Friday, 10 February 2012

Christianity Under Attack

As I am writing this it is around 10pm on a Friday night. Yet the morning headlines have already been written. In particular, the Daily Mail has offered us something quite profound for the masses to get hysterical over.

The headline has been generated because of a landmark ruling in the High Court. The report is here. Here is an excerpt...

"Atheist former councillor Clive Bone started the case against Bideford town council in July 2010, claiming he had been ‘disadvantaged and embarrassed’ when religious prayers were recited at formal meetings.

Backed by the National Secular Society, he insisted that the ‘inappropriate’ practice breached the human right to freedom of conscience and discriminated against non-believers, making them feel ‘uncomfortable’.

The society claimed council meetings should be ‘equally welcoming to everyone in the local community’ and should therefore be ‘religiously-neutral’."

The emphasis is mine but I see in no way how this position could discriminate against any person. Religiously neutral. It protects every viewpoint. No prominence of one religion over another. Sounds like a perfect set of circumstances to thrive in.

"Communities Secretary Eric Pickles described the ruling as ‘very illiberal’.

He said: ‘The ruling is surprising and disappointing. Christianity plays an important part in the culture, heritage and fabric of our nation."

It is not illiberal... it is religion neutral. That Christianity is part of our heritage means nothing whatsoever. It was part of the culture of the British Empire to utilise slavery but it would have been a crass argument for its retention pre-Abolition.

"Harry Greenway, a former Tory MP and ex-chairman of the National Prayer Breakfast, said: ‘If people do not want to attend prayers of this nature, they can stay away instead of meddling and busybodying with other people’s beliefs.

‘Non-believers are not harassed in this way by believers. Why cannot the non-believers show the same kind of tolerance?’"

Perhaps Harry Greenway might like to read the paper he is being quoted in which reported that a street preacher got off scot-free after screaming out pious abuse at a gay couple. Yup, the believers really keep their faith to themselves.

The trouble is, people like Greenway always play the victimisation card. The trouble is that the most oppressed minority in the history of mankind has always been those without faith who have had to see societies ripped apart over arguments about whose god is better or whose holy book contains the right information.

So no, Christianity is not under attack. It is simply having to conform with a modern and progressive society which states that all religions are equal. It might be a painful process but it is necessary.

Only people with faith could suggest that their own religion deserves prominence. No Muslim, in their right mind, would argue that a Hindu society deserved their religious customs to be observed because of time honoured traditions. The same applies here in Britain.


Anonymous said...

I was actually a little troubled and dismayed by this. That someone would take the trouble to go to the High Court over what appears to me a relatively trivial matter. Praying before meetings does seem a rather strange tradition but this country has many and that is not always such a bad thing because it sets us apart from the rest. This action does rather suggest that non believers are doing the very thing they often accuse various religions of doing - imposing their views on others.

I am not religious but am strongly in favour of religious tolerance whereby all children are taught in depth about all religions but are not forced into following or believing in any one in particular. That works well at my sons school and they are a shining example of how to get the balance just right. To be honest I think no matter what religion you are or whether you are a non believer, we should all grow up a little on this.

In my family and circle of friends there are orthodox christians, catholics and C of E and hindus and all sorts. Having had some education and interest in history and religion I have some strong views. (for example I am very negative about how the Catholic Church has behaved over the centuries) However, I still join in celebrating the religious holidays with my friends and family. In fact we all do because it is sociable, respectful and actually quite interesting to learn about different beliefs and customs and the way people celebrate.

Two examples of religious intolerance and tolerance I can recall clearly from attending Christmas events at my sons old primary school a few years back.

I can recall one occasion at my son's primary school when they were all singing a Christmas hyme. There were two or three children standing up not singing and had their fingers in both ears as if to block out the noise. I asked my son afterwards why they were doing that and he said it was because they were from a different religion which did not celebrate christmas and their parents would not allow them to participate.
I remember thinking how pathetic and disrespectful.

The second was a Christmas school play in the local C of E church. We have some Hindu friends and their daughter stood up in the church and read a passage from the bible. Despite not being christian it did not bother her or her parents whatsover - they were just participating in a pleasant occasion.

