Another day, and more pissing and whining from religious leaders that faith is being driven out of public life by ‘militant secularists’ – seriously, that’s the Telegraph‘s front page today. Inside, Baroness Warsi gripes that ‘religion is sidelined, marginalised and downgraded in the public sphere.’ There is nothing like taking to the airwaves or the national newspapers to complain that you are being ‘marginalised’.
This is a periodic flare of self-pity from the UK’s religious establishment. Last year, the Chief Rabbi moaned that basic equality legislation constituted an attack on religious freedom. Lord Sachs complained that:
I share a real concern that the attempt to impose the current prevailing template of equality and discrimination on religious organisations is an erosion of religious liberty… We are beginning to move back to where we came in in the 17th century – a whole lot of people on the Mayflower leaving to find religious freedom elsewhere.
Are you thinking: if only! If only they would just sail away to some other place and leave the rest of us to get on with our lives!
Warsi and the Anglican cleric George Carey have taken their cue from a recent row over council prayers. A judge has ruled that prayers at Bideford Town Council are unlawful under statutory local government legislation. You can imagine the reaction. Warsi pledged that she would use her upcoming visit to the Vatican to demonstrate that the UK is still a Christian nation whatever Devon’s secular Gestapo says. She writes:
For me, one of the most worrying aspects about this militant secularisation is that at its core and in its instincts it is deeply intolerant. It demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes – denying people the right to a religious identity because they were frightened of the concept of multiple identities.
Well, Iranian and Pakistani Christians might envy our ‘militant secularism’. I think, though, that there are problems with the approach used by the UK’s secular pressure groups. Of course we need a formal separation of church and state. But even Americans have to put up with public prayers and the meaningless, mainstreamed signifiers that religion has left with us. To fight Thought for the Day makes us look petty and stupid when there is real religious censorship and intimidation out there.
Richard Dawkins was on the radio today arguing that many people who self-identify as Christians don’t truly count as such in the traditional sense: ‘Many of them don’t go to church, they don’t read the bible – an astonishing number couldn’t identify the first book of the New Testament… they just tick the Christian box.’ Giles Fraser protested that people should be able to self identify how they like, and he’s right. The point is that increasingly even Christians don’t have faith as central to their lives, and their faith is so diffuse and content-free that it is never going to satisfy the government and hardline bishops who want a glorious Christian nation.
The political class is way behind the public on this. The UK is an inversion of the vulgar Marxist idea of faith. The rulers and elite intellectuals embrace spiritual propaganda and superstition while the common people have long discovered the joys of thinking for themselves. The religious establishment will lose because our alternative is simply better: more creative, fulfilling and interesting, the secular space offers far more for atheists and, in almost all cases, far more for religious believers as well.