Polly Toynbee thinks secularism is not such a terrible idea. She’s not completely persuaded by claims that secularism is ruining all the things.
…the faiths are glad to circle their wagons round [the queen] against the unbelievers. Each has their own divinely revealed unique truth, often provoking mortal conflict, Muslim v Copt, Catholic v Protestant, Hindu v Muslim or Sunni v Shia. But suddenly the believers are united in defence against the secular, willing to suspend the supremacy of their own prophets to agree that any religion, however alien, from elephant god to son of God, is better than none.
They can all feel their victimhood now, facing what Baroness Warsi called a rising tide of “militant secularisation” reminiscent of “totalitarian regimes”. Warsi on the warpath headed a delegation to the Vatican of six ministers, all agreeing the common enemy was not just the secularists but the “liberal elite”, too. How the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph loved wallowing in the CofE as victim against the rise of christianophobia, as if the waspish Prof Richard Dawkins had thrown them all to the lions.
And as if the Daily Mail and the Telegraph were powerless penniless orphans living in a gutter on crusts.
The prefix “aggressive” or “militant” is now super-glued to the word “secularist”, but as president of the British Humanist Association and honorary associate of the National Secular Society, I find nothing extreme about trying to keep religion separate from the state. Aggressive? You should see this week’s “burn in hell” messages to the BHA attacking “that spastic Hawking who denies God”, and many more obscene unprintables.
Or you could check out the stuff that gets thrown at Jessica Ahlquist, or Barbara J King’s standard-issue insults directed at Richard Dawkins, or any of a number of daily verbal attacks on secularists and atheists.
Rev Giles Fraser wielded a deft stiletto, accusing secularists of closet racism. “Attacking religious belief in general neatly fits alongside a hostility to Islam.” I am hostile to any religion if it ever cuts across civic freedoms, for its own people or for anyone who challenges it. Without causing gratuitous offence for the sake of it, there is a duty to stand by brave free-speech campaigners, such as Maryam Namazie, organiser for One Law for All. An anti-Sharia meeting was broken up last month at Queen Mary College. Police were called after a man came in, filmed the audience and said he’d hunt down anyone who insulted the prophet. They campaign against Muslim arbitration tribunals, whose judgments can be applied in civil courts, nobody knowing if women suffered religious intimidation to sign away rights.
I like that “neatly fits alongside” – it avoids the drawbacks of just coming right out and saying that dislike of Islam is hatred of Muslims. It’s deniable and subtle and imprecise; just the ticket for a smear that won’t get your hands dirty.
Julian Baggini, writing in the Guardian yesterday took a swipe at secularism, wondering why bother with trivia like prayers at council meetings. He omits the heart of the matter, such as the right to die. Or the third of state schools run by religions, mainly CofE, oversubscribed as their results are burnished by admissions policies that consign an unfair share of poor or chaotic families to neighbouring schools.
And as for the trivial matter of prayers at council meetings, well, the “Communities secretary” is fixing that.
The government is activating a power it says will allow councils in England to hold prayers at meetings.
Communities secretary Eric Pickles says he is “effectively reversing” the High Court’s “illiberal ruling” that a Devon council’s prayers were unlawful.
Illiberal? The separation of church and state is illiberal? So it’s liberal to impose Christian prayers on everyone, including people of other religions and people of no religion (not to mention Christians who don’t want to do their praying in the workplace)?
Militant secularists just can’t catch a break.