An interfaith take on the Pope’s visit

Will the Pope address the impact that the Enlightenment has had on his Church?

I am particularly interested in relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims. With a papal visit to Britain imminent, I wish to reflect on what Pope Benedict XVI has to say -- and, sometimes, on what he doesn't say -- about the relationship between Christianity and other faiths.

Even though he hasn't yet arrived, there has been a great deal of publicity about the Pope's response to the paedophilia scandals that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church; discussions about the state of relations between Rome and Canterbury; coverage of the role of women in the Roman Catholic Church; as well as concerns expressed by people of other faiths about the extent to which the Bishop of Rome acknowledges (if indeed he does at all) the validity of their faith.

I doubt if the Pope will say much about any of these explicitly -- however much journalists would like him to -- but we can try to read the tea leaves when he makes his addresses and delivers his sermons. One thing we can be sure of is that Benedict XVI will warn us of the dangers of secularism, which, he will argue, undermines religion as well as the authority of the Church. He will emphasise Catholic Truth over and against what he will describe as the dangers of atheistic society and moral anarchy.

This is one way of seeing what has happened in western civilisation over the past 400 years, since the Enlightenment. The Pope is not a fan of the Enlightenment. At best, he suggests it is a mixed blessing and hostile to religious belief. In this, he is joined by other religious leaders.

But where would we be without the Enlightenment? As a Jew, I know where I would be: back in the ghetto.

Of course, it is not only Jews who owe a great deal to the Enlightenment. My Muslim friends and colleagues would still be known as Moors or Saracens, an epithet that the chroniclers of the Crusades applied to Muslims. In other words, without the Enlightenment, minority religious groups -- let alone those of no faith -- would have remained in the Middle Ages.

Without the Enlightenment, there would be no human rights nor democracy, but there would be continued Christian anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, persecution of gays and so on.

I don't expect that the Pope will acknowledge that many of the great advances in our society that have been made in the past 400 years have come secularism and the forces of the Enlightenment, not from religion. But I do expect him to address how Catholics should live with the consequences of the Enlightenment.

Some traditionalists in the Roman Catholic Church -- such as members of the Society of St Pius X, home of the Holocaust denier Bishop Williamson, among others -- reject all the values of the Enlightenment. They condemn the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which was a defining event for Catholicism in the 20th century and a turning point in the history of Jewish-Catholic relations as well as Catholic relations with other faiths.

Vatican II was convened for the purpose of aggiornamento or "updating", and it was in the spirit of Enlightenment that that the council initiated Church reform in a number of areas, including interfaith relations. According to the latest surveys, most Catholics in the UK would like to see more application of the values of the Enlightenment, such as an increased role for women.

So, one thing I expect to learn in the next few days is where the Pope stands on this, the tension between religion and the Enlightenment. In the UK, he will be walking a tightrope between traditionalists who reject the consequences of the Enlightenment and the majority of Catholics, who would like to see Enlightenment values more deeply embedded in the Church.

This will have implications for the role of women in the Church, relations with fellow Christians, fellow believers and fellow humans. Yes, all of us.

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Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley: "The Greens can win over Ukip voters too"

The party co-leaders condemned Labour's "witch hunt" of Green-supporting members. 

“You only have to cast your eyes along those green benches to think this place doesn't really represent modern Britain,” said Caroline Lucas, the UK’s only Green MP, of the House of Commons. “There are lots of things you could do about it, and one is say: ‘Why not have job share MPs?’”

Politics is full of partnerships and rivalries, but not job shares. When Lucas and Jonathan Bartley were elected co-leaders of the Green party in September, they made history. 

“I don't think any week's been typical so far,” said Bartley, when I met the co-leaders in Westminster’s Portcullis House. During the debate on the Hinkley power plant, he said, Lucas was in her constituency: “I was in Westminster, so I could pop over to do the interviews.”

Other times, it’s Bartley who travels: “I’ve been over to Calais already, and I was up in Morecambe and Lancaster. It means we’re not left without a leader.”

