Search This Blog

Friday, 27 February 2009

Privilege and prejudice

When will religious nutters get it into their heads that equality is equality, human dignity is human dignity, and anything that religion tries to do to interfere with these things is an imposition?

They seem to think that it’s the other way round: that in the beginning there was religion. And God saw that it was good. And anything – no matter how good for human happiness, human dignity, human rights, human equality – that steps on its toes is wrong.

That arsehole Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, leader of Catholics in England and Wales, has made some sort of valedictory speech in which he bangs on about legislation that is clearly designed to improve people’s lot. But he’s not happy with that.

Accepting that much of the legislation on discrimination is “good in itself” (that’s big of him), he then says that it is “being used to limit freedom of religion in unacceptable ways. The sad and totally needless conflict over the Catholic adoption agencies is one example.”

In his lecture at Westminster Cathedral on the Catholic Church’s future (one is tempted hope it doesn’t have one), Murphy-O’Connor went on to claim that there is “a wider prejudice that sees religious faith as a problem to be contained rather than a social good to be cherished and respected, and which properly and necessarily has a public as well as a private dimension”.

That all depends on what you do with your religious faith, old boy. If it helps you to be nice to people (though goodness knows you could be nice without it), then all the better.

So faith in and of itself need not be contained. And no one is stopping those who go in for that kind of thing from cherishing and respecting it. But why should I cherish and respect your blind faith in invisible people and impossible events? All I need to respect, matey, is your right to believe in this tosh if that’s what floats your boat.

He goes on to say, “I think the greatest danger for us at the moment is to let ourselves believe what secular culture wants us to believe about ourselves, namely, that we are becoming less and less influential and are in decline.”

I doubt you’re becoming less influential. Christianity (not the Catholics, I know) has 26 bishops in the House of Lords, as of right, it has hundreds of schools paid for by the state, it usually gets to lead moments of national mourning and celebration (there always has to be the mojo), it gets disproportionate air space on the world’s biggest broadcaster, the BBC. What more do you want?

When Jesus said something about giving a man your shirt, too, if he asks for your coat, I think he was talking about the giver, not the taker, not the grabber of privileges, such as the churches are.

And it’s secular culture that is important here. Religion is, after all, something of hobby status, no matter how much people feel it’s a part of them. You could say that with stamp collecting. People and their lives come first; religion is something bolted on, and those who don’t want it should not have to feel its influence, whether that’s through adoption agencies or registrars.

Simon Barrow of Ekklesia – linked to in the third paragraph – is, as usual, sensible on the issue.

He says that refusing equal treatment in the public square and trying to cling on to privilege is the wrong direction for the churches to take, both socially and theologically.

“We now live in a mixed-belief society, rather than one dominated by institutional Christianity,” he says. “That may question certain privileges which have existed before, but the removal of these need not be a threat. Rather it is an opportunity to rediscover a more authentic, liberating message and practice; one that has often been obscured or defaced by the collusion of official religion and governing authority.”

Incidentally, let’s return for a moment to that business of privilege. Half of the Catholic adoption agencies that the church threatened to close if they were required to work with gay couples have now adopted the new equality law. But they did so after a period of exemption.

Why was the Catholic Church given any period of exemption? Why, why, why?

No comments: