the tectonic plates of the scientific paradigms and moral traditions that make up our own worldview. But this vast tradition also has very great difficulty in establishing that the plurality of the world is as primal as its unity, and that plurality and society are therefore not aberrations. Obliged by its own Scriptures, the Church wrestled with this tradition and transformed it from a protological ontology, for which what is solely fundamental is unity, to an eschatological ontological, for which plurality, particularity and communion are as essential as unity (For more on this, see Knight, The Eschatological Economy, chapter 1.) The Cappadocian Fathers demonstrated that community and particular persons are utterly fundamental, and that, because the Church participates in the future reconciliation of the many and the one, the difference between the Church and the present world is therefore essential. Though faith is itself a form of reason, it is likewise essential that we distinguish faith and reason: there is the same relation between them as between the two cities.

So we have to assure our contemporary dialogue partners that Christianity did not encounter diversity and other religions for the first time with the arrival of immigrant communities in the last fifty years. It is not just secular humanism of the media and government that is defiantly ignorant of these traditions and so anti-intellectual; large tracts of the contemporary university are so too. It is not Christianity that is suffering from memory loss.

Ideological secularism is always in danger of becoming an implicit withdrawal from society into an autistic and disembodied gnosticism. Kant hoped to promote the autonomous mind by dismissing the body and tradition; we are discovering that a mind without a body is a mind without a future. So modernity is a short-termism, a failure to remember and to refer itself to its own origins, so it imagines that it has sprung out of nowhere. It is the responsibility of the Christian theologian to make the ideology or theology of modernity as explicit as we can, by referring it to its origins in the complex moral and metaphysical traditions shared by West and East.

6. Secularism and Islam
Secularism does not therefore bring the Christian faith into public dialogue with other traditions. Between Christians, Jews and Muslims there is nothing in common, except our being human. But, being human is all the basis we need, and to insist on any other basis is to close down on the fullness of the conversation. We must be, and indeed through commerce are, in conversation with all sorts of people. There is no strong reason which we should say that this particular interlocutor is not my employer, but a Muslim. I only want to know how he hopes to be a better employer, able to sustain high hopes for me his employee, by reference to that Muslim faith if he wishes. Of course the question of how we shall be human needs to be narrowed to how shall we live together here and now, and so as employees of this firm, or citizens of this country.

So in contrasting the three Scriptures of three explicitly religious communities, Scriptural Reasoning is making a mistake. We requires four sets of Scripture. The first set of Scriptures we must refer to are the laws of Britain and behind them that vast and amorphous set of traditions that make British society a more or less functioning society. The traditions that promote and enable that responsibility and service that sustain this society, and the Scriptures of Christian, Jews, Muslims and others are then hermeneutics, by which we hope to discover how to be good expositors of this tradition and good members of this common society of ours.

But what about other religions here and now in the UK? When the issue is couched in terms of non-religious mediation bringing Muslims and Christians together to settle their differences we have conceded the notion that religions are intrinsically violent forces, indeed that ideas inevitably provoke conflict. Muslims and Christians cannot be brought to together by some third party on neutral ground. To refer simply to Christianity, Judaism and Islam as ‘religions’ is a failure to understand that secular liberalism is equally a religion, a tradition among traditions, and that it must put its case and learn its own limits. Christians and Muslims do not enter inter-religious dialogue to negotiate into existence some third thing – ‘Abrahamic faith’. They speak to one another as Christian and Muslim in the proper hope of converting one another: truth may not be left to one side for pragmatic purposes. But we can talk to one another not because we are Christians or Muslim, but because we are Brits, members of this particular civic entity. We do then talk from the truth claims of our religious traditions, and the plausibility of that claims and traditions appears through public and political out-workings. The true religion is the one which is allows us to grow into greater forms of responsibility and service. Which of these religions, Christianity or Islam better supports a mixed intellectual economy and public square?

Muslims may rightly distrust Christians, because Christians fail to be Christians. The Christian faith that never expresses itself in terms of tradition and law, but only ever of individual will and sentiment, clearly hollows out to become simply secular. Scratch a liberal Christian and you’ll find someone who was a charismatic evangelical ten years ago. Scratch a ideological secularist and you’ll find he was a conservative Christian in his teens. If to them Christians are indistinguishable from the forces of Western secularism Muslims may have considerable justification in seeing Christianity as a threat to all other identities. A Christianity that cashes out into a liberalism that simply leaches away at the respect that holds communities and societies together, is not an adequate conversation partner for Muslims. Then Muslims may very well be prophetic voices pointing to Christian failure to keep Western nations respectful and God-fearing. We can receive their protests against secularisation and globalisation as the voice of the poor, even the voice of God, warning us for our own sake.

When however Muslim and ideological secularist voices combine in a chorus of resentment against the state, it is time to assert some fundamentals of Western and Eastern political philosophy. It is then essential for Christians to say clearly that citizens are not victims, but are embarked on an apprenticeship in responsibility and freedom in service.

7. Christians in the public square
Liberal civil society is a great achievement and in large part it is the contribution of the Christian faith to Western society, not simply its past but its present and living contribution. We have a liberal civil society because Christians are able to suffer the implementation and penalty of law, because they are able to receive judgment and forgiveness and so are able to move on; Christians are not trapped in an economy of resentment, retribution and feud. Thus Christians do not have to approach the public square as outsiders, for since the Church is the visible manifestation of the truth of the society that God offers us, Christian are themselves part of a larger public square.

That ideological secularism that wants to drive faith out of the public square altogether and so make an absolute claim to it, is challenged simply by the stubborn existence of the Church. Christians must insist that the distinction between church and world, for the tension between church and world represents the tension between what we are now and what we may become. Until Christ comes, we may not abolish the distinction between the church and the world, for the very difference between them demonstrates that modernity is not the summit or plateau to which all mankind has been climbing, and that the global economy is not yet the end-times or the kingdom of God.

Christian may set out the politics of the promise of God, that we will be a society and we will be individuals together in it. As soon as we try to define man as already a finished individual, in isolation from tradition and society, and without regard to his aspirations, we have taken away his means to control or direct himself and thereby turned him into a fundamentally pre-social or asocial being, who can only be controlled externally. If man can only be controlled externally we create a two-class society, of controlled and controllers. If we abolish the duality of world and church, present and future, we create a more severe dualism of controlled and controllers.

We want to move the conversation on from ‘may Christians take part in the public square’ to ‘the secular sphere has a Christian origin’ and then on from that to ‘the secular sphere is sourced and sustained by the gospel, because only the gospel distinguishes between ‘now’ and ‘not yet’.’ Only Christianity makes a secular sphere, and without Christianity secularism becomes a fundamentalism, and thus no longer secular. It is therefore entirely for the benefit of Sikhs, Jews and Muslims, as well as for sportsmen, accountants and hairdressers and every other constituency, that the Christian Church be present to prevent any incipient theocracy, that of ideological secularism being no more comfortable than any other. How Christians may address the public square? With great thankfulness to God.

Douglas Knight

Christ, religion and ‘other religions’