The Crisis of Religious Freedom and The Way Beyond

TIME: 27th February 2017, 13:00-14:00

VENUE: The Henry Jackson Society, Millbank Tower,
21-24 Millbank, London, SW1P 4QP

SPEAKER: Professor John Milbank, Director, Centre of Theology and Philosophy, University of Nottingham

CHAIR: Emma Webb, Centre for the Response to Radicalisation & Terrorism, The Henry Jackson Society

John Milbank: Happy to be here and I’m looking forward to having a conversation about religious freedom. I am only to speak for 20 minutes so basically I will just try to throw out a few ideas, controversial ideas that people don’t talk about. My starting point is defiantly that religious freedom is in danger throughout the world today. This may have taken us by surprise: until recently, up to the Iranian revolution I looked as if religion was regarded as sort of a harmless, vaguely beneficient, and no longer a topic of conversation. I think if people in 1979 jumped in a time machine and came forward to our era they would scarcely believe their eyes are ears in what’s relation to what’s going on with religion. I get long religion headlines and everyday there’s a whole stream of stories about how religion is in contestation, that religion has again become incredibly controversial.

I think one can identity two major blocks of religious intolerance. First of all indolence coming from religions themselves, certainly from Islam but also from radical Hinduism, sometimes also certain brands of Christianity, certainly certain brands of Judaism. On the other had there’s massive and increasing secular intolerance of religion as such. No that seems to have grown, an intolerance of religious symbols, religious expressions in public and there is also increasingly an intolerance of people taking part in public life on the basis of their own religious convictions, or acting in terms of those religious convictions as they would feel ethically bound to do. That seems to derive from a breakdown, what you might term a post-Christian consensus, that again up to roughly the 1960s, although of course there had been debates in the past around things like divorce, they were quite minor. On the whole the feeling was Christian values, the Christian morality continued to be accepted where the religious legacy has gone. Now it’s much clearer that when you remove the religious foundations, a lot of the Christian thinking on matters to do with birth, death, gender, sexuality and so on widely diverge from the secular consensus. There comes to be often cases where human rights are enshrined in very secular terms which clash directly with religious thinking and the question of religious rights comes to be extremely controverted.

Now the basic question is how do we produce a more tolerate world, a world in which religions tolerate each other and in which no religious people tolerate religious people and which are openly allowed to criticise religious, absolutely all that is what I would want, but I would submit that there are two completely different approaches to the question of religious liberty. One approach can be described as religious rights, and the other approach can be described as religious toleration. My argument would be would that today almost everybody thinks in terms of religious rights and the approach of religious toleration, which I’ll define presently has far fewer advocate and I think this is a hopeless situation. The more you think of this in terms of rights, the more in reality you’re likely to increase the bad situation at the moment and that the way to go is to think in terms of toleration. The basic difference between rights and toleration is that the right approach is completely neutral as to content its saying everybody has a right to believe and to act religiously in the way that they choose. No stance is taken at all about the virtue or otherwise of religion. It’s a completely neutral approach it’s an extension of a basic rights approach, rights to liberty of opinion. tolerance on the other hand and when you think about the word at first it seems very positive but actually when you say you tolerate something you mean that you are putting up with it and that’s the key to the difference to this approach, its seems just for that reason to be less generous, less radical that the rights approach because its suggests we are tolerating what we nonetheless don’t find totally satisfactory.


Now was to suggest counterintuitively that that’s the much more realistic approach, a much more real approach that is likely to succeed. Toleration then is not neutral is a situated approach. It always assumes that you are coming from a religious or anti-religious vantage point. But from that vantage point itself and not on the grounds and sums of the humanist neutrality you are nonetheless you are able to extend toleration to other positions. Now why should I argue with seeming perversity that this putting up with things approach is better that the seemingly more idealistic approach of human rights. Well basically there are two reasons we are going this way. The first reason is that all our thinking is based on a historical narrative that is completely wrong and that all serious historian have now shown to be false. The second reason is, as I’ll go on to explain in a while, that I don’t think the rights approach ever can achieve a toleration of religion. So now what is our usual historical perspective on this? Our usual perspective is that religion, because its irrational, leads to wars, after a while people get fed up with these wars, they organise society on a secular basis and then toleration results from that. No serious historians are supposed to believe this story any longer.