Therefore why should it bother people if a few others wish pray for two minutes before these meetings?

A storm in a teacup and frankly another ridiculous and unnecesary court hearing. If this case is anything to go by then people might be forgiven for thinking that atheism is just another intolerant religion.

vjohn82 said...

"Therefore why should it bother people if a few others wish pray for two minutes before these meetings?"

The separation of religion and state is a pretty fine reason for disallowing any religious preference within a political discussion. There is a fine balance with regards to respecting religious belief and observance as you do point out.

It is not respectful for a particular religious viewpoint to be thrust into the political arena because this does not respect the rights of both the people who are not of that religion and those who have no faith at all. The only balance to be struck, in terms of neutrality, is to allow no prayers at all. If people wish to celebrate their religion then this is a private matter. They may indeed congregate prior to a meeting as they do when holding religious events. But in the meeting itself which requires objectivity, insofar as it can do, and which needs to represent diversity of opinion it has to be neutral.

It is akin to saying "men have always been politicians historically and there is no reason for this to change". There is a clear issue with that statement. The same argument is being used to say that religion should have a place in this environment. If the religious had come up with a better argument, we could have a discussion about that but that's the only argument they put forward. It was their strongest argument and it failed.

"A storm in a teacup and frankly another ridiculous and unnecesary court hearing."

An essential court hearing actually if you agree that all views deserve to be heard in the court of law.

Prestige and historical observance offer no refuge for the religious viewpoint in the 21st century.

"If this case is anything to go by then people might be forgiven for thinking that atheism is just another intolerant religion."

No, people may not be forgiven thinking this because it is wrong. Atheism is simply the noise a person makes in response to the claim that there is a god. It's not a religion any more than it is a political viewpoint. It's a statement of the obvious.

A Christian, for example, is as Atheist as me with respect to all of the other gods that have ever allegedly existed. If we start accommodating prayers at the start of these council meetings then perhaps sacrificing goats should also be allowed under another religion should it do prescribe?

Or perhaps we should do the sensible thing and leave religion out of politics altogether?

Anonymous said...

I think debating the existence of god and peoples beliefs is one thing but going to court to stop a few people holding harmless prayers is another. It is political correctness back again. I think this is a massive own goal and even the majority of people who don't bother going to church or hold any religious beliefs will think this is silly. I know I do.

Religion is here to stay whether we like it or not and what we should be working towards is more tolerance and allowing people to hold their beliefs and traditions without interference - no matter how misguided or wrong others think they are. Of course we should be striving to keep religion and politics separate but inevitably in a multi faith society there will always be incursions. The main thing is that we should be trying to encourage certain ethnic and religious groups which have become isolated and retreated into their own communities to become more integrated and not view other groups as a threat. Isolation and division breeds extremism and distrust which is why I think this case is not particularly helpful.

You seem to be saying that these prayers should be banned because other religious groups will overstep the bounds of acceptability - so everyone should be treated the same. Difficult issues will always present themselves but each situation should be judged and dealt with on its own merits, if and when it arises. Common sense is what is needed here - not blanket rules, political correctness and pathetic court cases.

The last thing which is needed is more division and dogma like this, just because one small group of atheists/secularists wish to make a point about some trivia in a local town hall. As a nation we have retained many old customs and traditions linked to the church and monarchy which might seem irrelevant or silly nowadays but they are essentially harmless - but still important to some.

As I say by all means debate the merits of religion and atheism but best kept out of the courts as much as possible.

Rant In A-Minor said...

"what we should be working towards is more tolerance and allowing people to hold their beliefs and traditions without interference"

Indeed ... but having prayers as part of a council meeting shows intolerance to those of different or no faith; it shows that they are ultimately not welcome, they are not part of the process - it's exclusionary and it creates a subtle "us and them" divide that is simply unnecessary.

I am not fond of the idea of having to go to court to sort this stuff out, but if religions are going to continue exercising their privilege without giving a toss about who has to be marginalised or excluded so that they can feel good interacting with their imaginary friend, then court is an option to be considered.

