Council prayers, continued.

The Times‘ Oliver Kamm continues (£) the defence of the NSS:

No one is objecting to Christianity’s status as a public faith: the issue is whether it should be a civic faith. In a free society, it can’t be. What binds us is common citizenship under the rule of law, not what any of us happen to believe about a Jewish apocalyptic preacher in first-century Palestine.

Mr Pickles’s assertions about the historical role of Christianity are a monumental non sequitur: there is no secularist campaign to bar Christians from participating in the nation’s affairs. Those who wear a clerical collar do not have to remove it to share the liberties of fellow citizens; but they have no right to a special say. If Mr Pickles wishes to see how other societies do things differently, Iran might profitably be his first port of call.

non sequitur indeed. But it won’t stop Reverends writing (£) into newspapers and continuing to justify formal prayer with reference to the Church’s charity work:

In the middle of the last century, government — in one form or another — took over from the churches and Christian-based charities all kinds of care: of the sick, of deaf or blind people, of children’s homes and much more. Now that the State can no longer maintain all this, the process is in reverse and the churches and charities, very often Christian in inspiration, are being asked to meet the immense needs of society.

In Birmingham, at least, I have not noticed atheist or humanist societies rushing to fill the void left by reduced council provision.

Yes, the churches are imperfect, but they are at last recovering from a time when Christian faith was privatised. They do not, I think, want power, but they are increasingly serving in places of need, and their voice is needed.

I am not a great fan of statutory prayers, or of the paraphernalia of religion. Some in our society would like to keep the fruit without the root, but it would be unwise if this country further diminished the proper public role of the faith which undergirds the best in our history.

This is embarrassingly bad, but as so often in the UK, the mere fact the writer’s name begins with the title ‘Reverend’ ensures it gets published regardless. Schoolchildren could construct arguments better than this.

But nor does the poorness of the argument stop  a ‘quality’ newspaper penning an Editorial playing the victim card and endorsing anti-secularist sentiment:

Our history and culture are formed by the Christian faith. The way we are governed is linked directly to the schism in the Church almost half a millennium ago: in England, we have an Established Church of which the head of state is the Supreme Governor.

It is all too easy to forget this – largely because politically correct fawning by public bodies over the sensitivities of other faiths has left many Christians feeling inhibited about asserting and celebrating their own beliefs…

Last week, we had the perfect illustration of this baleful process, when the National Secular Society succeeded in a High Court attempt to prevent Bideford Town Council doing something it had done for centuries – holding a short prayer service at the start of its meetings. The atheist former councillor who pressed the case argued that the council had no right to “impose” its religious views on him, conveniently ignoring the fact that no one had forced him to attend the prayers, and failing totally to see that it was he who was seeking to impose his views on others, not the other way round.

Note the convenient inclusion of the fact that the objecting councillor was an atheist, deliberately intending to conceal the fact that secularism is perfectly consistent with faith and even endorsed by the more reasonable members of religions. But indeed, the one wishing to make council meetings formally faith-neutral is the ‘imposer’ of values. The value of impartiality, perhaps. But no doubt The Telegraph also objects to that.

Such nutty secularists are not merely oppressive, though; they’re reminiscent of totalitarians:

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.

That was cabinet minister Baroness Warsi. Wake me up. I’m apparently in a nightmare where lovely liberal Britain transforms into bonkers America. This is rhetoric reminiscent of Rick Santorum. If this quote were given to me blind, I’d attribute it to him immediately. This week he felt the need to talk of the guillotine when contrasting the American revolution with its secular French counterpart, and here Warsi has the nerve to say it ‘seems astonishing to me that those who wrote the European Constitution made no mention of God or Christianity’.

I’m only fairly calm here because I believe Cameron has demonstrated secular commitments sufficiently to keep this movement small. His speech over Christmas was pounced upon by Guardianistas, but when you read past the headlines and appreciate the context, the content of what he said was perfectly consistent with not privileging Christianity, and rightly so. The small religious right will have their week to hiss and moan and we’ll have to see it through, but so long as the courts continue to see sense and Downing Street shows no intentions of making this an agenda, we can do our bit to counter the outcry whilst retaining sanity in the knowledge that the voices will never dominate. When judges feel bold enough to even stop Christian B&Bs from banning homosexual couples, you know we have a social ethos and Equalities legislation that should be envied the world over.

But there’s one thing we should refuse to ever stop being angry about, and that’s the ease with which politicians in this country can have relations with the Vatican and talk of them in terms as casual and positive as this:

Seven ministers including Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, Owen Paterson, the Northern Ireland Secretary and Michael Moore, the Scottish Secretary, travel to the Vatican on Tuesday. They will be joined by the Archbishop of Westminster. They will meet Holy See officials on Wednesday to discuss issues including human rights and international development… David Cameron welcomed the visit. He said: “Our relationship with the Holy See is an important one and it speaks powerfully of the positive contribution faith can make to all societies.”

Maybe his Cabinet buddies aren’t, but Cameron is intelligent enough to know the Pope stinks of sin. So let’s see some balls, please, and renounce relations with this sick sham of a state led by a coward hiding under faux sovereign immunity. This isn’t a Conservative problem. Labour instigated the Papal visit before the 2010 election, and was far from quick to cancel it as the scandal came to light in their final months. But the thought of the British executive spending the week with this so called fountain of moral value, in a public capacity, is repulsive on too many levels.

(Thanks to this blog for the photo, which also reminds of Evan Harris’ worthwhile explanation of secularism here.)

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