Changing Britain: Multicultural or not? (part 2)

by Philip S. Powell, 1st September 2016.

(the first part is here)


Brick Lane Street Signs (Credit: James Cridland, CC BY 2.0)

Let me offer a few brief comments as an immigrant from India who has lived in the UK for seventeen years. Cultural and religious diversity is a social fact. Not everybody who is British belongs to the same culture or ethnicity. Therefore it must be possible to belong to the same country and be loyal citizens, without having to belong to the same culture. The Bible affirms cultural diversity and we are called to celebrate cultural otherness (Revelation 7:9-10) as a sign of the richness of God’s gifts given to humankind. Diversity is a sign of national strength and it must be protected. But there is the other side: the richness of God’s gifts given to humankind is affected by human sinfulness. Not everything is every culture can be affirmed or embraced. There is a threshold beyond which religious diversity and the multiverse of faiths become a threat to national life. So for example, it is never acceptable for a man to beat his wife, no matter what his religion or culture, and British laws that protect the weak stand above cultural values.

But there is a real danger that in trying to protect against the disintegration and segregation of society based on religion, we tacitly or explicitly try to promote the notion that Britain is a ‘Christian Nation’ and ought to be one. This is unacceptable even for many White British people. While Britain has historically been informed and formed by the Christian faith, since the end of WWII, we have increasingly become a secular and pagan society. Post-Christendom and religious diversity are a matter of fact in public life. Equality and human rights are the new dogma. However, this does not mean secularism is now the only acceptable official state religion. The real danger here is that religious voices are silenced from speaking with religious words in the public sphere. No true religious person can simply discard their deeply-held religious identity when they engage in the public sphere. Even for non-religious people, secularism is an identity issue and matters for their public engagement.

So what is the way forward? Outright simplistic rejection of multiculturalism is unhelpful. The issue is how to do multiculturalism better. Here I want to make two key points that I cannot elaborate due to the brevity of space. One, we must develop a thick notion of citizenship that goes beyond thin notions of tolerance. The values of citizenship take time to develop, sometimes a generation or two, but we must keep aiming to promote them. All citizens, White or Black, Christian, Muslim or Secular, should take pride in their country and be willing to play their part in making Britain a better society. Secondly, the end goal of public life is justice and human flourishing. Rejecting multiculturalism and blaming immigrants can become a convenient distraction from dealing with some very real structural issues of social injustice. To take one example, questions must be asked whether the financial services sector in the City of London has a too dominant a role in the UK economy at the expense of other sectors, especially where this has contributed to increasing inequality. People from all faiths and cultures can come together as citizens and work towards reforming our debt-based economy that is so damaging to families and communities.

Ultimately, I believe, taking pride in being British cannot simply be about the number of gold medals we win in the Olympics. There has to be something more substantive. What matters is that the majority of British citizens feel they belong to a country that is just and good. The White working-class taxi driver and the Pakistani-born corner-shop owner should both feel they are fairly rewarded for their hard work and have the free-time and resources to enjoy family and social life. This is the kind of multicultural Britain I want to belong to.

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Category: Blogs

September, 2016

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