Christianophobia and secularism


by Dave Osler    
8:53 am - December 6th 2007

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Far from being on the margins of British life – as Conservative MP Mark Pritchard weakly tries to argue – Christianity maintains a prominence far in excess of that merited by its number of adherents. However much the Tories would like to see the emergence of a cohesive ‘religious right’ core vote in the UK, the evidence is that the social base for such a phenomenon it simply does not exist in this country.

Last time I saw any statistics, only 48% of Britons described themselves as belonging to any religion at all. Some 14% said they do not know who Jesus Christ is, and a further 22% believed he is ‘just a story’. Yet one Christian sect has been singled out as an official state religion, with its leadership given a voice in legislation through seats in the House of Lords. Christianity alone enjoys the protection of the blasphemy laws.

Extensive government funding is available to schools with a ‘Christian ethos’, even if that entails the teaching of creationism in science classes. Nor is anybody seriously arguing, pace Pritchard, that we should forget the Christian contribution to the arts, science, and culture. But this is best achieved in examining the ideas that inspired Milton or Newton in actual context. To judge by his website, Mr Pritchard is an enthusiast for nuclear weapons and Israeli membership of NATO, although his concept of Christian charity seemingly does not extend as far as immigrants.

But oddly enough, he bases his spurious ‘Christianophobia’ claims on the same tenet that most of the secular left would also use as a starting point: ‘Freedom of speech and of religion are fundamental principles of any liberal democracy.’ This is exactly the point. A true liberal democracy can only be premised on a separation of church and state. Precisely because we all want freedom of speech and freedom of religion, it cannot be right for the state to compromise such freedoms by privileging any one religion over any other.

Christianity competes in the free market for ideas on the same basis as other ideologies, and stands or falls by how far it succeeds. As many intelligent Christians would surely agree, believers cannot rightly ask for any more than that.
cross-posted from Dave’s Part

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About the author
Dave Osler is a regular contributor. He is a British journalist and author, ex-punk and ex-Trot. Also at: Dave's Part
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Our democracy ,Religion


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Reader comments


The usual annual tripe (and Mark Pritchard’s speech) about schools not doing nativity plays was being shown on GMTV. Fiona “Paxman” was “grilling” a rather genteel member of the National Secular Society. Apparently, only 1 in 5 schools (no further info. given) do nativity plays now!

I want freedom FROM religion.

It is as easy to overestimate as it is to understate the impact of religion in the life of this country. Which is all to the good.

Secularism involves not only separation of church and state from each other, but of all the formal estates (military, judicial, medical, financial, industrial, trade etc) from government. That this effective separation isn’t always formally recognised within the upper house of parliament explains the continuing confusion that exists as each competes to work the system more effectively when their turn comes around.

I am constantly surprised at the religiosity of our irreligious society. Despite so few conscious adherents and practising churchgoers, this is most definitely a catholic society (in the best sense of the word). For sure we are far more diverse, inclusive and multicultural than even the next best, but it’s because we are so informal and personable that we hold our deep-held identity so lightly.

We are open, we are welcoming and we are humble – so it’s hardly surprising that whatever overt religious sentiment there is in the country is no automatic constituency for the proud, xenophobic, angry imperialist mob. And theres a certain charm in that.

#1
Dig a little deeper into that 1 in 5 number from the Telegraph, and you find that in fact 2 schools in 3 perform the Christian Xmas story or a twist thereon. That’s way out of proportion to the number of UK citizens who describe themselves as Christians

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7125171.stm

To provide an argument for an expanded vision of secularism we only need to look at the constitutional crises that have developed in Venezuela and Pakistan since executive governmental and miltary authority were unified.

everyone so far has discussed the issue around Christianity as a religion, whereas there are some of us who find it more of a belief, a following, (hence the word christ ian meaning follower of Christ).

a lot of people who say they are christian, if you asked them about their beliefs only believe there is a God and infact some of them would actually upon personal reflection be either atheistic or agnostic. the crisis is not over whether we are loosing our religion, but more over are we loosing our understanding of what it is to be a Christian.

