Archbishop of Canterbury: 'why social cohesion needs religion'

 The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams has given a wide-ranging lecture yesterday in Singapore, at the Building Bridges Conference. In his lecture Dr Williams discusses the position of the "absolute truths" of faith over and above political power, and how this plays out in a society where several faiths co-exist: "Does disagreement about truth necessarily mean the violent disruption of social co-operation? I shall be arguing that it does not, and that, on the contrary, a robust view of disagreement and debate between religious communities may play a major role in securing certain kinds of social unity or cohesion". The Archbishop acknowledges that violence has been part of the history of all religions: "Despite Jesus' words in John's gospel (Jn 19.36), Christianity has been promoted and defended at the point of the sword and legally supported by extreme sanctions; despite the Quranic axiom, Islam has been supported in the same way, with extreme penalties for abandoning it and civil disabilities for those outside the faith. There is no religious tradition whose history is exempt from such temptation and such failure". Dr Williams argues strongly against the idea that religious diversity is at odds with social cohesion, but conversely, that it can help strengthen social harmony - if governments are willing to listen to the views of the faith communities: "The notion that social unity can be secured by a policy of marginalising or ignoring communities of faith because of their irreducible diversity rests on several errors and fallacies, and its most serious and damaging effect is to give credibility to the idea of a neutral and/or self-evident set of secular principles which have authority to override the particular convictions of religious groups... this amounts to the requirement that religious believers leave their most strongly held and distinctive principles at the door when they engage in public argument: this is not a good recipe for lasting social unity". Source: ACN

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