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Monday, September 26, 2016
Text: Archbishop of York calls for 'gracious magnanimity'
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Dr John Sentamu
The Anglican Archbishop of York appealed for  'gracious magnanimity' in society - rather than mere tolerance. Giving his Inaugural City of Peace lecture this evening in Newcastle,  Dr John Sentamu said:  '"Tolerance, which is supposed to be the tool to help us deal with difference and disagreement has instead, become a negative virtue – a means of diminishment and marginalisation." .. "We desperately need in our society today to find a new way forward and a common vision ... rooted on our need for God, our need for each other and recognition of our interrelatedness."  The full text follows:

Good evening.  May I say how pleased and honoured I am to be invited to deliver this Inaugural City of Peace lecture this evening.

Thinking of peace reminds me of the story of the peace lamp.

A woman was walking along the beach when she stumbled upon a Genie's lamp. She picked it up and rubbed it, and lo-and behold a Genie appeared. The amazed woman asked if she was going to receive the usual three wishes.

The Genie said: "No ... due to the pressures on the economy, the credit crunch and zero interest rates coupled with the forthcoming General Election, I can only grant you one wish. So ... what'll it be?"

The woman didn't hesitate. She said: "I want peace in the Middle East. See this map? I want these countries to stop fighting with each other."

The Genie looked at the map and exclaimed: "Gadzooks, lady! These countries have been at war for thousands of years. I'm good, but not THAT good! I don't think it can be done. Make another wish."

The woman thought for a minute and said, "Well, I've never been able to find the right man. You know, one that's considerate and fun, likes to cook and helps with the housework.  Someone who is sensitive and romantic; gets along with the in-laws, doesn't follow Newcastle United wherever they happen to be playing, and is faithful. That's all I wish for ... a good mate."

The Genie let out a very long sigh and said, "O dear, let me see that map again!"

In a speech in Downing Street in December 2006, Tony Blair made the following statement on tolerance:

Archbishop of York Delivers City of Peace Lecture

Wednesday 03 February 2010

The Archbishop of York delivers the Inaugural City of Peace Lecture to Newcastle City Council.

Archbishop speaks _______________

GRACIOUS MAGNANIMITY VS TOLERANCE

Good evening. May I say how pleased and honoured I am to be invited to deliver this Inaugural City of Peace lecture this evening.

Thinking of peace reminds me of the story of the peace lamp.

A woman was walking along the beach when she stumbled upon a Genie's lamp. She picked it up and rubbed it, and lo-and-behold a Genie appeared. The amazed woman asked if she was going to receive the usual three wishes.

The Genie said, "No ... due to the pressures on the economy, the credit crunch and zero interest rates coupled with the forthcoming General Election, I can only grant you one wish. So ... what'll it be?"

The woman didn't hesitate. She said, "I want peace in the Middle East. See this map? I want these countries to stop fighting with each other."

The Genie looked at the map and exclaimed, "Gadzooks, lady! These countries have been at war for thousands of years. I'm good, but not THAT good! I don't think it can be done. Make another wish."

The woman thought for a minute and said, "Well, I've never been able to find the right man. You know, one that's considerate and fun, likes to cook and helps with the housework.

Someone who is sensitive and romantic; gets along with the in-laws, doesn't follow Newcastle United wherever they happen to be playing, and is faithful. That's all I wish for ... a good mate."

The Genie let out a very long sigh and said, "O dear, let me see that map again!"

In a speech in Downing Street in December 2006, Tony Blair made the following statement on tolerance: "Our tolerance is part of what makes Britain, Britain. So conform to it; or don't come here. We don't want the hate-mongers, whatever their race, religion or creed'. In other words, ‘Be tolerant or else!’


There is a certain ironic humour in his words though I doubt Mr Blair appreciated it at the time.  For he had put his finger on an issue which has challenged both philosophers and politicians for many centuries. 

