Sayeeda Warsi sits in the House of Lords and serves as minister without portfolio in Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet. This week, she will lead a British delegation to meet with Pope Benedict at the Vatican. In advance of her meeting, she has written a piece in today’s Telegraph that is bound to get attention.
Baroness Warsi writes that secular Europe should be more comfortable with religion. In fact, she argues that Europe should recover its Christianity. When she meets the Pope, she writes:
I will be arguing for Europe to become more confident and more comfortable in its Christianity. The point is this: the societies we live in, the cultures we have created, the values we hold and the things we fight for all stem from centuries of discussion, dissent and belief in Christianity.
These values shine through our politics, our public life, our culture, our economics, our language and our architecture. And, as I will say today, you cannot and should not extract these Christian foundations from the evolution of our nations any more than you can or should erase the spires from our landscapes. . . .
Of course there is a crucial caveat to all of this. I am not calling for some kind of 21st century theocracy. Religious faith and its followers do not have the only answer. There will be times when politicians and faith leaders will disagree. What is more, secularism is not intrinsically damaging. My concern is when secularisation is pushed to an extreme, when it requires the complete removal of faith from the public sphere. So I am calling for a more open confidence in faith, where faith has a place at the table, though not an exclusive position.
What makes these sentiments somewhat surprising is that Baroness Warsi is a Muslim. In fact, she is the first Muslim woman to serve in a British cabinet. Her remarks are similar to those of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who last fall wrote nostalgically about his memories of growing up in the Christian Britain of the 1950s. At least for some members of minority faiths in Britain, it seems, a faith-based culture — even if the faith is not one’s own — is preferable to a militantly secular culture in which all faith is deprecated.