when the phrase Christianity first came into use, Nero decided he would call himself one because he heard it was the in thing to be. he did it as a crowd pleaser. sometimes in our modern society i feel this is the same for our politicians and celebrities. it makes me wonder if they truley christian or are they going to a religiously christian church.

however, some of the new legislation that has come out so that we don’t insult others can be insulting to us who call ourselves Christians and act as christians. for example not allowing Christians to wear crosses or any Christian effects is quite silly as they are our personal views and we ARE supposed to be living in a free state. not to sound racist, but we were there first it is our country that other faiths came to, so they should adhere to our views, as we have to when we go to their countries, an example recently was of that school teacher and the teddy bear. sometimes it can get out of Hand.

i come from Northern ireland , where our country was torn over what started as religious views and it ended with people using the phrase of being christian as a reason for the fighting. it can get out of hand so people should inspect themselves as i did when reading the above info, and see where they stand as individuals with their beliefs.

“we were there first it is our country that other faiths came to, so they should adhere to our views”

Yeah, I agree, bloody Christians coming over here and taking our jobs and our women with their stupid Sky Pixie Cult. We should all be out embracing the trees in our groves…

6. “however, some of the new legislation that has come out so that we don’t insult others can be insulting to us who call ourselves Christians and act as christians. for example not allowing Christians to wear crosses or any Christian effects is quite silly as they are our personal views and we ARE supposed to be living in a free state”

You can wear what you want within public decency, but if you’re talking about the BA row then you’re really getting your contexts mixed up. You not wearing a piece of cross jewellery (and surely the money spent on that diamond prayerpiece would be better going to help the needy…eye of the needle and all that…but I digress) isn’t a sin of your religion like not wearing the appropriate clothing of Sikh or Islam religions. To even try and compare the two is like comparing apples and oranges.

“but we were there first it is our country that other faiths came to, so they should adhere to our views, as we have to when we go to their countries, an example recently was of that school teacher and the teddy bear. sometimes it can get out of Hand.”

We have to follow their LAWS, which again contextually is a different kettle of fish. If we had laws saying “don’t you dare worship anyone other than Christ”…aside from me needing to emmigrate as soon as possible people would have to live with that law until they managed to change it. I didn’t see anyone locking up that teacher because she said she was a Christian.

This is all yet another example of playing the victim when there is no crime being committed against you.

Lee – In other words judgements about what is and is not allowable “faith dress” in public, or exemptions from mandated dress codes are made on the basis of which faith pronounces a failure to adhere to their standard the most offensive, with the winner being the one that encapsulates that offence in law.
On that basis, presumably you would have no issue with christians wearing crosses provided a law was passed stating that the wearing of “non-christian dress” (there is no such thing, nor is there un-islamic dress, it is a purely cultural construct ) was a punishable offence ?

And he’s not playing the victim, he’s asking for reciprocity.

Personally speaking I’d be happy for clothing with big D&G or FCUK symbols plastered all over them be banned, as they always make me want to point and laugh, and I don’t really like causing offence or confusion.

9 – What I’m saying is allowable is garments/items that cannot otherwise be lost without impacting on the daily ritual of the person wearing them. A Christian does not need a cross to do anything but to aide worship which, I think we can all agree, isn’t something that should be done on company time anyway. Therefore isn’t the difference between a piece of jewellery and a hijab pretty apparent?

If a company has dress codes and policies then you need to follow them, the Muslim women wearing their Hijabs are doing so in the practice of their faith, a woman wearing a necklace with a cross is just wearing a necklace that states her likely faith, where is the reciprocation needed here?

It’s all about being the victim…you can’t stand what the other person is supposedly “allowed to do” while you are being “prejudiced” against for your own faith. It’s an understandable argument but ultimately too simplistic to warrant any credence.

Given the time of the year it is as well I believe it’s borderline insulting to bring up this subject again. While people like Richard are squabbling over non-issues such as articles of faith while at work millions of people in this country that aren’t Christian still don’t have the luxury of state holidays for their religious holidays, masses of companies that still inflexibly only offer significant time off at traditional Christian holiday periods technically leaving those that wish to take time off to celebrate their own religion at appropriate times to have less flexible leave, and lets not even get into appropriate facilities for worship during the course of the day for those religions that require multiple acts of prayer.


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