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Archbishop's Speech on The Role of Religion in Politics

Wednesday 4th June 2008

The Archbishop of York has today launched a scathing attack on the consumerist values of society warning of the dangers for a society "which has given the market the role of moral guardian".

In a speech to the Institute of Jewish Policy Research on 'The Role of Religion in Politics' Dr. John Sentamu warned of the impact of the "rapacious consumerist appetite" and "unfettered rights and entitlements" as undermining community social bonds and moral duties of obligation in looking out for one another.

In his speech the Archbishop warned that emphasis on individual economic status risked a wider community well being: "Our country's politics is capable of being driven by morals based on improving not only our own economic well being but also that of our neighbour, of improving society not just our own lot. However the individualism of consumption and the vaunting of individual economic status over our communal well being has led to a politics which has given the market the role of moral guardian. In such a situation it is the weakest who are the first to the wall."

The Archbishop also warned that New Labour's language of "rights and responsibilities" had suffered as a result of a combination of consumerism and entitlement:

"One of the many mantras of the New Labour party of a decade ago was that of 'rights and responsibilities': the idea that along with entitlement comes obligation. Unfortunately the impact of a rapacious consumerist appetite upon this mantra has led to the situation where seemingly unfettered rights and entitlements have come to the fore whilst responsibility has not simply gone out of fashion but seems to have fallen off the radar. The language of social justice may ring out in the phraseology of policy makers but it is a hollow call if at the same time our duties to one another, our responsibility to care for and look out for one another is lost."

Defending the role of Religion in the Public arena and upon politics, Dr. Sentamu argued that religion "enables politics to rediscover our duties and obligations to one another, to focus on service and community and to maintain a sense of liberty as a bulwark against an over-reaching state."

The Archbishop also argued that the role of religion was to ensure that Governments maintained a broader vision for society's beyond its economic well being:

"The trumpet which was once the herald of this nation's greatness was the imperative of moral responsibility, of doing the right thing, where what was right was informed by a faith based understanding....the moral imperative of doing the right thing is in danger of being replaced by the consumerist imperative to buy the right thing. And to buy it now, whatever the cost."

Dr. Sentamu also argued that religion could act as a bulwark against state interference where the state went too far in encroaching upon personal liberty:

"Our current Government is in danger of sacrificing Liberty in favour of an abused form of equality – not a meaningful equality that enables the excluded to be brought into society, but rather an equality based on dictat and bureaucracy, which overreaches into the realm of personal conscience."

"Such petty mindedness can be combated with the generosity of the Divine which can be found at the heart of faith and which religion at its best safeguards through the valuing and encouragement not only of the voiceless but of all.  Human rights without the safeguarding of a God-reference tends to set up rights which trump others' rights when the mood music changes.

Our society needs once more to rediscover the compassion and service at the heart of religion."

"With the vision and direction provided by religion politics can renew itself and become once more that which we can all seek to engage not only for the benefit of ourselves but for the benefit of our neighbours." 

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