The two Green leaders have had varied careers. Lucas has become a familiar face in Parliament since 2010, whereas Bartley has spent most of his career in political backrooms and wonkish circles (he co-founded the think tank Ekklesia). In the six weeks since being elected, though, they seem to have mastered the knack of backing each other up. After Lucas, who represents Brighton Pavilion, made her point about the green benches, Bartley chimed in. “My son is a wheelchair user. He is now 14," he said. "I just spent a month with him, because he had to have a major operation and he was in the recovery period. The job share allows that opportunity.”

It’s hard enough for Labour’s shadow cabinet to stay on message. So how will the Greens do it? “We basically said that although we've got two leaders, we've got one set of policies,” said Lucas. She smiled. “Whereas Labour kind of has the opposite.”

The ranks of the Greens, like Labour, have swelled since the referendum. Many are the usual suspects - Remainers still distressed about Brexit. But Lucas and Bartley believe they can tap into some of the discontent driving the Ukip vote in northern England.

“In Morecambe, I was chatting to someone who was deciding whether to vote Ukip or Green,” said Bartley. “He was really distrustful of the big political parties, and he wanted to send a clear message.”

Bartley points to an Ashcroft poll showing roughly half of Leave voters believed capitalism was a force for ill (a larger proportion nevertheless was deeply suspicious of the green movement). Nevertheless, the idea of voters moving from a party defined by border control to one that is against open borders “for now” seems counterintuitive. 

“This issue in the local election wasn’t about migration,” Bartley said. “This voter was talking about power and control, and he recognised the Greens could give him that.

“He was remarking it was the first time anyone had knocked on his door.”

According to a 2015 study by the LSE researcher James Dennison, Greens and Kippers stand out almost equally for their mistrust in politicians, and their dissatisfaction with British democracy. 

Lucas believes Ukip voters want to give “the system” a “bloody big kick” and “people who vote Green are sometimes doing that too”. 

She said: “We’re standing up against the system in a very different way from Ukip, but to that extent there is a commonality.”

The Greens say what they believe, she added: “We’re not going to limit our ambitions to the social liberal.”

A more reliable source of support may be the young. A May 2015 YouGov poll found 7 per cent of voters aged 18 to 29 intended to vote Green, compared to just 2 per cent of those aged 60+. 

Bartley is cautious about inflaming a generational divide, but Lucas acknowledges that young people feel “massively let down”.

She said: “They are certainly let down by our housing market, they are let down by universities. 

“The Greens are still against tuition fees - we want a small tax for the biggest businesses to fund education because for us education is a public good, not a private commodity.”

Of course, it’s all very well telling young people what they want to hear, but in the meantime the Tory government is moving towards a hard Brexit and scrapping maintenance grants. Lucas and Bartley are some of the biggest cheerleaders for a progressive alliance, and Lucas co-authored a book with rising Labour star Lisa Nandy on the subject. On the book tour, she was “amazed” by how many people turned up “on wet Friday evenings” to hear about “how we choose a less tribal politics”. 

Nevertheless, the idea is still controversial, not least among many in Nandy's own party. The recent leadership contest saw a spate of members ejected for publicly supporting the Greens, among other parties. 

“It was like a witch hunt,” said Lucas. “Some of those tweets were from a year or two ago. They might have retweeted something that happened to be from me saying ‘come join us in opposing fracking’, which is now a Labour policy. To kick someone out for that is deeply shocking.”

By contrast, the Greens have recently launched a friends scheme for supporters, including those who are already a member of another party. “The idea that one party is going to know it all is nonsense,” said Bartley. “That isn’t reality.”

Lucas and Bartley believe the biggest potential for a progressive alliance is at constituency level, where local people feel empowered, not disenfranchised, by brokering deals. They recall the 1997 election, when voters rallied around the independent candidate Martin Bell to trounce the supposedly safe Tory MP Neil Hamilton. Citing a recent letter co-signed by the Greens, the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru condemning Tory rhetoric on immigrants, Bartley points out that smaller parties are already finding ways to magnify their voice. The fact the party backed down on listing foreign workers was, he argued, “a significant win”. 

As for true electoral reform, in 2011, a referendum on changing Britain's rigid first past the post system failed miserably. But the dismal polls for the Labour party, could, Lucas thinks, open up a fresh debate.

“More and more people in the Labour party recognise now that no matter who their leader is, their chance of getting an outright majority at the next election is actually vanishingly small,” she said. “It’s in their interests to support electoral reform. That's the game changer.” 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.