The politically correct response to living with other faiths is one of tolerance and mutual respect.
All very well in theory, but it turns out to be much more complicated than that, and the government’s ‘Prevent’ strategy highlights how tolerance can be taken advantage of and abused for reasons that are not democratic in the secular sense that we hold dear in this country.
In my class last night we had a discussion about this. My students all agreed that they felt threatened by the mushroom growth of other faiths in our city. We explored this a bit. Although in theory they agreed that it should be fine, clearly their emotions and gut feelings were saying something very different.
There was a feeling of being ‘outnumbered’. They were of the opinion that our government is over-tolerant, and is storing up trouble for itself as a result. Although ‘we’ have a proud history of giving sanctuary to those fleeing war, starvation and persecution, and although this is legitimate, necessary and desirable, the result of having boundaries that are too vague is resulting in a society where they now find themselves a minority in their belief, surrounded by other faiths some of which have a reputation for being aggressive.
We talked it through. At the end of it, I said that I am of the opinion that we Christians have got used to being ‘the majority’ and to ‘having influence’. Those days are over. We need to adjust to the new realities, of being in a minority of faith and of having our influence eroded away.
I believe this will be good for us, and force us to work out what is baby, and what is bathwater. What are we really here for, and are we fulfilling our calling? We can no longer rest on our laurels. We have to roll up our sleeves and take our place in a positive way in a market of ideologies and lifestyles. That is, after all, how the Christian faith started.
My students were not convinced, and were as anxious at the end of the discussion as at the beginning. An Indian student, who is here as a self-funded PhD researcher, told us that her country would not dream of giving permanent jobs to non-nationals. We would be welcomed, and able to follow courses or work temporarily – but permanent jobs are for nationals.
I know very little about the policies of other countries on this matter, but it would be most interesting to find out what some of them are, and see if there is anything we can usefully learn that would be constructive.