Saturday, 14 April 2012

Pots And Kettles

Lord Carey, Former Archbishop of Canterbury
An article in today's Guardian Lord Carey is a bigger problem for British Christians than any secularist, by M.J. Robbins, prompted me to read the report on Lord Carey's whinge about Christian 'persecution' in Britain in yesterday's Daily Telegraph (a right-wing newspaper which used to be regarded as little more that the house journal of the Conservative Party).

Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury and senior cleric of the Anglican 'Communion', sits by right in the unelected senior house of the bicameral British Parliament, as do several other bishops of the Anglican Church, of which the British Head Of State is also titular head. [Correction: Carey now sits in the HOL as an unelected Life Peer, not as a 'Lord Spiritual'. A life peerage is normally given to a former bishop on retirement.]

The British Head of State must, by law, be a baptised Anglican Christian and may not marry a Roman Catholic. English and Welsh marriage laws are based on Christianity and marriage in a Christian Church is recognised as a legal marriage, unlike marriage by the traditions and rites of many other religions. Our state-run schools are legally obliged to have a period of collective worship of "Wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian nature". The 'coronation' of our head of state takes place in an Anglican Cathedral and is a Christian ceremony in which the Archbishop of Canterbury ceremonially 'anoints' the monarch with sacred oil and the 'laying on of hands'. The monarch is required to take a Christian oath.

The UK parliament starts each daily session with Christian prayers and the law was recently changed to empower local authorities in England and Wales to include prayers in the order of business. This change was made by an Anglican Christian government minister without reference to the elected parliament when a court found that a local authority had exceeded its powers when it included prayers on the council meeting agenda. Non-believers who refuse to attend these prayers can now be recorded as 'late' for the meeting and these periods of 'lateness' can be published without explaining that the only agenda item missed was the prayers.

Apparently, in Lord Carey's view, "Christians are being 'persecuted' by courts and 'driven underground' in the same way that homosexuals once were" and, Lord Carey says, "worshippers are being 'vilified' by the state, treated as 'bigots' and sacked simply for expressing their beliefs."

What he neglects to say is that 'expressing their beliefs' means vilifying homosexuals and/or denying them the right to goods and services or otherwise persecuting them. It means making it difficult or uncomfortable to work alongside them as they express their bigotry or seek to deny non-Christians the same entitlement to fair treatment in provision of public services as Christians. He also neglects to say that when homosexuality was an offence and homosexuals were persecuted and driven underground, this was with the enthusiastic endorsement of the established church and that it was Carey's predecessors who led the vigorous opposition to it being decriminalised.

Carey complains that "in 'case after case' British courts have failed to protect Christian values." By this he means that British courts have upheld the principle that even Christians have to obey the law. In a give-away statement he says, "Courts in Britain have consistently applied equality law to discriminate against Christians". This is true of course. Equality means everyone is equal; that Christians are not entitled to special privilege and dispensation from the need to treat everyone equally even when they aren't Christians and even when they don't accept Christian dogma or concede to Christians the right to dictate their behaviour and legislate against them.

It might have escaped Carey's notice but British courts also discriminate against other criminals and deny the right of discontented youths to riot and loot shops; of dangerous drivers to drive dangerously; of sadists to hurt people for fun and of bank robbers to rob banks with impunity. As a civilised country, Britain has a system of laws and legal enforcement to constrain and deter antisocial behaviour and to apply appropriate sanctions to people who transgress them. Our legal system is based on the idea of equality before the law.

What Carey is complaining about is that even Christians who get paid to conduct civil marriages should be required to provide them for everyone; that Christians who get paid to arrange adoptions should provide the service equally to everyone; that Christians who run boarding houses and hotels should not discriminate against those who disagree with them.

Carey goes on to say "It affects the moral and ethical compass of the United Kingdom. Christians are excluded from many sectors of employment simply because of their beliefs; beliefs which are not contrary to the public good."

And of course what Carey is claiming here is the right for Christians to determine 'the public good'. Not our elected parliament; not our government which is accountable to our parliament; not the people themselves through their elected representatives and not the courts of law. Carey wants this power reserved for Christians and to deny them the right to dictate 'the public good' to us is discriminating against their right to tell us what to do and to decide what is good for us!

I hope he's right about the moral compass. A 'moral compass' which points back to the brutal, misogynistic Bronze Age needs 'affecting'. It needs re-focussing and, if it can't be, it's needs binning altogether. As increasingly secular Europe rejects the primitive bigotry of Christianity so we are changing our laws in favour of more civilised humanist ones. Christians are not entitled to dispensation from obeying the law. We rightly no longer stone people to death for blasphemy or burn them for heresy. We no longer kill people for having extra-marital sex or wearing mixed-fibre clothing; we no longer require attendance at church on Sunday or have compulsory tithes and we no longer expect to be ruled and governed by Christian clerics.

We have civilised and democratised our society despite the opposition of Christian Churches and we will continue so to do. The church needs to recognise that it's days are done; that it can no longer demand privilege and be allowed to operate outside the law.

Christians are more than welcome to share our secular society with us provided they comply with our civilised standards of behaviour. They are going to have to get used to the idea that they are no longer in charge and they are not even a majority; that membership of their dwindling little mutual support society is no longer a short-cut to the power and privilege they would like to reserve for themselves.

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