Brett Lock has linked to this article by the Bishop of Rochester, one Right Rev Dr Michael Nazir-Ali.
Lock is very critical of this guy, and he is right to be. The faux-philosophical language conceals, as Lock puts it, a ‘much more duplicitous agenda’.
Forget Nazir-Ali’s technique of trying to claim biblical origins for existing progress and freedoms. We all know that a great deal of secularist and freethinking individuals of the time were burned and racked by the Church.
Nazir-Ali’s main point is that Christianity has been in decline since the 1960s. No argument there. But why?
Callum Brown has argued that it was the cultural revolution of the 1960s which brought Christianity’s role in society to an abrupt and catastrophic end. He notes, particularly, the part played by women in upholding piety and in passing on the faith in the home. It was the loss of this faith and piety among women which caused the steep decline in Christian observance in all sections of society.
Notice the weaselly ‘Callum Brown has argued’ – here Nazir-Ali states his case without having the guts to claim it for his own.
It is this situation that has created the moral and spiritual vacuum in which we now find ourselves. While the Christian consensus was dissolved, nothing else, except perhaps endless self-indulgence, was put in its place.
We are on familiar ground here – the collapse of faith has led to binge-drinking, reality TV, Sex and the City and all the other fripperies of our decadent consumerist society. The worst part of secularism for Nazir-Ali though is immigration:
One final value which deserves to be mentioned is that of hospitality. It is indeed ironic that Britain had to cope with large numbers of people from other faiths and cultures arriving at exactly the time when there was a catastrophic loss of Christian discourse. Thus Christian hospitality, which should have welcomed the new arrivals on the basis of Britain’s Christian heritage, to which they would be welcome to contribute, was replaced by the newfangled and insecurely founded doctrine of multiculturalism.
Translation: not only have we let in too many Asians, we failed to convert them to Christianity! Yet worse is to come:
But we are now confronted by another equally serious ideology, that of radical Islamism, which also claims to be comprehensive in scope. What resources do we have to face yet another ideological battle?
… i.e. how can we defeat Islamic fundamentalism? Good question. But naturally Nazir-Ali has the solution:
Our investigation has shown us the deep and varied ways in which the beliefs, values and virtues of Great Britain have been formed by the Christian faith… Is it possible to restore such discourse to the heart of our common life? Some would say it is not possible. Matters have gone too far in one direction and we cannot retrace our steps. Others would be hostile to the very idea. They have constructed their lives and philosophies around the demise of Christianity as an element in public life, and they would be very inconvenienced if it were to put in an appearance again. It remains the case, however, that many of the beliefs and values which we need to deal with the present situation are rooted in the Judaeo-Christian tradition.
Look at the sentence I’ve highlighted. The ‘beliefs and values’ Nazir-Ali says we need are apparently rooted in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Can they be found anywhere else? Apparently not:
While some acknowledge the debt which Britain owes to the Judaeo-Christian tradition, they claim also that the values derived from it are now free-standing and that they can also be derived from other world-views. As to them being free-standing, the danger, rather, is that we are living on past capital which is showing increasing signs of being exhausted. Values and virtues by which we live require what Bishop Lesslie Newbigin called “plausibility structures” for their continuing credibility. They cannot indefinitely exist in a vacuum.
So even if you buy Nazir-Ali’s dubious premise that values such as the rule of law, respect for life, freedom and equality originated from Christianity, apparently we cannot abide by these values outside of Christianity. Since these values are the only way to defeat terror, then there’s nothing for it but this:
The question, then, is not “should faith have a role in public life?” but what kind of role it should have… At the same time, government will have to be increasingly open to religious concerns and to make room for religious conscience, as far as it is possible to do so.
Or, as Lock says:
The bishop is attempting to rally all those lapsed and apathetic Anglicans – who, frankly, probably don’t even think about religion other than during hatched, matched or dispatched ceremonies, to the cause.
‘Civilisation needs you to be Christian’ he seems to be saying.
This is a predictable reaction to the Church’s increasing irrelevance as society migrates towards secularism. In an attempt to corral support, he needs to turn people of other religions – principally Muslims – into scapegoats.
He is trying to force people to define themselves by their religion – or worse – by the religious tradition they were born into – whether or not they still embrace it.
His ambition is to make “Christian values” synonymous with “Western Values” – even though the two are often at odds with each other.
I’d go further: I think Nazir-Ali’s article is a very sophisticated version of the Eurabia conspiracy theory. This is a rightwing fringe idea that is being coaxed into the mainstream. The figures most responsible for it are the writer Bat Ye’or and the DJ Mark Steyn. As Johann Hari explains:
[Ye’or] argues that Europe is on the brink of being transformed into a conquered continent called “Eurabia”.
In this new land, Christians and Jews will be reduced by the new Muslim majority to the status of “dhimmis” – second-class citizens forced to “walk in the gutter”. This will not happen by accident. It is part of a deliberate and “occult” plan, concocted between the Arab League and leading European politicians like Jacques Chirac and Mary Robinson, who secretly love Islam and are deliberately flooding the continent with Muslim immigrants. As Orianna Fallacci – one of the best-selling writers in Italy – has summarised the thesis in her hymns of praise to Ye’or, “Muslims have been told to come here and breed like rats.”
Indeed, the theory features an obsession with birthrates and a use of quasi-medical terminology that carry a disturbing historical resonance. Melanie Phillips, Ye’or’s British admirer, would agree with Nazir-Ali that universal values of tolerance and liberalism will not do the job. Approvingly she quotes another of Ye’or’s disciples:
As Tom Bethell wrote in this month’s American Spectator: ‘Just at the most basic level of demography the secular-humanist option is not working.’ But there is more to it than the fact that non-religious people tend not to have as many children as religious people, because many of them prefer to ‘enjoy’ freedom rather than renounce it for the sake of children. Secularists, it seems to me, are also less keen on fighting. Since they do not believe in an afterlife, this life is the only thing they have to lose. Hence they will rather accept submission than fight.
So, in Phillips’s own words: ‘it is vital that Britain and Europe re-Christianise if they are to have any chance of defending western values.’ The answer to a threat from religious fundamentalism is… more religious fundamentalism!
I’m sorry to say that this lunacy has infected even some liberal secularists. Christopher Hitchens talks of rebuking an atheist comrade:
Sam Harris, a Jewish warrior against theocracy and bigotry of all stripes, had written that it was often fascists who made the most sense when talking about immigration to Europe. The last statement had truly shocked me… I was therefore writing about the way in which the battle over Islamism was making good people wonder aloud about saying or thinking unpleasant or ungenerous things.
And Martin Amis said that:
If every inhabitant of a liberal democracy believes in liberal democracy, then it doesn’t matter what creed or colour they are. If, on the other hand, some of them believe in Sharia and the Caliphate (and believe, too, that slaughtering the attendees of ladies’ night at the Tiger Tiger discotheque is a good way of bringing that about), the numbers start to matter.
No, Martin – it doesn’t matter. Because, as David T of Harry’s Place said: who says that all Muslims are going to think in exactly the same way? Don’t generational changes matter (how much in common do you have with your grandad?) To assume that every Muslim in Britain will automatically want Wahabbi fundamentalism is both a) genuinely racist and b) betrays a shocking lack of confidence in ‘Western’ – actually secular and universal – values.