Why not? First of all throughout human history there are many examples of toleration, in societies that know absolutely nothing about liberalism, the nation state, human rights and so on. So there’s enormous amounts of evidence that religion itself often involves a tolerant attitude. In the case of Christianity, despite all the history of persecution. If you go back to the New Testament its frequently says that religion must be free, uncoerced, if only for religious reasons because faith must be authentic, your relationship to God must be authentic. It’s also thought that in the interest of free conversion you have to tolerate false positions. Again in contrast to the enlightened who tend to think of religion as irrational it’s assumed that eventually rational debates can persuade people whom you see as being in the wrong. There is also the Christian perspective on the fact that the fallen world which leads to the sense that we’ve all got it a bit wrong and therefore for that reason you need to give latitude. Now of course this pietistic position tended to break down during the middle ages when Christianity assumed total control, you got the rise of the persecuting society and so on in the 12th century, but what has now being shown to quite a surprising degree that reactions against that in writers of John Sousbry in the 12th century, strong reiterations of this pietistic position, against in inherently religious terms.

When we come to the early modern era again normal story turns out not to work very well, despite the breakdown of Christendom for a long time people have assumed that this wouldn’t last forever, they were looking for more inclusive strategies. For a long time the approach was inherently religious and pragmatic rather than what we would now think of as a liberal or proto-liberal approach,  there was an attempt to define what was essential and what was less essential, attempts to work out how in practice different views could live alongside each other. Despite the wars of religion what goes unreported is many local attempts to accommodate differences. For example in Germany, Churches were used for different confessions and people came to an accommodation. Even in 1689 and what we think of the great emergence of toleration, actually that main aim was to bring Presbyterianism in the Anglican confession, if you read Locke carefully when he talks about the 1689 bill he recognises that that is the main aim, so even Locke is no thinking in what we would think of as classically liberal terms, even Locke makes a distinction between including Presbyterians and sort of only just about tolerating other examples of religious descent, so this idea of a kind of liberal view from nowhere is very slow to arise and a historian from Chaplin that even in the 18th century the practical achievements of toleration don’t have very much to do with these abstract ideas of the philosophy.

The continue to be done in internally religious and pragmatic terms, particularly in the cases often surviving Holy Roman empire where you have lots of different states organising to different religious grouping. Sometimes not because of what the princes religion is but actually what the local religion is. As Peter Wilson in his new book about the Empire has realised. So this is if you like a different kind of enlighten its nots seeing the individual as primary but the religious grouping as primary and trying to work out how they can coexist. it’s also the case that religious conflict doesn’t disappear, its keeps on breaking out, if it hadn’t been carrying on their wouldn’t have been the case of [inaudible, 13:15]…. its preciously because these conflict were continuing, albeit in muted ways, as is the case of the Gordon riots in England. There’s very late and militant anti-Catholicism. The French and American revolutions were full of very strong expressions of anti-cat holism. So if you like the triumph of secular rights in those revolutions coincided with a continuation of a very strong stance against one religious group. That’s particularly because the enlightenment move religious toleration towards privatising it towards restricting the private beliefs, ownership of property, church involvement in education etc. etc. But is that really religious tolerance if people compel people to certain forms of actions and forms on inherently religious forms on actions like education and so on? Is it tolerate to get rid of them?

If we look at the case of the US which is dear to the hearts of this society, he historian Harold Burtman said that the idea of neutrality in 19th century America is completely false. Religion was of course established in many of the states just not at the federal level and that because illegal in 1940 even though practice had diminished. Alongside that established on religion in fact it continued to be expected that the work of society, community, education, welfare was going to be done by the church. This was part of the social good of religion and what you can expect from it. that’s even true of republican France up to 1907 it continued even though it wasn’t established Catholicism at the level of the state the assumption that it was part and parcel of the fabric of French society was enormously strong until you go very late on this kind of militant secularism. all I’m arguing for here is the notion that religious tolerance and our Western legacy comes much more out of religion itself and out of certain pragmatic considerations than it does out of a kind of mutual rights based approach.

I think if we recognise that about ourselves it enables us better to persuade other societies towards religious tolerance who simply don’t have this kind of liberal human rights legacy and don’t really understand it, it’s arrogant to assume those societies including Islam that they can’t be tolerant. Some of the things I’ve talked about in Christina can be seen, if not exactly in both Judaism and Islam. Not what might be wrong with the religious right’s approach to religious liberty today? Well I think that because in the end any rights based approach is focused on the individual and choosing the individual it’s incredibly hard for that approach to recognise the rights of religious groups as we’ve seen. For example, in the case of catholic adoption agencies, but because religion is a social practice it has internal rules, authorises, laws, customs and so on. You’re not recognise religion as it is if you put the individual first and certainly it’s completely impossible to approach Islam in this fashion.

Islam is organised around what they see as objective divine law mediated by the tradition and community and I agree with Peir Meclen in France that the more you try to treat Islam merely in terms of human rights and religious rights the more you are likely to encourage revere Isalmisation because Islam simply won’t understand this and it will take what you see as rights as an excuse to further establish an enclave within France, in this case. The whole approach is likely to backfire, whereas on the contrary of you treat Islam as it is, if you see that it’s not totally strange or totally alien to us that we too have strong collectivist traditions in regard to our religious faith that we too have a legacy linking religion to law, in the case of canon law legacy with is of overwhelming importance for who we are in the West as historians as Harold Burman have demonstrated. Then we will be able to see that a religious group gathered around Sharia is not quite as alien as we think. But on the other hand we must also be able to insist on the differences, the differences between theology and law, between church and civil law, between the political and the religious legal on the other hand. These are things much more strongly rooted in our Christian tradition and then in the post Christian tradition and in certain ways they are simply non-negotiable because if we were too compromise on them we would become something quite different. So it becomes possible on that basis to have a more serious engagement with Islam to say we respect who you are, we respect you are a religious community even with international allegiances, but nonetheless we have to insist you operate in a way that is compatible with our way. To do that is to take a stance about how you see religion and what you see as the acceptable bounds of religion, is to get rid of the myth that were are thinking in anything other than Western terms, even if we are thinking in post-Christian terms our sense of what a religion is so powerfully informed by Christianity and insofar as we are tolerating something else it’s because we see certain analogies, we see certain validity, we see that some of what we see as mistake can be tolerated but others cant. It’s never a view from nowhere it’s always something very specific, it’s always at once pragmatic and values. I submit in the case of Islam if we adopted rights approach we’d be far more likely to get somewhere and not to actually exacerbate the whole situation.

Now I think just because the rights based approach is focused on the individual, in the end it faces a problem of having to make judgement about the kind of religion that is acceptable which it can’t really make and then beyond that point it inevitably faces the question, why recognise religion at all, why say anything about religion, why not just talks about beliefs and practices, and in some ways you might say that that could be more beneficially than the situation we’ve got at the moment. For example, if you’re saying nothing about religion why does it matter whether you put crosses or Islamic symbols in cemeteries it’s not just a matter of indifferences. Otherwise the state is as it were by the very nature of the secular negatively defining what a religion is and presumably that might allow much more free criticism of religion. But I think the whole problem is that if you can’t recognise religion at all and you can’t recognise it as a social good, in practice this is going to lead to the most incredibly extreme intolerance, because it will mean that there is no room for pluralism in terms of what you allow religious groups to do as religious groups, if it just comes down to the individual and what they’re allowed to think in practice you’re heading in a totalitarian direction. Yet, the whole question of positively recognising religion as a social good is extremely hard to disentangle from some kind of recognising or transcendence or possibility of transcendence, again or histories are incredibly screw, you know they are terribly askew. The American Revolution, even the French revolution was still based on an acknowledgement of God, it’s as simple as that, our account of rights in general sort of thinned out was still based on that acknowledgement and especially on the acknowledgement of religious rights was to do with that. There’s are serious question here about whether if we don’t collectively anyway recognise transcendence at all, however thin that might be, it might be in terms of there is an objective good to be discovered and realised in the world. If you’d like a thin account of providence. If we don’t have something like that then it’s very difficult to see why we would recognise religion as a social good at all. But if we don’t do that then it became very difficult to understand how we would have a genuinely tolerant and pluralistic society. You need some sort of vague horizon about where the objective good might lie and some sense that we are groping towards it. To have any kind of tolerance otherwise you would only recognise purely formal norms as governing in public space and increasingly as with contemporary students in British universities, almost anything will be seen as offensive, as not inclusive enough, as possibly making people feel uncomfortable and so on. I submit that that is the direction you eventually go in if you lose all sense that religion as such is a positive good and that it somehow linked to the answerability of politics to transcend norms. I think similar considerations apply to what happened when we can no longer give any metaphysical account of the soul, conscience and so on at all.

