"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"

Greta Christina

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Eric Pickles reminds us we are all Christians in Britain

Eric Pickles has a piece in the Telegraph this week about how we are a Christian nation and how it’s good for society and how it shapes our morals and blah blah blah! It’s a bunch of pious nonsense that relies on the old tropes of Christians as victims of “aggressive secularism” that completely ignores the unwarranted privilege we still award to this state sponsored superstition.

Eric Pickles

Christianity in all its forms has shaped the heritage, morality and public life of Britain; and Christian belief continues to influence our society for the better.
“Christianity in all its forms” Really? are we including the Puritan witch hunts here, or the Catholic inquisitions? Are we including Irish sectarianism? I will grant that certain liberal interpretations of Christianity are very much on a par with the moral sentiments of the British people at large, but the influence is in the other direction. Christianity’s putative tolerance and inclusiveness (confined to a particular strain of Anglo-catholicism incidentally and not a feature of Christianity otherwise) is derived from the civilising and moderating influence of the enlightenment and secular morality, without which it would be imposing its intolerance and excercising its control unchecked.
Christians continue to be positively involved in public life, from the role of Anglican bishops in scrutinising legislation in the House of Lords
Yes they do: why is that? What is it that gives twenty-six purveyors of sophisticated fairy tales the right to pronounce on the laws and policies of a democratic nation. Let’s stop them doing that shall we?
Religion is the foundation of the modern British nation: the Reformation is entwined with British political liberty and freedoms, the King James Bible is embedded in our language and literature, and the popular celebrations of the Royal Wedding and Diamond Jubilee placed the Church side by side with our constitutional monarchy.
For a start the Reformation in Britain (more properly in England) had a lot more to do with Henry V111’s sexual and financial ambitions than it did to political liberty and freedoms. In fact when the Church of England did emerge other reformist groups were penalised and the Catholic Church was made illegal. Again it is secularism that protects political and religious freedoms, not religion.
As the for the King James Bible, sure some of the more florid and poetic passages have entered and enriched the English lexicon, so has Shakespeare and Chaucer, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the sayings of Confucius. So what? Just because this particular translation of the bible, which in any event was more a political and literary exercise than a divine one, has spawned a million clichés doesn’t make it a foundational document or morally relevant.
Pointing out that royal events are associated with the monarchy is circular reasoning par excellence . We have a constitutional monarchy and a constitutional religion, of course they coincide, the rules are set up that way.
To suggest that Christians in our country are literally persecuted would be to demean the suffering of those around the world facing repression, imprisonment and death. We should, however, recognise that long-standing British liberties of freedom of religion have been undermined in recent years by aggressive secularism, especially in the more politically correct parts of the public sector.
Well I’m glad that Eric Pickles understands the difference between persecution and legitimate criticism but it’s a shame he doesn’t make the distinction between freedoms and privileges. Once again secularists are “aggressive” for trying to maintain religious neutrality in government and public life. But, what are these freedoms we are so aggressively denying Christians?
We are committed to the right of Christians and people of other beliefs to follow their faith openly, including by praying in public and promoting their beliefs – as well as wearing religious symbols. Employers, especially in the public sector, should not stop employees wearing visible religious symbols except where there is a common-sense reason, such as a genuine safety risk. Banning discreet religious symbols for reasons of political correctness is not acceptable. We should challenge the nonsense that religious displays could “cause offence” and therefore should be hidden from view.
Ah! This again, because of course Christians all over the country are being prevented from praying and wearing crosses and crucifixes for no reason other than it might "cause offense". As pointed out before, none of the recent stories involving religious attire have been anything other than about resricting jewellery for practical or corporate policy reasons, and as far as I know people can pray in public wherever they like on their own time and this “aggressive” secularist has no desire to stop them. However…
 We have resisted a legal challenge by the intolerant National Secular Society to ban town hall prayers. We have changed the law to safeguard and entrench the right of councillors to pray at the start of council meetings should they wish, as has been the British tradition for centuries.
…this I do object to. Praying to Jesus at council meetings is not the freedom to pray in public, it is privileging one religious worldview over others on taxpayers' time and money, it excludes the many people in all communities who have either no interest in the Christian God or who actively appeal to other deities. Christian councillors who want to make public affirmations of their Christian belief are free to do so on their own time and out of their own pockets, but not on my dime thank-you very much. It may have been a “British tradition for centuries” but that was in the days when being religious and Christian was a default position (largely because we didn’t know any better) and before significant portions of our society were Muslims, Sikhs, atheists, agnostics, Wiccans, Druids, Jews,Jedis, Jains, Buddhists, Hindus etc.
Talking of which
The interpretation of human rights laws cuts both ways: just as we have resisted gold-plating made in the name of religion, so we must resist spurious legal challenges against religion. Nor should we allow equality laws to open the door to moral relativism and reduce established religion to the equivalent status of any other belief. We should not be bashful about asserting that the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church have a greater role to play in the public life of our nation than the Church of Elvis or the Church of Scientology.
And why not? It sounds a reasonable argument when you frame it in terms of Elvis and Scientology, both obviously made up religions, but where do you draw the line.? Mormonism is a made up fringe religion, but claims to be Christian, do LDS groups not get a say? There are many pagan groups out there following made up versions of older religions, what about them? Or the Calvinist protestant traditions that made up their theology of presuppositionalism when it split from Roman Catholicism, do they count? What about the Muslims and the Jews and and the Hindus, many from the regions of former British Empire, why should we not value their viewpoints?
I know this is a reductio absurdum but the point is all religions are made up, some of them were just made up longer ago than others and the fact that we have traditionally followed (or enforced) one religion over another is no reason to continue to do so.
We live in a society that contrary to the rhetoric of conservatives, is more inclusive, more tolerant, more peaceful and more equal than ever. It has not got this way because of Christianity: the last bastions of state approved bigotry are only still there because the Church is fighting reform tooth and nail, as it did against abolition of the slave trade and universal sufferage. We are not the nation we are because we are a Christian nation, but in spite of it.

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