I wrote this as a reply to Cristina Odone's article in the The Telegraph, entitled "The Coalition must protect the right to be true to our Christian faith"
I’m not a religious person; I’ll be honest about that. It’s not something I hide; I’ve been an Atheist since I was 16. And there’s no need for me to hide it – I don’t fear any serious reprisal against me because of this. However, while I personally do not believe in God, I agree that this country should not discriminate against those who do. As Cristina Odone writes, there is often a disproportionate attack on the Christian faith in this country, compared to the reaction to other religions, at least in the area of law.
However, having conceded this, I wish to argue with the main points Cristina Odone puts forward in her Telegraph article. Firstly, of course, I would highlight the differences between the persecution of British Christians, and the persecution of Christians in other locations around the world. The persecution of anyone, anywhere, for holding a moderate religious belief is appalling, and I commend any journalist who draws attention to the killing or injuring of innocents simply because of their religions. But these atrocities are, as the author herself points out, atrocities that put the British experience in perspective. To compare the terrorist attacks against Christians around the world with the treatment they receive in Britain, a country which largely operates along Christian principles, is disgusting.
So, what exactly are the attacks on the Christian faith she perceives in Britain? What terrible events, which she willing compares to the killing of 32 Christians on Christmas day, are being carried out against good-hearted British Christian? Odone gives two examples, presumably the worst cases of persecution present in Britain today; one airline worker being banned from wearing a Crucifix to work, and a B&B owner being forced to allow homosexuals to stay in his B&B.
Now, I may be exaggerating, but I’m pretty certain these aren’t the most vicious examples, the most disgusting cases of anti-religious persecution in this country. Indeed, in the case of Miss Eweida, the airline worker, the banning of her crucifix was part of the airline’s uniform policy, not an attack on Christianity. Indeed, while I may be out-of-touch with religion these days, it was never my understanding that idolatry was necessary to Christianity. In the second case, the Bed and Breakfast incident, this was also not a religious attack – it is against the law to ban people from using your business because you don’t agree with their sexuality, the same as if he had banned an interracial couple. Indeed, imagine someone else refused a Christian couple access to their premises; would such a virulent defense of the hotelier’s rights be launched then?
In either case, these incidents are hardly comparable to the persecutions religious people suffer around the world on a daily basis, nor is it even comparable to the many abuses that minority religions suffer here, in our apparently “Great” Britain. But the author moves on; next, an argument Christianity should be defended on cultural grounds. After all, it has been the British religion in one form or another since conquerors brought it to us, and in its present form, since a man wanted a divorce. Should not this rich heritage - full of the witch-hunts, of Catholic burnings, of Church support for slavery and racism – should this not be respected?
Of course, I’m making a one-sided argument. Religion has many strong and admirable points, and a great many religious people are worthy of great praise. However, this does not mean Christianity should be forced onto everyone. It is not common sense to respect Christian values, even when these clash with the prevailing liberal consensus. By all means, if this is what you believe, you should stick to these principles. But they cannot be forced onto everyone. Church and State are separate, and religious does not – and should not – dominate British Law. Indeed, given the clashes between the two, it is hard to understand what Ms. Odone means when she suggests the two have always worked together.
Lastly, it is not necessarily for the State to teach more about Christian values, and less about secular, or non-dominational values. A point is certainly raised, that there is often a focus on documentaries and works produced about religion, which feature factual errors. This is certainly a valid criticism to raise – if one is going to criticize or praise anything, then their work should be as accurate as possible. And furthermore, it is important children learn about Christianity in school, but no more important than that they learn about any religion; this seems a vital factor to furthering our understanding on different people, to spreading a little tolerance.
But it is certainly not necessary that “In schools, the National Curriculum should be beefed up so that inadequate lessons in "ethics" are complemented by the teaching of the history and tenets of Christianity.” The world has moved on, and we no longer shovel religious beliefs down the throats of children, presenting them as fact. The history of Christianity is fraught with conflict and with denominational clashes. If we are to force our children to learn one particular religion, which domination? Should it be the Church of England? But, surely, this will only act to heighten Christian persecution, as the “false” teachings of Catholicism, and indeed, any other Christian faction, are derided in schools?
I will not link a spread of religious teachings directly to the spread of bigotry, but the last “50 years of orthodoxy” that Ms. Odone is so keen to see challenged have seen massive steps forward in the areas of Civil Rights, Religious tolerance, Gender equality. Medicine has improved, the quality of life is better, science is expanding. Religion, on the whole, is not evil – most religious people would see these steps forward for what they are; progressive developments, positive steps. But if we were to teach one particular religion as fact in our schools, to enshrine it as a requirement in medicine and in law, then we would set back our progress. To give teachers, lawmakers, doctors, the power to tell others what was fact spiritually slow the progress of our country, not further it. It would encourage difference, persecution, and it would destroy the faithful.
The place of Christianity, of any religion, is not in the centre of public life. Your religious beliefs are at the centre of your private life, perhaps. To life by a moral code, to have absolute faith in something is not wrong. But to suggest your beliefs should shape the education of our children, the making and enforcing of our laws, and the development and application of out medicine certainly is wrong. No-one has the same religious beliefs as the next person, even if they both come from the exact same Christian denomination. By all means, fight to ensure Christians are treated as fairly as any other religions. But that is not what Ms. Odone wants. What she wants is to force Christianity on the masses, to make it necessary for anyone who wants to practice law or medicine to be a Christian, to make being a Christian necessary for getting a high-school grade. That is not protecting Christians from the small prejudices shown against them in this country, it is barbaric, and it is a step back to the dark ages. To suggest Christianity is a necessary prelude to getting employment, to earning a living, is persecution at its worst, not a blow for religious protection.