So in this place also in the more general case of attitudes towards religious groupings I submit that the concrete situated approach of tolerance, the approach that says well where are we coming from, what do we still generally want to own up to in terms of our Western religious legacy, and given that legacy how far can accommodate other positions reasonably, both to their benefit and to ours. This is the right way to go, rather than the usual right space approach. Thank you. [Applause.]

Emma Webb: I think now I’ll take some questions. If you can just say your name and the name of the organisation you’re from.

Audience Member 1: [inaudible, 26:56] I work in a museum, student of philosophy in the past. You’ve raised so many issues but in terms of practicality we are looking at situations where the government is encouraging a lot more independent schooling, we are getting a lot of religious schools. In Jewish and Muslims societies you don’t have the hierarchy of religious groups leadership, so when you want to address those communities, unless you can, in my opinion and I’d like to know what you think, I feel that in order to calm things down I’d be happier to see non-religious education in the week with people opting for that during the weekend so that children from all backgrounds come together. If you cannot get the direction from above then we need within the education system to expose all to religions so everybody understands where the other is coming from. The question is, is religion a private matter or not? Is it between me and God?

John Milbank: I would submit that no religious person really thinks religion as a private matter and I think there are two problems with what you’re saying is that increasingly religious people feel that their children are left confused by secular education because it makes no attempt to relate the different subjects to each other. In science you would get the impression that we are atoms in a void, meanwhile when you do politics and so on, you get the impression that the right to liberty is an absolute, what is liberty? This is just to give one example. It’s impossible to sustain a religious framework unless you, in a coherent thought through way, unless you are asking how it relates to everything else. I think the second problem is that what’s happening in reality as I know through lots of my friends is that in reality a lot of people are opting for religious schools even if they’re not religious at all, precisely because they seem to be the only place that is first of all trying to look for some sort of holistic view, and secondly is linking education about ideas to the formation of character. I think increasingly parents are rightly in despair about that way we have lost that linkage which the whole [inaudible 29:53] human tradition took for granted, education was about the formation of the person and the trouble is again if you lose all secular orientation, or all metaphysical orientation maybe of the kind somebody like Irish Murdoch had, even though she was an atheist. That’s fully worthy of respect, unless you have something like that, how do you give an account of how knowledge is linked to character, in the end how do you give an account of how will and understanding are linked, and this is the whole beef of Conerage, and why Conerage is such as great philosopher as well as a poet. He knows this is the vital modern question. So I think in reality there are strong reasons why we are getting these religious schools and the issues is keeping them moderate, they’re offering a vision, they are not imposing it, there’s still toleration, there’s still discussion and so I. I think what you are initially saying is that this can be difficult when it comes to Islam because of the lack of clear leadership structures that Western churches have. Here I come back to, I’m afraid there’s very little alternative to saying is – actually what we want is Islam to look a little bit more like Christianity because then the way it can operated within a Western society. From our point of view it does need a slightly clearer leadership structure, and I don’t think this is ridiculous I think in practice I think Imams are becoming more like Vicars and Rabbis, and that’s great. I think internally they can understand they are gaining something from within their own tradition by that as well.

Audience Member 2: Thank you for your presentation, my name is Bruce George I was a member of Parliament for 30 years but I’m out of politics now What advice would you give to me and others, you touched on warfare based on religion, can you give us some clues on what kind of literature one should read, I’m retired I read a lot, on wars deliberately created by a clash of religion.

