We need to defend the hope at the heart of Christianity, not fight militant secularisation

Ed Jacobs examines Sayeeda Warsi's claim that militant secularism is taking hold of our societies.

 

The Conservative Party co-chair, Baroness Warsi, will today deliver a speech at the Vatican in which she will warn that religion in the UK is being:

“Sidelined, marginalised and downgraded in the public sphere.”

Leading a delegation of Ministers on a two day visit to mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of full diplomatic ties between the UK and the Vatican, Warsi will deliver her speech against a growing sense of unease at a growing marginalisation of faith in general and Christianity in particular, following last week’s ruling by the High Court outlawing the centuries-old tradition of formal prayers being said at the start of local council meetings across the country.

Previewing her speech, Warsi today writes in the Telegraph:

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.

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.

She continues:

Will be arguing for Europe to become more confident and more comfortable in its Christianity. The point is this: the societies we live in, the cultures we have created, the values we hold and the things we fight for all stem from centuries of discussion, dissent and belief in Christianity.

These values shine through our politics, our public life, our culture, our economics, our language and our architecture. And, as I will say today, you cannot and should not extract these Christian foundations from the evolution of our nations any more than you can or should erase the spires from our landscapes.

Her remarks echo those of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, who on Saturday used an interview on the Today programme to warn of the marginalisation of Christians in British society and, following David Cameron’s call last year, to encourage Britons to“actively stand up and defend” our Christian values.

For those that now advocate a diminished role for Christianity within our society, the argument goes that we shouldn’t “impose” religion on those who do not want it.

I would agree – forcing religion on anyone achieves nothing other than building resentment. However, to deny, as some now seem to be pushing, the role of Christianity within public life would be to deny a voice to the very faith that has provided the bedrock of our morals, ethics and values as argued by David Cameron.

But at its heart is an issue of hope. As a nation our hopes and aspirations were so often intrinsically linked to the pursuit of money. The recession and subsequent economic collapse proved that hoarding wealth provides little more than temporary comfort and is itself a corrosive force within society as personal greed has too often dominated.

With families struggling with the prospects of unemployment, losing benefits and poverty, fighting for the right of Christians to remain very firmly at the top table of British life is about ensuring that a message of hope can be heard loud and clear in an increasingly hopeless world.

I take as an example my own circumstances.

I have suffered on/off with anxiety problems. Some days and weeks things are ok, others it can be difficult to figure out what I’m getting anxious about. But the comfort and support I have had from my family at church has been overwhelming.

The love they show based not on them wanting to do good deeds to gain brownie points with God, but on the message within the book of Mark to “Love your neighbour as yourself” has been humbling.

In a society in which admitting weakness can all too often be looked down on and dismissed as essentially crazy, the comfort of having a Christian family in which it is possible to open up when things aren’t going to well is such a comfort, in a way that a secular world has difficulty showing. It is a love unlike any other and one we cannot allow to be marginalised.

Desmond Tutu once wrote:

Dear Child of God, I write these words because we all experience sadness, we all come at times to despair, and we all lose hope that the suffering in our lives and in our world will never end.

I want to share with you my faith and my understanding that this suffering can be transformed and redeemed. There is no such thing as a totally hopeless case.

Our God is an expert at dealing with chaos, with brokenness, with all the worst that we can imagine. God created order out of disorder, cosmos out of chaos, and God can do so always, can do so now — in our personal lives and in our lives as nations, globally.

The most unlikely person, the most improbable situation — these are all ‘transfigurable’ — they can be turned into their glorious opposites. Indeed, God is transforming the world now — through us — because God loves us.

In a world and society of increasing despair, how often can we say that the “secular world” provides a beacon of hope and love in such a way as the Christian faith declares? We cannot allow the Christian message of hope to be snubbed out from our public life.