That issue is, ‘how do we deal with people whose views we don’t agree with?’  Or, in a liberal democracy in which people live in freedom, how do we deal with those who are intolerant? Should we treat them with tolerance, even if it puts our own freedom in jeopardy?  Or are there limits to tolerance? Are there times when tolerance is not enough? 

The concept of tolerance is seen as one of the very core values of our society today. 

We see it as one of the quintessential things that makes us British along with championing the underdog, being willing to queue and showing kindness to animals.  Or that kind of conformity to etiquette which means that an Englishman travelling abroad on his own would be at a loss to ask directions of a passer-by because they hadn’t been introduced.

As Oscar Wilde observed: “The public is wonderfully tolerant.  It forgives everything except genius”.

We see tolerance, then, as the bedrock on which our modern society is based. It is the foundation on which modern civilisation is based in the West and it is the glue that holds us together. The past three centuries have seen the gradual growth and blossoming of the flower of tolerance which is now in full bloom. It is surely unthinkable to challenge the virtue of tolerance without unravelling the very foundations on which our society is based.

Yet this, ladies and gentlemen, is what I wish to do tonight.  In my lecture I want to persuade you why tolerance, as we experience it in Britain today is not enough as the core value on which to base our lives in civil society. In fact, I will go further, arguing that tolerance as it is practised in England today, is in danger of becoming a negative virtue, resulting in narrowness and in some cases, in oppression.

And I will show why we need to rediscover an older virtue, that of gracious magnanimity as a positive means of enabling us to build peaceful and harmonious communities together.  

Let me start by defining what I mean by ‘tolerance’.  The word comes from the Latin word ’tolerantia’ and the related verb ‘tolerare’ meaning to bear or to endure.

Tolerantia was also a political and judicial concept used in mediaeval scholastic theology and canon law. From the sixteenth century it was used In this country in the sense of a ‘permission’. And from the mid-eighteenth century, in relation to individuals, in the sense of ‘freedom from bigotry or severity’.  It also began to be used in this country with the meaning of ‘an allowable amount of variation’ from around 1868.

Nowadays, tolerance has retained the meaning of the act of enduring such as ‘my tolerance of noise is limited’. But it is also understood to mean ‘a fair, objective and permissive attitude towards those whose opinions, practices, ethnicity, religion, nationality, etc, differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.  It also has the meanings of ‘a fair, liberal, undogmatic viewpoint’.

It is certainly true that we have a good history of tolerance in this country.  In many ways, we have led the world in this area and it is worth briefly reminding ourselves of this history.

The greatest and probably the most famous advocate of toleration and liberty in this country was the philosopher John Locke. It’s probably why the following joke is told of him:

Why did the chicken cross the road?

And Locke answered: Because it was exercising its natural right to liberty.

Of course, the children’s answer ever since has been, ‘To get to the other side’.

Locke wrote towards the end of the 17th century, just after the English Civil War had seen the King deposed and executed under Oliver Cromwell and then the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II in 1688. Not that the previous period had been without signs of tolerance.

The poet John Milton had called for protection of both Jewish and Christian worship and Oliver Cromwell himself had allowed the return of the Jews to England.

But it was John Locke who, in the words of William Rees-Mogg, former editor of the Times, wrote a book that ‘changed the world’.

Locke was writing in the context of the aftermath of the Civil War and of the religious differences between Protestant and Catholics and between Anglicans and Dissenters. One of the key questions he was addressing was how people of different beliefs could live together in peace.  It is a very relevant question for us today!

In his Letter concerning Toleration, published in 1689, Locke argued for the total separation of Church and State.  He appealed for toleration on the grounds of human fallibility.  We cannot know, argued Locke, the absolute truth of religion because of our human fallibility. 

He believed it was irrational to persecute someone for holding what you consider to be the ‘wrong’ faith because you cannot coerce belief.

His Letter on Toleration, first published in Latin under the title ‘Epistola de Tolerantia’, spread rapidly throughout Europe and its impact, particularly in England was very powerful. In the same year the British Toleration Act was passed.

This Act granted freedom of worship to Protestants who had dissented from the Church of England such as Baptists and Congregationalists.  These Nonconformists were allowed their own places of worship and their own teachers and preachers provided that they were prepared to take the oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy to the Crown.

During the eighteenth century, the period of the Enlightenment, the pressure and appeals for tolerance grew.

One of its greatest proponents, the French philosopher Voltaire, saw toleration as a natural element of rational thinking.  Voltaire is famously reputed to have said: “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

Voltaire particularly focused his attention on the need for toleration and to curb religious fanaticism.

His Treatise on Tolerance (1763) arose from his own experience of persecution in France and the three years in which he sought refuge in England.

In Voltaire’s Letters on England, written whilst he was in exile here, Voltaire explored the intellectual and institutional foundation of England’s religious tolerance.

Although impressed by the tolerance and intellectual freedom he experienced here, he did not believe that this was necessarily due to the political system or the Church of England. Indeed he observed that,  “No one can hold office in the Church of England unless he is a faithful Anglican”.

Instead, Voltaire saw one of the main reasons for religious toleration in England compared with France was the very different attitude of the two countries towards trade. 

In France, the great majority of the aristocracy held those in commerce in contempt. Whereas in England, they were held in relatively high regard and it was not at all uncommon for younger sons of the nobility to enter trade.  For Voltaire, the impersonal nature of trade was a good thing because it enabled people to disregard those differences which had divided them, particularly religion and status in society.  The London Stock Exchange in his eyes was a magnificent symbol of this tolerance and unity:

Go to the London Stock Exchange – a more respectable place than many a court – and you will see a representative from all the nations gathered together for the utility of men.  Here Jew, Mohammedan and Christian only deal with each other as though they were of the same faith, and only applying the word infidel to people who go bankrupt. Here the Presbyterian trusts the Anabaptist and the Anglican accepts a promise from the Quaker.

On leaving these peaceful and free assemblies some go to the Synagogue and others for a drink, this one goes to be baptised in a great bath in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, that one has his son’s foreskin cut and some Hebrew words he doesn’t understand mumbled over the child, others go to their church and await the inspiration of God with their hats on, and everyone is happy’

I’m sure there are lessons here for all you members of the business community in Newcastle!

This development of toleration continued and in a way, has found its culmination in the twenty-first century Britain. In the last fifty years, we have seen the passing of acts guaranteeing civil liberties, equal opportunities for all, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, colour, religion, and freedom from discrimination.

These are acts we can rightly be proud of. They have helped to ensure that Britain is a world leader in many areas of tolerance, civil liberties and respect for human rights. In what I am about to say, I do not wish, in any way to cast doubt on these achievements.

But having said this, the picture regarding tolerance in this country is not perfect now, neither has it been so in the past.

I believe we have come to the point when we need to acknowledge this, to recognise other aspects of our history which affect the present. We also need to open our eyes to see what is actually happening in our society and in our cities today in the name of tolerance and the negative impact this is having.  Let me explain what I mean.

Part of the problem is that we tend to see our history of tolerance  through rose-tinted spectacles. 

In this vision, the seeds of tolerance were planted with the signing of Magna Carta, germinated after the English Civil War in the 17th century, flourishing in the Enlightenment and came to a  glorious fruition in our present age. It is a scenario of continuous growth of tolerance, with enlightened notions of religious pluralism, personal freedom and humane treatment of everyone, whilst challenging those who would try to impose a single belief system or ideology on our people.

But if we take our rose-tinted spectacles off and look at our history more closely, we will see that the picture has not always been so rosy. 

First of all, we have not always been as tolerant as we would like to believe. In an article in the Guardian in 2002, Tristan Hunt took issue with what he termed “an unholy alliance” between Jeremy Paxman and the government’s “patriotism envoy”, the Labour MP and government minister, Michael Wills.

In a slightly tongue-in cheek article,  Hunt argued that these two had corrupted the idea of Englishness, leading us to believe that the English are ‘a pragmatic, politically acquiescent and innately tolerant tribe’.  Yet his study of English history which he had carried out to make a TV series about the English Civil War, showed the English to be a passionate, revolutionary and frequently brutal people.

