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Religion Is Being Excluded From Public Life, warns Bishop

Bernadette Kehoe - The Tablet - Fri, Mar 2nd 2018

Political activism in danger of excluding religion from public domain, according to the Bishop of Portsmouth

Political activism is seeking to exclude religion and religious expression from the public domain, according to the  Bishop of Portsmouth, Philip Egan.

Bishop Egan also said it is urgent to argue the case for theology in a university, and for religious education in schools.

Otherwise, he warned, religiously illiterate law-makers and policy-makers will place "ever more draconian restrictions" on religious freedom.”

In a lecture at St Mary’s University in Twickenham, based on Cardinal John Henry Newman’s "The Idea of a University", Bishop Egan said the book touched on such contemporary questions as, "What makes a Catholic school Catholic?"  He said today’s context  has become one of mission and evangelisation within a secularised culture, largely toxic to Christian values:

“Catholic schools used to have low educational standards yet they produced strong adherents of faith, whereas today their high educational standards tend to produce successful citizens weak in faith."

Bishop Egan said Cardinal Newman’s argument that a university should have a theology department was a rejection of secularism within education – but he could never have anticipated the wide-ranging impact of the religious, political, economic and social revolutions of our own times: “Political activism seeks to exclude religion and religious expression from the public domain, from schools, institutions and national life: not simply freedom of religion but freedom from religion. Consequently, many in today’s society are religiously illiterate; they no longer understand their own cultural heritage nor the heritage of the immigrant traditions now in Britain.”

Recalling Pope Benedict’s warning in his Regensburg Address, that in Europe a loss of faith is dissolving the foundations of ethics,  Bishop Egan said the case for theology was urgent: “Surely a Catholic university like St. Mary’s is uniquely placed for this task, a crucial task, indeed a salvific anthropological mission?"

He said Cardinal Newman’s book remains a hugely helpful navigational tool in an era in which economics, performance and bureaucracy seem to dominate academic concerns: “Anecdotally, in our schools many teachers and students see science as true and religion as personal opinion. This view is also widely communicated in the media and so constitutes a massive challenge.

He continued: "If students were taught how the human mind works, the false dichotomies put between science and religion would be overcome.”

Bishop Egan said Newman’s "Idea of a University" remains a classic, a timeless book of abiding importance: “Idea remains even still a ‘go-to’ book that anyone seriously concerned with higher education can read with great profit.”

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