John Milbank: Michael Waltz is very good, there is also a very famous and controversial article by somebody called [inaudible, 32:47, William Cavanaugh?] which you can find on the web, arguing very strongly that the laws of religion are as much driven by nascent nationalism as by religion, I think I myself would be a bit 50/50 on that one. I think that the rise of confessionalism after the reformation, just because doctrines became so controverted, it became far truer that religion was about belief and non-negotiable beliefs, actually than it had been in the middle sages. In the middle ages, liturgy, piously and practice were far more fundamental. But in the reformation it becomes all about doctrinal ideas and confessions and that certainly encourages warfare but it certainly fuses with the desire of the nation for both religious uniformity and for using religion as an instrument of disciplinary control. I think this shift of doctrines suits them very well from that point of view if you like. what I’ve been saying, that the trouble is about history is that it almost always seems to be about wars, but you can forget that meanwhile everybody had tried to coexists in many different places. For example, in the case of Spain the persecution of the Jews and Muslims who were only half pretending to be Christian was pretty terrible, but the evidence on the ground shows that ordinary Spanish people and even local authorities were far more ok with this. They understood that as part of a complicated local legacy, so that once more the trouble of our religious toleration seems much linked to an all-powerful sovereign state, not prepared to admit pluralism.

What I’m trying to say here is that usual stories that religion leads to violence and after that the secularity and toleration is very questionable. Look at the French revolution, completely brutal treatment of the Catholic Church, and just for that reason some people have seen the French revolution as itself a kind of extension of the reformation, far from being a purely secular event. William Cobbitz has a brilliant book where he argues exactly this, that the French revolution is the work of Huguenots, Jansenists, Freemasons and it is a kind of reformation going forward. Far from being this sort of purely separate event if you like. The truth of the matter is that extreme religion, extreme secularism can both be sources of violence.

Audience Member 3: Nigel Park, Catholic Union of Great Britain. Just wanted to see if I could try your ideas to a very practical current issue, which is conscientious objection and the rights of pharmacists, there’s a consultation going on at this moment which would reduce the ability of pharmacists to exercise openly [inaudible, 36:45]. Just thinking of your two approaches, if you were arguing for greater or maintaining the current level of freedom, how would you [inaudible, 36:58].

John Milbank: Thank you for that because it’s really nice to illustrate, because I think if you apply the rights approach then you say you may think it’s your right a pharmacists not to sell those but if it’s the middle of the night and somebody needs it then its you’re overriding a general right, you’re not asking for a particular exceptional right and on the basis of rights it would seem that’s its very difficult to accommodate shall we say Catholic or Evangelical pharmacists with very strong consciences, then ok, nothing is perfect I understand that. but on the other hand are we really saying we want to create a situation where I become impossible for religious people whom we see as on the whole decent citizens whose concerns for human life and so on, even if we don’t agree with, we can see as sort of exaggerations if you like of something we all do care we really want that kind of world and I would also apply to catholic adoption agencies and I would say in that situation the approach of tolerance is superiors because it’s on the one hand supposing you are an atheist or an agnostic you can say well, for example, I support abortion but I do understand that people are concerned about the sanctity of human life, it’s not completely ridiculous and there’s a real lack of this kind of sympathy going on in our world today. Which I think is truly deplorable and on the one had you can say the tolerance approach is more built on what we sub standardly think whether you’re religious or not. On the other hand its more pragmatic, because you say look ok there are some [inaudible, 39:00]. But for that there are 50 that will. There’s only some pharmacists that are like this, and so in reality this creates a more tolerant world, precisely because it’s more situation and yet more pragmatic. Whereas if you insist on this rights based approach, you are going to create ever increasing achromous with it, and you will encourage religious extremism by reaction.

Audience Member 4:Tthank you very much indeed, my question perhaps follows on from the point you made just now about the all or nothing approach and perhaps respect that there are merits in the use [inaudible, 39:58]. Which groups are you pleasantly surprised or surprised, or optimistic about in their response to what you’re saying? Which groups are you disappointed or worried with?