He quotes a number of examples.  In the 1640s, the English went to war against themselves, the Scottish and then the Irish in a savage conflict that killed more than a quarter of a million people – the greatest loss of life prior to the First World War. As Hunt points out, what sparked it off were the supposedly un-English attributes of fervent religious belief and deeply-held political principles.

There was also little evidence of the English tradition of tolerance in Oliver Cromwell’s massacres in Catholic Ireland, the abolition of Parliament and the introduction of military dictatorship. 

Nor was there much tolerance in subsequent centuries in the brutal suppression of the Jacobites in Scotland, the enforcement of Anglican supremacy in England, our acceptance of the Atlantic slave trade and some of the crimes of Empire.

We also need to remember that for much of British history since the time of Locke, toleration was not generally considered as an end in itself but as a means to an end.  That end was usually to achieve a peaceful society or a peaceful government. Thus Locke, for example, did not extend his programme of toleration as far as atheists and Roman Catholics. Locke’s call for toleration was based on freedom of worship.

He believed that each individual should be free to participate in an organised religion of their choice provided that it did not conflict with the stability of the State.

Today, toleration is regarded, by a large number of people, as a negative rather than a positive virtue although this is not often openly admitted. Tolerance has become a restricting quality – a grudging ‘putting up - with’ rather that a positive means of building a caring, peaceful society.
 
The problem with this is that it does not give us the means of voicing and dealing constructively with differences. 

We give people private space but do not encourage public discussion and debate on key areas which are seen as ‘difficult’ such as religion, immigration, the optimum funding for public services.   In consequence, these areas of difference are thrust into the margins where they do not go away but instead, tend to fester.

A similar trend can be seen in France in relation to the use of the word ‘tolerance’.  There too it has become understood, at least in part, in the sense of something you put up with rather than as a positive virtue.  An amusing example of this is the description of French brothels as ‘maisons de tolérance’! Houses  of tolerance!

I therefore believe that for all our judicial tolerance, Britain has become in many ways, a less tolerant society today.

One of the main areas in which we see this is in the government’s treatment of Religion which they now prefer to call ‘faith communities’. The Equality Bill which is going through the House of Lords, had contained a ‘Genuine Occupation Clause’ which would have made it very difficult for a religious group to employ someone of that religion for a position within their organisation, except in the very restricted role of leading worship, explaining or proclaiming doctrines. 

Thus a church wishing to employ a youth worker would have been unable to advertise for Christians, and priests from other parts of the world would find it increasingly difficult to preach or work in churches here unless it could be demonstrated that there were no suitable local candidates.

This is symptomatic of a trend which has intensified in Britain over the past fifty years in the name of tolerance.

That is, an attempt to remove religion from public life. And in the process, tolerance, which is supposed to be the tool to help us deal with difference and disagreement has instead, become a negative virtue – a means of diminishment and marginalisation.

Today, many people imagine we are living in an increasingly secular age.  At the same time, the Church has taken something of a battering from critics. Some of these are uncomfortable about the church’s role in the public square, preferring to relegate it to the private sphere. 

These are the people who would prefer we didn’t talk about ‘Church’ schools and instead talked about ‘faith’ schools where all faiths could be conveniently blended together and kept in a safe place – a process of ghetto-ization at work in a ferocious and insidious way.  They are the ones who would ban talk of Christmas in public places and would advocate a bland ‘winter wonderland’ or ‘Winterval’ instead.

They are not all hostile to religions in general or the Christian religion in particular. They simply don’t want it in the public square.

However, the 2001 census figures show us that we should be less fearful of claiming our religious heritage. It will be fascinating to see what happens in the 2011 census.  Religion is a core aspect of people’s identity and should not be relegated to the private square.

This has happened both at the level of political theory and in practice as Professor Roger Trigg has highlighted in his book ‘Religion in Public Life -  ‘Must faith be privatised?. As Trigg points out, it is profoundly dangerous to cut religion off, from making any public truth claims or from being able to share in any overarching reality. He states: “Once part of human reasoning is enclosed in one compartment, the same considerations can lead to a distrust of all human reasoning.

