Another week, another case of Christians being oppressed because of their religious beliefs. What has attracted particular interest on this occasion is this section of the judgement, in which the judges state openly that Britain is "a secular state not a theocracy". They declare: "We sit as secular judges serving a multi-cultural community of many faiths. The laws and usages of the realm do not include Christianity, in whatever form." This is not isolated judgement, but one of many, of which a notable recent example was the admirably clear statements by the judge in the recent Cornish guest-house controversy: "Whatever may have been the position in past centuries it is no longer the case that our laws must, or should, automatically reflect the Judaeo- Christian position…this decision does affect the human rights of the defendants to manifest their religion and forces them to act in a manner contrary to their deeply and genuinely held beliefs."
Our political system has decided to abandon Christianity as the state religion. Of course, this actually happened in substance long ago – one only sees these things clearly after the event. Now, having done so in practice, the system now makes it official in legal judgement.
I wear two hats in this matter. I am a Christian, and I am a citizen-subject. Qua Christian, I belong to the school of thought that supports involvement in states (some Christians oppose this, as corrupting of Christian purity) – indeed, more than that, I think that seeking political involvement and the moulding of states and society is an obligation of the Church. I see Christian political engagement as a gift that the Church offers to the world – for the world to accept or reject. Britain has rejected Christianity as its state religion. Other states may take a different view – in China, for example, Christianity is expanding rapidly amongst the elites, and has some chance of becoming the state religion during this century.
I have another concern qua Christian – for the oppression of my fellow-Christians. A judgement such as that against the Johns yesterday (a couple seeking to foster who are now forbidden from doing so – despite having previously fostered fifteen children – because they believe homosexuality to be wrong) is remarkable in its intolerance in all kinds of ways. Let's set aside the religious aspect for a moment. Around one third of the UK population believes that practicing homosexuality is wrong. Is a belief held by one third of the population really so repugnant that we must protect children from any exposure to it? Are we so replete with people volunteering to be fosterers that we can afford to exclude one third of the population before we begin?
But of course matters go much further than this, for the judges – utterly absurdly – attempt to contend that there was no discrimination against the Johns from their religion. No! They were merely discriminated against because of their sexual ethics – as if the fact that the official position of all the world's major Christian churches in opposing homosexual practice implied no connection between one's sexual ethics and one's religion; as if the belief that morality is what God commands of us meant that, for a Christian believer, one's moral outlook was in any way separable from one's religion!
The law in Britain now, straightforwardly and unambiguously, excludes Christians from many occupations. And, of course, that is before we begin upon the political bar to Christian belief – for example illustrated in the recent firing of Hans-Christian Raabe, a Christian who was an expert advisor on drugs because of his past authorship of a report in Canada on aspects of homosexuality. Now, as it happens I don't agree with a number of things Dr Raabe argued in his paper. But suppose that a government drug advisor has, in the past, argued that marriage is an instrument of patriarchal oppression and legalised rape and in favour of the virtues of free love. I wouldn't agree with that, either. But someone arguing against traditional morality is fine. A Christian arguing in favour of it is barred.
There is a choice to be made, here. You can't tolerate everything. I'm not claiming that at all. Many people respond to Christians asking to be tolerated by creating extreme cases of religious claim and asking whether I want to tolerate these. Should we tolerate female circumcision? No. Should we tolerate honour killing? No. I'm not asking you to tolerate just anything. I'm asking you to tolerate us.
In the John's case the judgement states: "A secular judge must be wary of straying across the well-recognised divide between church and state. It is not for a judge to weigh one religion against another. The court recognises no religious distinctions and generally speaking passes no judgment on religious beliefs or on the tenets, doctrines or rules of any particular section of society. All are entitled to equal respect." This is a truly remarkable claim. All religions are entitled to equal respect (or lack of respect)! Christianity is entitled to no more respect than Satanism or frog-worship?! And note that statement: "A secular judge must be wary of straying across the well-recognised divide between church and state." When did that happen – that in Britain there was a divide between church and state?
I wear another hat – as a citizen-subject. As a citizen-subject interested in politics, I have various political views. Amongst these views is a belief in the virtues of state religion. I don't believe that atheism can be the foundation of a liberal and fruitful heterogeneous society over the long term. Neither can society be "secular" in the sense of attempting to be neutral between religions. People quote America, but America is by no means a secular society. It is a deeply and devoutly Christian society, and the notionally "secular" position of its institutions only works because society is so deeply and devoutly Christian. And American society is highly homogeneous by British standards.
Our "liberal secularism" is a post-Christian philosophy, which only works (to the extent that it does work) because it inherits a huge amount of Christian legacy. But that legacy has inevitably decayed with time. Liberal secularism cannot, over the long term, offer any moral project for society – only existential ethical choices – for it has no motive moral project or purpose of its own. There is no meaning. It is an illusion. God is dead.
Neither atheism nor secularism can provide any unifying project for society. And society would not accept any such project, anyway. Over the long-term the intellectual emptiness of atheist materialism is plain to ordinary folk, who create their own mix of animism and licentiousness to make the pointless hours pass between birth and death. And none are so intolerant as those that object to their empty pleasures being denouced or to being reminded of their despair.
A healthy society must have goals and challenges to its conduct. To be tolerant, it must first believe something, decide what it disagrees with, and then decide, amongst those things with which it disagrees, which it will live with. It needs to be offered destinations – and then we can debate whether these are good destinations, we can hone them, we can debate how best to get there, and whether the means along the way justify the ends to which we're headed.
Neither materialist atheism nor its "liberal secularist" cousin can function as a state religion. We rejected Christianity in practice some time ago, and are now making our rejection official. So now what? Bring Christianity back? Is that feasible? If so, I long to hear someone tell me how.