Peers debate: radicalism


radical: characterized by departure from tradition, innovative or progressive (Oxford Dictionary of English)

[More from the House of Lords November 27th debate.]

Last November the Lords debated the role of religion and belief in British public life. Coming to the debate with a different angle on the role of religion was LORD HASTINGS OF SCARISBRICK, who stated that he wanted to change the general understanding of the word radical as something we despise.

He stated that as a Christian he believes that the life that Jesus promoted and spoke of was radical: people criticised Jesus for being associated with those that society despised.

He denounced materialism and thought that people should instead be in pursuit of the kingdom of god. These are radical truths.

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 18.30.02Lord Hastings went on to say that if radicalism is to be seen as a negative and the Church of England is to be known for its tolerance and mediocrity, we have lost something profoundly essential in our religious life. Faith and belief require radical living. Yet any sort of radicalism in our modern society is seen to be extreme. It is considered that if you have strong views, if you believe distinctly in certain values, that puts you “on the edge of unreasonableness”.

Lord Hastings claimed that this is exactly what would have been said of Jesus. Many of us would be happy to line up with him in his radicalism, which is the pursuit of justice, the sharing of commitment, the giving away of yourself.

This, he said, is the radicalism that we need to recover in our contemporary century. The radical pursuit of belief and of Jesus leads to defined and distinct action. Embrace of people rejected by our culture is not a tolerant place where we can all feel comfortable, it has to be about a radical place where we make distinct decisions and to choose to act with justice.

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 18.31.07Lord Parekh supported this view, pointing out that when most people talk about the good that religion can do, most are referring to charitable work, looking after the disadvantaged.

He suggested that in a liberal democratic society such as ours, religion can easily be co-opted into an “ameliorating” function, looking after the victims of society, but not challenging the society itself.

Lord Parekh said he would also like to hear the radical voice of religion, that aspect of religion that transforms the social structure (eg, in Christianity, the driving of the money changers from the temple) as this voice is rarely heard.

We welcome your additions to this debate.


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