Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Does religion have a place in the 21st Century?

Yes, according to the vote following the Cambridge Union  Society's debate on the 31st of January this year. Rowan Williams and Richard Dawkins were invited were the acknowledged stars of the event. To me, the real stars were Tariq Ramadan and Douglas Murray. Tariq Ramadan is Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University, Faculty of Oriental Studies. Douglas Murray is a former director of the Centre for Social Cohesion, currently associate director of the tink tank Henry Jackson Society.

It was perhaps no surprise that the motion "Religion has no place in the 21st Century" was well defeated (by 324 votes to 136). A vote against it would be a vote against reality – we are in the 21st century and religion seems to be here to stay, at least for a while longer.

Rowan Williams and Richard Dawkins maintained their known positions – no surprise there and no breakthrough.

The surprise of the evening  -  I thought - came from Tariq Ramadan. He spoke strongly against dogma. We got used to the Church of England admitting that some of the things in the Book need updating, but other religions abandoning dogma? If this were really a trend, then a real dialogue between religious and non-religious could become possible. And if the atheist camp would take Douglas Murray's cue and start to appreciate what it is that religions do offer to their followers that atheism does not, then the debate could move away from relentless disagreement and take a genuinely respectful and even constructive turn.

I though Douglas Murray's speech was just brilliant. Here is a transcription of  its final part:
“The deal in the 21st century must be this […] Religions must have no ability to dictate law or to dictate the lives of people who do not follow those religions. [...] Religion will have to concede that. But the non-religious should make a concession too. The non-religious should accept, in the 21st  century, that it is not the case that religion has nothing whatsoever to say. It does. It has  a voice, it has a contribution to make. […] If the 21century is to work [...] it will involve religion knowing its place, but it will also involve atheist and secularists knowing that their place is not to dismiss, deride and laugh at as meaningless something which seeks for meaning.”

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