We need to assert the rationality of belief in God, and the right for religion to play its proper part in public life and policy–making in this country.

And here we see the limits of tolerance, particularly as it is applied in our society today.  

Morally, if we don’t have any common vision or values, we can’t operate effectively either as individuals or as a society.  Instead we are in a moral vacuum for we can’t tolerate everything. There is also the philosophical dilemma which faces us today more than ever before – how does the tolerant society deal with the intolerant.  Both the philosopher Karl Popper and John Rawls have argued that you have to take steps to limit the impact of their intolerance.
 
Using tolerance as sole principle to determine our political and civil life doesn’t work.  

As Charles Taliaferro wrote: “If one is to ban from political decision-making, all the theories of the cosmos and values unless they are held by every possible person, there is very little left”.  In other words, if we have no overarching vision, no principles and values in common, we may ‘tolerate’ others but we cannot resolve differences nor can we build a common life together, tackling the big issues which face us today.

This is why I argue that tolerance is not enough.  We desperately need in our society today to find a new way forward and a common vision. 

This is a vision rooted on our need for God, our need for each other and recognition of our interrelatedness.  We cannot say  “I can do without you”  for we all rely on each other for our well-being.

It’s not a question of merely ‘putting up with’ or tolerating each other for this is merely a negative virtue. Unless we are all involved in developing and achieving a new vision, it will not work. 

We need the practical contribution that all of us can and must make.

Our communities must surely be models of that Heavenly City, places which give us a glimpse of what heaven will be like. Communities of reconciliation, love and justice, which share in the foretaste of God’s eternal kingdom cannot be monochrome.

The vision of the Holy City is one of a place filled with people from all nations, coming together with all the treasures of their culture and civilization.  Nothing is excluded from the Holy City except that which is contrary to the character of God.  

But to realise that vision here on earth, needs all of us to help.  As the poet, John Donne, tells us in his Meditation XVII,  “No man is an island, entire of itself…. any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind.”

The present urgent needs of our brothers and sisters in Haiti is a powerful reminder of this.

As Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has pointed out, “We need to build our home together”. But for this to happen, we cannot allow religion to be relegated to the private sphere.  For it is only by working together that we can do this.

This is why I argued at the beginning of this lecture that we need to rediscover an older virtue than tolerance. 

This virtue is gracious magnanimity. This offers us a positive way of enabling us to tackle difference and to build peaceful communities that really work.

What is this concept of ‘gracious magnanimity?  Well, we find it in the New Testament part of the Bible, often translated in slightly different ways but with a similar meaning.  The Greek word (epieikēs) is translated as “moderation” (Phil.4:5) and its noun, (epieikeia) as gentleness, graciousness (in Acts 24:4, 2 Corinthians 10:1;). 

It is also translated as "lenient" (1Timothy 3:3); "conciliatory" (Titus 3:2) , "forbearing" (James 3:17) and "reasonableness" (1 Peter 2:18).

So in St Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he writes: "Let your moderation be manifest to all.  The Lord is near".  (Philippians 4:5)

In other words, the apostle Paul is saying to his Philippian friends:

"Let your moderation, patient mind, softness, magnanimity, gentleness, graciousness, forbearing spirit be known to all.  The Lord is at hand."

Or, put differently, "Let all the world know that you will meet a person half-way.

These aren’t necessarily virtues that spring to mind in our present competitive age. 

We are more likely to hear the language of people asserting their rights, waving the terms of the contract under someone’s nose and getting in first.  Yet it is these positive virtues of gracious magnanimity which I believe could help us to transform our country today.

Aristotle also discussed gracious-magnanimity in the Nicomachean Ethics.  He says at gracious-magnanimity (epieikeia) is that which is just and sometimes that which is better than justice (Eth. Nic. V. 10.6).  