John Milbank: I think in reality, I think if people were more allowed to negotiate things locally and inter-personally you would see that there is a lot of good will. I think the problem is that sort of a prevailing consensus that only thinks in terms of rights quickly switches to absolutes and though people have to sign up to those absolutes, they are frightened to not singing up to them and that in itself also produces and unpleasant populist reaction, because secretly people find this you know completely intolerable. So what I am pessimistic about I think is our public discourse and the way that actually the way this plays into the hands of religious and secular extremists, and I think I’m actually quite optimistic about most people. And I don’t take why the kind of…even though I read it…I don’t take quite the guardian view about what’s going on in terms of sort of post-fact post-truth and so on. On the contrary I think it’s sort of an instinctual popular reaction against the dominant cultural idea that there are only truths and facts on the one hand and sort of truth of private opinion on the other hand, or any sort of facts or rights if you like. Therefore there’s now inherent meanings in reality which all religions, you know, own up to. This is sort of vox populi vox dei, it’s some very [41.30 inaudible] way that people are sensing there is something wrong about this. Sometimes it’s almost as if the working class is much unchurched and speaking in a more religious tone the bishops.

Emma Webb: The gentleman here.

Audience Member 5: I was wondering about your point about viewing religion as communities and more so then individual belief systems. And I wonder if this creates a problem of perhaps overstating the importance of religious identity to individuals and that this means that rather than seeing religion as an identity it becomes more or less politicised according to circumstances [inaudible 43.25-42.27] of the larger groupings?

John Milbank: it’s a really good question I mean I think there is a big risk of politicisation of religion happening at the moment. And I think that’s partly because you’re getting a sort of [inaudible 43.21] reaction against liberalism and whereas in the past you know you had pseudo-scientific discourse about race and class, now they’ve all been exploded. The only way that nationalism can turn is in the direction of politicising religion as we’re seeing in Russia. And I think this is extremely dangerous. But I think the only way if you’d like to contest it I don’t think liberalism can contest it because it’s bound to produce this abreaction, I think the only way to contest it is if it goes the other way and is if you try to infuse these sort of thick cultural identities with a more genuinely religious aspect which would be, you know, more cautious more negative more [inaudible 44.27, more humble, more saying you know we don’t have the whole truth, we only have glimmerings of the truth, and…and, and a religious identity is joining us with the rest of mankind, you know transcends any national identity, but I think absolutely you’re right. For probably most people religion is a small amount of their identity but in so far as religions are kind of alive and active then it is to do with this kind of participation that involves a lot of peoples of lives that is the case with the black Pentecostal churches… a lot of them are very admirable in this city or in the case of you know…you know, church charitable and educational activism. In many ways it’s those kind of religious energies that you want. And you want to encourage, because they are more or less irreplaceable in terms of their motivation towards you know the care of other people, the sense of social justice and so on. I think…inescapably this involves making judgments about religions, is it a good thing or not? That liberalism tries to evade that…it can’t really evade that for reasons I’ve tried to set up.

Emma Webb: the gentleman at the back

Audience Member 6: yes thank you, I’m just a member of the society I’m not attached to anything in particular. Just listening to you though describes [inaudible 46.14-46.17] Islam. And listening to you it almost sounds like you want to absent Christianity from public square because you know for fear of offence you know I’ve sat through [inaudible 46.20] tribunals in this country and you know other law courts and stuff and there is no tolerance what so ever with a Christian [inaudible 46.37].

John Milbank: Well if you got that impression I’m saying the absolutely opposite.

Audience Member 7: Well you were arguing for in the sense that…well you haven’t said…you haven’t articulated it not causing to cause offense but the subtleties of not trying to just say what you believe and then articulating for that in the public square, there seems to be so much less just not…going down. You know so your example about France…there are other examples…you are either in or you are out and where we are at the moment is perfectly clear. The fact that Christians don’t speak coherently clearly and advocate for what they believe means that they are…

John Milbank: No no no no, I absolutely think they should be doing that I mean part of my argument is that a rights based approach or an approach that says it’s only about private belief, almost necessarily will insist that you know, public morality has to be construed into sort of wholly formal non-religious terms, it can’t recognise any positive shared goals it must be sheerly about negative liberty and so on. Now I am totally resisting all that, I’m saying that real religious tolerance would permit religions to speak in their own voice, act according to their own understanding within the public sphere. But of course, the idea that there are no restrictions on that is simply cloud cuckoo land. And in fact what I’m saying is given who were are in the west, the idea that we will not have some sort of Judeo-Christian-Hellenic bias is complete nonsense. So, so I’m basically supporting what you’re saying, but nevertheless, if you’re a Christian in the public realm or in the political realm you do need to think at two levels, you know you may totally agree with the Christian [inaudible 48.47] but you also have to enter into a public debate about what we can all agree on, and that actually is a religious duty as well, you know to ensure some sort of reasonable secular peace. So I’m, I’m far from….you know….I’m agreeing with you about this, but I’m not agreeing with a totally extreme variant of that because I don’t think that would get you anywhere or be justifiable.