By saying "we're a christian country and people should just put up with it", they ultimately hold themselves hostage to fate. Yes christianity is the state-sanctioned faith now, but what of the future? Will the Daily Mail defend prayers to Allah at council meetings should Islam become the religion of the majority?

Secularism ensures equality, it ensures no one faith, no one group of people who share a sky-pixie, have privilege over the rest of us.

vjohn82 said...

Anon: "You seem to be saying that these prayers should be banned because other religious groups will overstep the bounds of acceptability"

Not at all although I would agree the potential is there for a cascade effect. That's why it's so important that the lines between faith and politics are clearly defined. The only way to competently do this with respect to people of all faith, and indeed with no faith, is to remove prayers from these council meetings.

"As I say by all means debate the merits of religion and atheism but best kept out of the courts as much as possible."

I would recommend that you read the story from a less biased source; no-one launches straight into a court case. There is a pre-action protocol to adhere to and negotiation etc. It seems every effort was made to keep this out of the courts but the religious few (and they were few) dug their heels in.

Another lesson has been learned; you cannot get some religious groups to see or think rationally. When this is the case then the option of the courts is there and rightly so in some instances.

Let's not forget, we have seen three similar cases this week where religious interference has been to the detriment of ordinary citizens. It does not hold the moral high ground when it comes to bringing cases to the courts.

Jon Wood said...

George Carey has correctly observed that councillors can simply pray somewhere else in private just before the meeting if they really feel the need (have to admit, as an atheist my first reaction to Eric Pickles as a cabinet minister is "God help us"). Britons really aren't Christian - only 2% go to church, most others do nothing other than practice some pagan rituals in week 52. This ruling is not marginalising religion, merely removing some of its disproportionate influence - people can have opinions based on their beliefs (preferably compliant with mainstream law) but this shouldn't get undue prominence.

Anonymous said...

"Non-believers are not harassed in this way by believers"

Think he should look back at history to see how non-believers have been treated by the so called righteous believers!

Nobody is been burnt today in the UK, but apparently believers are under attack……rubbish, playing the childish victim card, because that’s all they can do to defend their flawed selfish principles.
Just because something is tradition does not give it the right not to be challenged, otherwise cultures would never evolve into democratic societies.

People can pray at home or just in their head without drawing attention to themselves!

Separation of state from religious influence must form the basis of our forward thinking society. :)

Anonymous said...

I have just seen this for the first time and it emphasizes my existing view of the hypocrisy of Harry Greenway MP based on my observations of him when he was a senior member of staff at Sir William Collins School of which I was a pupil in the early 1960s. There were openly gay teachers on the staff some of whom I am sure go too close to the boys than was legal but I am sure Mr. Greenway would have done nothing about them so long as they shared his open and public view that violence and terrorizing young boys is an acceptable way of treating them. If you have any doubts on the truth of this matter just look on the memory section Friends Reunited at the entry for William Collins School and the totally consistent statements about beatings and naming specific teachers which in certain cases include Mr. Greenway holding boys out of upper windows all of which continued while Mr. Greenway "MP" certainly knew about it and was in a position to stop it.

I assume of course that Mr. Greenway's frequent running through the boys changing rooms while the boys were changing and flicking them with a wet towel to "speed up dressing" was all is the cause of increased efficiency.

Anonymous said...

The previous Anonymous writer use of English is poor as it suggests Mr. Greenway himself held boys out the upper floor windows but I do not think that was one of his tricks. The school did of course have a "Formal LCC" punishment book but this was rarely used as for a boy to demand an entry in the book would require a negative IQ. Instead most teachers, with a few very honorable exceptions who never maltreated any boys,had their own very warn trainers with which boys could be repeated hit by "a slipper", or having his ear twisted while the teacher slowly raises his arm up until the boy balances on tip toes and other assorted fun all straight out of Tom Brown's Schooldays. Perhaps we should be grateful the school did not have open fires on which boys could be gently roasted.

I wonder in how many other schools has the head ever caned the whole school?