Article by Tim Stanley
Of course, the Church ultimately renders unto Caesar what is Caesar's and accepts the laws of the secular state. And that is what we must all do, for the law is paramount. But when it comes to writing the law, isn’t it right that we try to frame it in such a way that it’s as easy as possible for the largest number of people to obey it without betraying their conscience? At a cultural level, trying to strike a balance between what the state desires and the religious believe is a far easier task if we start from the mutual position of respecting faith and – crucially – understanding its perspective. The problem with a lot of debates about faith schools, conflicts over sexuality and abortion or debates about religious dress is that a lot of citizens don’t get where religious folk are coming from and, frankly, don’t care. How many policy makers or commentators understand why Catholics eat fish on Friday, need to attend Mass every Sunday or want to wear a crucifix to work? How many politicians or hacks comprehend what it means to don the veil or why it could be shocking – actually stomach-turning – to see a cartoon of the Prophet with a knife at his throat?
“We don’t care why they feel these things so deeply,” comes the secularist reply, “our right to offend is the higher human right.” Perhaps it is: as Benedict suggested, the freedom to inquire publicly is at the heart of a civilised, democratic society. But if respect for the sublime is not necessary a right, it is a wonderful thing. And it is a glue that can bind men of very different backgrounds and views together. The insides of churches, synagogues or mosques all look very different. But they cast a similar spell. They are places of peace and contemplation.
I will be called naïve for writing all of this, possibly even someone guilty of tolerating intolerance. But as a person of faith I do acknowledge a conflict between free speech and feelings, even if I come down on the side of free speech every time. And as a European liberal, I see liberalism as having two overriding concerns that must be pursued with equal vigour. The first, to preserve the freedom of the individual. The second, to maintain social harmony in a world in constant – sometimes innovative, sometimes dangerous – flux. I make no apology for seeking peace and contemplation.