Apparently, militant secularists are threatening Britain. Well, according to the unelected Tory loud-mouth Baroness Warsi. It appears the Tories have decided that the Daily Mail-promoted bleating about Christians under attack is reaching the upper echelons of British political life.
Could we please have some bloody perspective? Secularism is about respecting the views of all. It has a strong and important history of opposing persecution by arguing that, regardless of your religious views or lack thereof, you should have an equal right to participate in the political life of your country.
There is nothing militant about the idea that one religious group should not dominate in the civil and political sphere. It’s an egalitarian impulse. The (not so) good baroness presumably thinks that because she’s not a Christian, she can spout off on these issues without the verbal battering the bleating Christians have received over the years. However, the reality is that she’s a conservative and an Anglophile (as anyone who saw her recent appearance on Question Time will know) and is promoting the conservative idea of Britain as a Christian country.
It’s always worth looking back at the history of what this means. It is true that Britain was a Christian country – or, at least, it was a country controlled by a particular strand of Christianity. England, in particular, has been an Anglican country since that brand of Christianity was invented under Queen Elizabeth I in the 16th Century. Catholics and other non-Anglican sects faced serious persecution in Britain from that point onwards – particularly in Scotland and Ireland. Of course, this had very little to do with religion and everything to do with political control of religion by the monarch.
Anyone who complains now that Christianity is under attack should wake up and look around the world. Religious persecution is a nasty and horrible thing that people do face around the world. Of course, it’s rarely simple and straight-forward as religion is tied to identity and often is part of struggles between different populations, e.g. Muslims in Kashmir in India, Hindu Tamils in Sri Lanka or animists in South Sudan.
Politely asking someone not to engage in prayer in mixed company or trying to develop historically religious holidays into more secular and inclusive festivals is not persecution. They’re positive signs of a diverse and multi-cultural society that asks for respect for all views and faiths.
What this country needs is more inclusiveness and more respect. There are social problems related to religion, but, more often than not, they’re based on real exclusion and persecution of religious minorities – Irish Catholics from the 1840s, Jews in the 1880s onwards, Muslims in recent times. Baroness Warsi, if she’s really interested in promoting religious fairness, should be saying a lot more about the Islamophobia that continues in parts of the UK media and less about a non-existent problem.
The myth of Christianity under attack is about a loss of power by the Anglican church that went hand in hand with the decline of the power of the monarchy in Britain. It’s not persecution to tell a former controlling power that they’re not in control any more and that society has moved on. I grew up in Ireland, a country that still needs a lot more secularism to end the domination of a church that proved to be as abusive as it was controlling. Secularism and inclusiveness are things that, in many areas, Britain is good at and this is what people should be proud of rather than seeking a return to a false golden age where religious discrimination was far more common.