Sunday, June 26 2016

Reflections on Baroness Warsi's speech on 'militant secularization'

There was continuing coverage in the papers on Wednesday on Baroness Warsi’s visit to the Holy See as head of a British delegation comprising of seven government ministers.

Her speech in full can be read here.

Rev Dr Giles Fraser, former canon chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral, wrote in The Guardian reflecting on the unspoken implications of the call for “Defending Christianity” in our society in ways that “becomes code for defending Britain against Muslims.”

He wrote:

“…why is it that intolerant religion and intolerant anti-religion are increasingly taking centre stage in our national debate? In the one corner The Richard Dawkins (anti-faith) Foundation is wanting to tell people who call themselves Christians that they really aren't Christians at all – as if Richard Dawkins were the ideal arbiter on this subject.

“And in the other corner, the likes of Lord Carey (busily promoting his new book) and Eric Pickles are complaining bitterly that Christians are being victimised and pushed out of the public square. Yesterday, chair of the Conservatives Lady Warsi warned that a "militant secularism" was taking hold. This, too, is nonsense. Suddenly, debates over religion are getting nasty, with both sides beginning to look more and more like each other: both angry, both agreeing that Christianity has to be literally understood and evangelically expressed in order to count as the real thing.

“Richard Dawkins's claim that he regards Islam as "one of the great evils in the world" is the very epicentre of the new atheist credo. Again, many conservative Christians would share this view. Defending Christianity as a vital part of our national identity easily becomes code for defending Britain against Muslims, just as attacking religious belief in general neatly fits alongside a hostility towards Islam. The often unacknowledged common enemy is multiculturalism.

“The reason why those on the outside of this debate ought to care is that, as the experience of American politics abundantly shows, disagreements over religion have the capacity to grow into some ideological black hole, with a gravitational pull to suck all other debates into its orbit.

“The very idea of a liberal society was invented (again as a response to the English civil war) as a means of providing a political environment for very different people to live alongside each other in peaceful co-existence. At the heart of this liberal vision is the idea that the rule of law is to be applied to all, without fear or favour. Thus it applies to Abu Qatada as much as to those not wanting to hear prayers in Bideford town hall.”

The Daily Telegraph printed letters in response to Lady Warsi’s claims of a “militant secularization” taking hold in Britain. And The Independent ran a double page spread titled “No secularism please, we’re British” in which Peter Popham argued, “…the fanaticism of the Islamists has provoked an equally intolerant and intemperate reaction from secular and other quarters, with the ban on headscarves in France and on mosque-building in Switzerland and the rabid anti-Islam rhetoric in the Netherlands; while in Britain it has produced a sudden lurch of opinion among our noisiest public intellectuals against any and all religion.”

Last Updated on Sunday, 18 March 2012 22:18

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