Emma Webb: Gentleman here.

Audience Member 8: if you take a [inaudible…49.25] of Islam [inaudible 49.26-49.29] particular view on people who convert [inaudible 49.32-49.41], how do you…in terms of free will – I’m a Muslim, but I’ve become a Christian, that was my free choice here – but from a community perspective is how Islam [inaudible 49.52-49.55]?

John Milbank: An example is where…I’m trying to steer a middle course if you like…

Audience Member 9: I am the convert and I want to be able to live a free life…I don’t want to live in fear or have to need protection…

John Milbank: We’re not neutral on this one, we need Islam to go back to sort of where it was more in many places you know at the end of the 19th century where these kinds of views were started to be regarded as heretical by a strongly Sufi influenced Sunnism. You know we need the elements in Islam by Shiite, the Sufi…that actually have much more to do with oriental Christian [inaudible 50.52], be as explicit as you like, we need those to come to the fault. Because you know our understanding of what is acceptable from a religion, you know, does come out of a particular Christian background. It is intolerable for us that apostates will be persecuted! We absolutely have to insist on that. But you know I don’t go all the way down the line of people well saying   no Sharia at all”. There are plenty of examples of legal pluralism…in our own tradition…that it can’t conflict with fundamental principles about women, inheritance and so on. You know, it can’t be a total value [inaudible 51.37-51.40].

Audience Member 10: Only tolerant…that seems like an oxymoron, you can’t have tolerant Sharia. I mean [51.46] University [51.48] theological worldwide sense of peace of Islam in Cairo, and they were requested to state a Fatwa to describe the…or the Mufti was asked to say that the Islamic state was an apostate and they said “no”, and you know that is the word. So you know, they cannot say…they cannot declare regardless of a person’s sins, because the only way you enter and you become a Muslim is to just recite that phrase and so you know, personally I just think it’s kind of wishful thinking…

John Milbank: well I got two responses to that, first of all, watch your recommendation…I mean…total hostility toward Islam, or just treating it in terms of neutral rights. In either case you will just encourage the growth of Islamisation. The second thing is I would say is that….I mean there has been increasing influence of Wahhabism, Salafism, Sunni Islam has you know gone in an ever more protestant direction, you know that wouldn’t allow for tradition and what implications by tradition, when to allow for the cult of saints and so on. Incidentally, you got to learn that lesson about the danger of information but, the more it has gone in that direction you know the more earlier, the more accommodating developments…they may not have gone far enough…are being suppressed. And the point is Islam is here in the West, it is here to stay, it has become an [53.43] reality in terms of numbers so how do we deal with that? We have to hope that certain new developments are possible, and you know, in a country where there are a lot of Muslims who are also clearly Yorkshiremen and women through and through, I think the idea that this is completely impossible is just too pessimistic.

Audience Member 11: We’ve had a rule of law, we just need to implement it. We don’t need to…there is no reciprocity…that’s…that’s complete nonsense, you cannot [54.18] the number of churches in Saudi Arabia, and Qatar you know…Dubai, any of these places…

John Milbank: I completely agree with you, we need to insist on reciprocity. Absolutely, I am completely with you. I think that our de facto tolerance of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States for all kinds of political and economic reasons makes a complete nonsense of the idea that we are resisting radical Islam and that we do eventually need to insist on those things. I find it very strange to find myself in this debate because in several British universities I am regarded as an Islamophobe (laughs). Actually the idea that we can do whatever in terms of law is surely crazy because the reality is …were plenty of people were prepared guns and so on…that that can exacerbate the situation unless you know we deal with the thick cultural level of coexistence as one. I think of myself as a militant defender of the West!

Emma Webb: I think that is a good time to wrap up, we have run out of time unfortunately. But if you join me in thanking Professor Milbank. [Applause.]


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