Coming in the week that the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, talked about the Bible as foundational to our national culture, journalist and broadcaster Libby Purves chaired a Theos debate on citizenship. The event followed on from the publication of a Theos report earlier this year entitled Red, White, Blue and Brown: Citizens, Patriots and the Prime Minister. The report analysed Gordon Brown’s use of patriotic rhetoric, his understanding of national identity and his vision for citizenship.
Introducing the evening, Director of Theos, Paul Woolley, said: “What constitutes a good citizen? What processes do we need to bring this state of affairs about? And what role can or should faith play in building citizens? Everyone recognises that religion has a remarkable ability to divide societies, but can it also bring people together? If theology is set to flex its muscles in public, how can we ensure the public square doesn’t end up looking like a boxing ring?”
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown argued that religion, especially at a national level, can act as an obstacle to creating good citizens. Luke Bretherton disagreed, pointing to the importance of religious faith as an important source of social capital. Dominic Grieve MP spoke about the moral and practical limitations of government action in producing good citizens and the inconsistency of people’s attitudes at times towards their neighbours with Stephen Backhouse adding that “I would like to see my government spend less energy trying to make me feel nationalism and more time empowering me to do neighbourliness.”
To listen to The Times on-line podcast of the debate, click here.