Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I didn't expect the secular inquisition!

Baroness Warsi, government minister and co-chair of the UK's Conservative Party, is concerned about freedom.

My fear today is that a militant secularisation is taking hold of our societies. We see it in any number of things: when signs of religion cannot be displayed or worn in government buildings; when states won’t fund faith schools; and where religion is sidelined, marginalised and downgraded in the public sphere. 

 Not only is this secularisation 'militant' it is even reminiscent of 'totalitarian regimes':

For me, one of the most worrying aspects about this militant secularisation is that at its core and in its instincts it is deeply intolerant. It demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes – denying people the right to a religious identity because they were frightened of the concept of multiple identities. That’s why in the 20th century, one of the first acts of totalitarian regimes was the targeting of organised religion. 

So worried is our Baroness, in fact, that she will be conveying this message to the Pope today via the ministerial delegation she is leading to the Vatican, a place famous for centuries a bastion of reason, tolerance and the acceptance of 'multiple identities'. (Cough, cough...)

As Ophelia says elsewhere, 'oh vomit', and there is much purgative pleasure to be found in the Baroness's missive (if you're into that sort of thing), which is eagerly echoed by the usual suspects at the Telegraph and the Daily Mail.

(And probably elsewhere. You know, for such a sadly marginalised social group, religious people seem to have no shortage of large-circulation platforms from which to bewail their marginality.)

I'm too weary of these kinds of comments to go through it line by line (say with regard to the typical canards that 'signs of religion cannot be displayed or worn in government buildings', or that totalitarianism and 'religious identities' have somehow been mutually incompatible), though no doubt others will do me the favour.

However, a couple of things immediately jumped out.

Like this:

I will be arguing that to create a more just society, people need to feel stronger in their religious identities and more confident in their creeds. In practice this means individuals not diluting their faiths and nations not denying their religious heritages. 

At a time when (just to pick a few examples) a good third or more of young British Muslims believe apostates from their faith should be punished by death, when leading American presidential candidates have no problem placing the authority of the Bible over that of the constitution and when ultra-orthodox Jewish religious fanatics can use terror and violence to enforce a radical form of patriarchy, it would seem that there is no great shortage of people who feel pretty 'confident in their creeds'.

Methinks the Baroness might be missing something here.

(And is it just me or is there something a bit sinister about the good Baroness's reference to people 'not diluting their faiths', especially given some of her co-religionists' touchiness on precisely this issue.)

But, for me anyway, an immediate, sure-fire dead give-away of the problem popped up with the phrase 'militant secularism'.

Militant secularism.

I pointed this out before (five years ago! I've been at this too long), in a response to a complaint about 'militant atheism', one directed at authors such as Richard Dawkins.

I concluded:

Until the day that Richard Dawkins appears on television standing in front of a poster of Darwin while holding an AK-47 and screaming for the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury, can we find a different, perhaps more appropriate adjective to describe his approach?

It would seem to me that this still stands.

Our weapon is reason, reason and sarcasm. Our two weapons...

[UPDATE] The juxtaposition on the front page of the Telegraph is classic (and useful in case you need to identify one of those 'militant secularists'. No, wait...).  (Informed via Chris B, image via here)

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