It corrects the law when the law is deficient because of its generality.  And he compares the person who is graciously magnanimous (epieik275) with the person who is immoderate (akribodikaios.) 

The person who is immoderate  is the person who stands up for the last title deeds of their legal rights; but the person who is graciously magnanimous  knows that there are times when a thing may be legally completely justified and yet morally completely wrong. 

A person has the quality of gracious-magnanimity if they know when not to apply the strict letter of the law, when to relax justice and introduce mercy. 

Similarly I would say, a graciously-magnanimous Church has a responsibility to both affirm moral standards and to ensure that its rules don’t seem rigorous to the point of inhumanity.  That should also be true of all civic authorities. That should be true of all of us.

At the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa a woman was at the hearing about her son’s murder.  The police officer who had ordered the brutal killing was there, shamefacedly hearing read out the details of what he and his colleagues had done. At the end the room was quiet. The chair of the commission, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, asked the woman if she had anything to say to the man who had killed her son.

She responded: “I am very full of sorrow. So I am asking you now – come with me to the place where he died, pick up in your hands some of the dust of the place where his body lay, and feel in your soul what it is to have lost so much. And then I will ask you one thing more. When you have felt my sadness, I want you to do this. I have so much love, and without my son, that love has nowhere to go. So I am asking you – from now on, you be my son, and I will love you in his place.”

She went on to say –  “I can say this – I can only do this,  because Jesus loved me and gave himself up for me.”

Jesus is able to change this ‘eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ world into a ‘lion lying down with the lamb’ world.

Why should a person be like this?  Why should they have this joy and gracious,gentleness in their life?

If we remember that life is short, we will not wish to enforce the stern justice, which so often divides people but will wish to deal with people in love, as we hope that God will deal with us.  Legalism is human, but gracious-magnanimity is divine.

As Jesus of Nazareth in St Matthew’s Gospel says: “In everything do to others as you would have them to do you; this is the Law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12).  Sadly it is often a case of “Do it to others before they do it to you.”

And so, the basic and the fundamental thing about gracious-magnanimity is that it goes back to God.  If God stood on his rights, if God applied to us nothing but the rigid standards of law, where would we be?  God is the supreme example of the one who is graciously-magnanimous and who deals with others with gracious-magnanimity. 

We see strong examples of this in the Bible. The story of the judgment of Solomon where two women come to see Solomon. 

They are fighting over a baby and both mothers claim that the baby is hers.  One of the  mothers has just lost a baby.  As neither will confess whose child it is, Solomon orders for the baby to be cut in half and a half given to each mother. 

At this, the real mother of the baby cries out that the other woman can keep her baby.  She shows the quality of gracious-magnanimity so that her child may live.

In another incident in the life of the early church, Jewish converts and Gentiles were sometimes struggling to live together without conflict.  They wound each other up by such simple things as the food they ate and where it came from. So St Paul urged the Gentile converts, not to eat food which had been previously offered to idols nor to eat meat.  This was not because these things were wrong, but because the grief and upset it could cause to relatively new converts might weaken or even destroy their faith.

From these acts of gracious magnanimity, we can learn what we can achieve if we learn to love our neighbour as ourselves.  How we can build a common vision, build our communities and bring peace by what we give and not by what we demand; by active
participation and not by claiming our rights and Blaming Someone Else (BSE)!

You are already doing many of these things here in Newcastle so well, with your City of Peace Initiative. 

It is helping to reduce inequalities, to tackle prejudice, safeguard the vulnerable and to build up a new vision and understanding. It is an initiative for which you may be rightly proud.

My prayer for Newcastle in the months and years ahead is that you may hold fast to this vision, that you work with humility, good humour and imagination together to build-up your common life.  May God bless you, Newcastle and may the fortunes of Newcastle United ever flourish.

Let gracious-magnanimity be your bench-mark.

We are still human and the chorus to the song ‘Anthem’ by the Canadian writer, Leonard Cohen reminds us that there can be a point to our lack of perfection:

'Ring the bells
That still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
'

Thank you for listening.

 

 


 

 



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