See also:

As order breaks down in Syria, its Christians suffer the consequencesEd Jacobs, February 7th 2012

MPs to consider Christian freedoms in AlgeriaEd Jacobs, October 26th 2011

Look Left – Allies step up pressure for action on Syria as death toll risesShamik Das, June 10th 2011

A “new” age of Christian persecution?Ed Jacobs, January 23rd 2011

Senior Tory: Muslim MPs “don’t have any principles”Will Straw, May 5th 2010

24 Responses to “We need to defend the hope at the heart of Christianity, not fight militant secularisation”

  1. Ed Jacobs

    RT @leftfootfwd: We need to defend the hope at the heart of Christianity, not fight militant secularisation http://t.co/0K7gLbMa

  2. Patron Press - #P2

    #UK : We need to defend the hope at the heart of Christianity, not fight militant secularisation http://t.co/t0xX0sUV

  3. John Gillibrand

    We need to defend the hope at the heart of Christianity, not fight militant secularisation, writes @edjacobs1985: http://t.co/r83mM6YF

  4. Anonymous

    I fail to see the problem with secularism, militant or otherwise. It allows us all to live in a society that respects each faith and practice without infringing or impacting on any of them. It is a society defined by tolerance, intelligence and understanding rather than inter-religious hatred.

    I do have an issue with the annexing of all essences of good, decency and humanity by one faith or another. Goodness, kindness and caring are not the exclusive domain of religion. They are not external to the human condition, they are intrinsic to it as are cruelty and brutality.

    As humans we choose to act in one way or another, if we understand more clearly that we all have the power and freedom to choose our own actions and thus live the lives we wish, rather than have those decisions imposed upon us by one of many powers who will torture us if we disobey, we become active agents of the future of humanity and not passive servants to the rules of authorities created by dubious politics and power imbalances… but that’s a whole other discussion!

    Secular existence allows us all to learn to respect each other and let each other make our own choices, good or bad. The responsibility for the consequences of those choices are also our own…that’s the point.

  5. Pulp Ark

    We need to defend the hope at the heart of Christianity, not fight… http://t.co/ehwqg0DF #Good_Society #Baroness_Warsi #muslim #tcot #sioa

  6. Kim Murden

    We need to defend the hope at the heart of Christianity, not fight militant secularisation, writes @edjacobs1985: http://t.co/r83mM6YF

  7. Political Planet

    We need to defend the hope at the heart of Christianity, not fight militant secularisation: Ed Jacobs examines S… http://t.co/QZDZTfAi

  8. leftlinks

    Left Foot Forward – We need to defend the hope at the heart of Christianity, not fight militant… http://t.co/ZEKkYGGy

  9. Ash

    Nobody want to deny *people* the right to a religious identity. The question is whether the *state*, or more narrowly state schools, state hospitals, local councils etc., should have the right to a religious identity. The secularist answers ‘no’, in part because he wants people to feel that they are equally valued as pupils, as patients, as councillors, as citizens, regardless of what religious identity they have (or whether they have one).

    And I really think Christians should try to understand that what looks like a ‘message of hope’ to them doesn’t look the same to people who don’t share their worldview. Of course you, as a Christian, can take comfort in the belief that Jesus loves you, will support you through difficult times, etc. But such messages offer no hope or comfort whatsoever to someone who is not a Christian. Personally I would consider the message that one day religion will be a thing of the past and mankind will look to solve its problems without divine guidance or assistance a ‘message of hope’, but it would be a bit rich of me to insist that militant atheists should therefore be seated firmly at the top table of British life in order to ensure that that message gets heard loud and clear. The state just should not be taking a view on which message is the ‘hopeful’ one that deserves to be heard; rather, it should assume that people have a range of beliefs that they have a right to express, but should not expect to be adopted as the ‘official’ or favoured beliefs of governments, schools, councils etc.

  10. Cllr Trish Gurney

    We need to defend the hope at the heart of Christianity, not fight militant secularisation, writes @edjacobs1985: http://t.co/r83mM6YF

  11. BevR

    RT @leftfootfwd: We need to defend the hope at the heart of Christianity, not fight militant secularisation http://t.co/3meImlyB

  12. Ed Jacobs

    Is it not a case though of being able to give people all the opportunities they wish to be able to figure out what the believe. For example, banning bibles in some hospitals – we’re not saying everyone has to have one, but if people want they should be able to access a bible. Likewise, Dawkins was on the Today programme this morning arguing against Hospital Chaplains. I don’t argue that everyone has to be forced to speak with a Chaplain, but its about enabling those of faith or those who want to find out the tools and opportunities to do so. The top table is there for those of all faiths and none in British life, my concern is that we’re squeezing Christians away from it.

