In Spiritual capital and progressive localism Chris Baker (writing for online magazine Public Spirit) outlines a vision of society that accepts the full religious and secular diversity of Britain today and is able to embrace the ‘spiritual capital’ of both religious and secular organisations.
Quoting the philosopher Jürgen Habermas he suggests:
… that we have moved from a secular public sphere to a postsecular one; namely,
‘a …. self-understanding of society as whole in which the vigorous continuation of religion in a continually secularizing environment must be reckoned with’.
We no longer live in a tidy and ideologically pure public sphere where only the secular counts as ‘public’ and religion is allowed to function only in the ‘private’.
This identifying of the public sphere as ‘post secular’ seems to resonate with my experience and understanding of the way the outward work of the church and its organisations is making an increasing contribution to public life. Apart from a vociferous minority, many people and organisations (including, in my field, schools) seem comfortable and welcoming of the involvement of the church as partners in a plurality of provision that shares a common aim, that of addressing social issues together. This is borne out in the well deserved public recognition of larger Christian organisations working to serve their locality, such as The Message Trust in Manchester and XLP in South London, as well as the lesser known but just as vital services offered in towns and cities across the nation like the primary healthcare centre, Beacon House, in my own town of Colchester. To this I would also add the thousands of Christians who contribute appropriately and responsibly to the pastoral support, spiritual development and other needs of young people and their schools.
Baker elaborates on the post-secular public square, the importance of spiritual capital and the implications for a progressive localism agenda and I recommend reading the whole article. His conclusion sets out a vision, and perhaps challenge, for the church as one of the contributors towards the goal of flourishing communities:
More informal and fluid spaces in the postsecular public space are also opening up, which means that churches and other faith communities are uniquely placed to play a more explicit and creative role as political powerbrokers on the ground. The ‘cultured despisers of religion’ in certain media and academic circles will continue to complain, but the reality is that increasing numbers of leaders and citizens are more open than ever to allowing space for progressive (i.e. outward–looking) religion to deploy its wisdom, experience and resources. Not only in leading debates, but also acting as political hubs for emergent networks and affinity groups committed to creating flourishing localities.
If I may be allowed a momentary religious exclamation, “Amen to that.”