August 14, 2015 17 Comments
Is it? Yes, and its also anti-Islamic, anti- Jewish, anti-Hindu, anti-Sikh, and anti-secular humanist. It’s also anti-British, anti-American, and anti-western civilization. Unless you worship David Cameron as the one true god, it’s against whatever you believe. Here’s Cameron’s money quote:
For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens ‘as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone’.
In other words do as I say, not as the law of the land says. Even Obama isn’t crass enough to say this out loud.
Here’s Professor Charmley:
Legislation to counter ‘extremism’ will threaten free speech for all faiths and give the state the final say on what we can, and cannot, teach our children
With ISIS in the news, and with young people leaving this country to join them, ‘‘extremist disruption orders’’ (EDOs), designed to prevent the spread of extremism, appear both sensible and popular. This is, we are reassured, about defending “British values”. Again, this seems unproblematic, until you start thinking about it. During the Coalition, the Liberal Democrats asked some searching questions about what this actually meant, and the legislation was dropped; now it is back on the agenda – and in the absence of the Lib Dems, the rest of us need to step up to the plate. Why so?
We can get our first glimpse of why we should be concerned from the response of the Conservative MP, Mark Spencer, to a query from a constituent as to whether EDOs would erode free speech. After the usual airy generalised reassurances about free speech being protected, Mr Spencer volunteered the suggestion that they might, though, be used against someone teaching that gay marriage was wrong. So, espousing the traditional Christian, Muslim and Jewish teaching on marriage, one which until a couple of years ago was the law of the land, can now be considered espousing ‘‘extremism’’? What other aspects of the teaching of our faith might fall under suspicion? It is not, after all, as though our ruling elite has shown itself particularly literate when it comes to religion. As Prof Tariq Modood of Bristol recently commented: “The decline of public religion in Britain in the second half of the 20th century has meant that British society, including higher education and its leaders, has little understanding of religion.”
Our leaders lack the ability to understand what faith means to people. They seem to think we should regard it in the same way they treat their party’s principles – something infinitely malleable and, in an emergency, saleable for something more serviceable.
The Welsh Government, not usually a fan of the Conservatives, has jumped on the bandwagon of the “extremism” agenda to suggest that because religious education is badly taught in Welsh schools, it should be scrapped and replaced with something that fits with the “social cohesion” agenda. This sort of thinking is the fruit of the old narrative, taken as normative in the West, that religion is a fading force in the world which can be generally done away with in the public sphere, and which, if it must exist, should be strictly confined to the private sphere. That this is not true of much of the rest of the world, or of many in this multicultural country, appears to be beyond the grasp of a political elite which fails to see the dangers that will follow by treating public affirmations of faith as signs of “extremism”. Mr Spencer’s blithe assumption that his constituent would agree with his definition of extremism is precisely what should worry us, because he is far from alone in sharing it
With so many examples before us to choose from, it would be futile for anyone to argue that this is not the thin end of a wedge; it always is. Every time our liberties are curbed, we are assured that this is the end of it, but that will come only when the relevant authorities are satisfied we are all on message.
The Government’s instinctive mistrust of what it does not understand, combined with an equally instinctive desire to ban opinions it dislikes, is worrying. Claiming to be progressive, the Government is, in fact, in danger of regressing to the days of the Test Acts of the period from 1689 to 1828, when membership of the political nation required a Confessional Test – were you or were you not a communicating member of the Established Church? We already see, with Andy Burnham, that it is necessary to jettison authentic Catholic teaching on matters such as birth control, abortion and gay marriage to secure support in the Labour Party, while Education Secretary Nicky Morgan’s about-turn on the issue of same-sex marriage tells us the same is true of the Tories.
Politicians who are practising members of the Catholic Church are wise to either self-censor or change their views on fashionable issues if they wish to get on. The monstering of Tim Farron by a media shocked at the idea of a believing Christian leading a political party reveals how hostile our political life is to confessed Christians, while his own muted reaction on the issue of same-sex marriage shows how hard it is to speak against the fashionable consensus which so illiberally enforces its writ. Is it wise to give this political elite such wide-ranging powers to decide what we can and cannot express with regard to our faith?
It is, perhaps, hopeless to expect a Conservative Party bent on erasing all traces of it to remember its own history, but the last time it legislated directly on matters of belief was the Public Worship Regulation Act of 1874. Designed to stem the rising tide of ritualism within the Established Church, it forbade various practices such as candles on altars and the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament. The result was that some patently holy men ministering in the poorest parishes of London found themselves in jail for obeying their consciences rather than the government. The law quickly fell into disuse, but not before creating a generation of Anglo-Catholic martyrs. Perhaps Mr Cameron and Theresa May cannot conceive of men and women so principled that they would go to jail rather than defy their own consciences?
Professor John Charmley is head of the Interdisciplinary Institute at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK. His speciality as a historian is modern Britain, with a focus on the Conservative party.
I’m not convinced that people like Cameron and May even understand what a conscience is. And do understand, it is happening on this of the pond as well.