  13. Kester Ratcliff

    Post-Christendom doesn’t necessarily mean less faith in public life, it may mean less outwards ‘signs’, less formalism, less religious legitimation of the State and State influence on religion, less particular, parochial expressions of religious principles and values and more universalism and humanism in the form of religious practice.

    When few of the Councillors or other participants in local Council meetings believe in the traditional form of the prayers, what’s the point? Isn’t it cheapening and devaluing what those words could mean to other people to have them ‘used’ formally by people who feel no meaning in them? Wouldn’t it be better to begin with a period of intentional shared silence, like at the beginning of Quaker ‘Meeting for Worship with a Concern for Business’ or like Green Party meetings? You could say there’s more confidence in shared values by sitting in silence together for a few minutes before beginning business than by mouthing a traditional formula that means little to most people, and to the few it does have much meaning to it probably doesn’t feel like an appropriate form for the context.

    Religious faith is not equivalent to religious “identities” – some of the most faithful people deliberately prefer to be inconspicuous, not to emphasise the social group identity from their faith when they’re in other social contexts, because it’s really more in accordance with their religious principles to value what’s universal to humanity.

    It may show more confidence and strength in faith to trust that the truths and values underlying traditional religious forms and expressions are really so universal and deeply part of humanity that there’s no need to prioritise one’s own preferred particular expressions or forms. If there’s really any truth in religious traditions then what matters about them is not the particular language or symbols or outward observances.

  14. Rebekah

    Agree RT @leftfootfwd: We need to defend the hope at the heart of Christianity, not fight militant secularisation http://t.co/F6c5Ga3l

  15. Jamie

    We need to defend the hope at the heart of Christianity, not fight militant secularisation http://t.co/c2A4OP31

  16. Ash

    I don’t object to the idea of a hospital patient being able to talk to a priest, or an imam, or a guy from the local Buddhist or humanist group, if they want to; or to them being able to request a copy of the Bible or any other text, holy or otherwise, that they might want to turn to for comfort or guidance; or to a space being provided for patients and their families to pray or reflect quietly; and I don’t imagine many other secularists much objects to such things either. But we shouldn’t get ourselves into the position of either putting one religion in a privileged position (e.g. having a dedicated Christian chapel with a salaried Christian chaplain, and Bibles at every bedside), or of having to provide dedicated Muslim prayer rooms and copies of the Koran (etc. etc.) in order to secure equality for everyone. Better to keep hospitals basically secular spaces, not in the business of actually employing Chaplains etc., that accommodate the needs of patients and families of all faiths and none by (say) helping them liaise with local pastors, imams, counsellors etc. to arrange visits.

  17. Ayo Obe

    We need to defend the hope at the heart of Christianity, not fight militant secularisation, writes @edjacobs1985: http://t.co/r83mM6YF

  18. Eyitayo AA

    We need to defend the hope at the heart of Christianity, not fight militant secularisation, writes @edjacobs1985: http://t.co/r83mM6YF

  19. Ruth Smith

    We need to defend the hope at the heart of Christianity, not fight militant secularisation, writes @edjacobs1985: http://t.co/r83mM6YF

  20. Anonymous

    “would be to deny a voice to the very faith that has provided the bedrock of our morals, ethics and values as argued by David Cameron.”

    That’s right, including the non-value of fighting innumerable wars in its name.

  21. Anonymous

    “the comfort of having a Christian family in which it is possible to open up when things aren’t going to well is such a comfort, in a way that a secular world has difficulty showing. It is a love unlike any other and one we cannot allow to be marginalised.”

    You what?! Are you seriously saying that those of the secular persuasion are inherently incapable of showing the same degree of love, support and compassion as the religious? Not only is it a completely ridiculous assertion which has no grounding in reality, it is a downright insult.

  22. Ian

    There is a good article and comments at Liberal Conspiracy on this topic:
    http://liberalconspiracy.org/2012/02/14/secularism-the-best-defence-for-religious-freedom/

  23. A state free of religion is a core liberal belief | Left Foot Forward

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