Christianity key in development of Western culture, says Martin

Debate between faith and culture vital for healthy growth of pluralist society, says Archbishop

Debate between faith, culture and social values “is vital for the healthy growth of a pluralist society,” the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said.

Insisting he was “not advocating a return to a theocracy,” he said: “I am challenging believers to find a language from our own rich faith tradition which can be understood and welcomed in a pluralist world.”

In a first for a Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, he was delivering the sermon at evensong in Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday afternoon, on the eve of the feast day of St Laurence O'Toole. It followed an invitation from the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson.

Where faith and contemporary culture were concerned he and Archbishop Jackson shared "a realisation that this is a challenge for the churches not just individually but ecumenically," Archbishop Martin said.

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He had been “very struck by a book review I read over last weekend which reflected precisely on the contribution of faith to a more secularised world. People have, in many ways, lost that historical understanding of the contribution of Christian belief to the development of Western culture. This is often the fault of the way we live as churches,” he said.

"Historically speaking the author noted that the contribution of the Christianisation of Europe was that of 'a new idea of a voluntary basis for human association in which people joined together through love and will rather than blood and shared material objectives'," he said.

This was “precisely the point of contact which we as believers should be seeking to address in our pluralist society,” he said.

“My author speaks about faith being ‘a prophet crying in a postmodern wilderness’ and he notes that ‘shorn of its establishment baggage, Christianity still has much to say to an amnesiac world about human dignity, political freedom and economic inequality’,” he said.

‘Disenchantment’

Archbishop Martin was referring to The Evolution of the West: How Christianity Has Shaped Our Values a book by Nick Spencer, research director at Theos, a religious think-tank in London. His book was reviewed in the Economist magazine earlier this month.

But, Archbishop Martin noted: “disenchantment with religious faith is not nearly as widespread as some who forecast the end of religion might prophecy.”

However: “the churches urgently need to find new language for such engagement and the churches must build bridges of new and perhaps surprising partnerships.”

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times