A New Story for Easter – The Fiction of Christian Persecution in the UK

“I propose that the reason for our increased apostolate in seeking Christian unity must be our ongoing action together in the face of aggressive secularism to maintain our Christian heritage and culture in our great country.”

So saith Cardinal Keith O’Brien in his Easter Sunday homily, delivered in St. Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh today. Apparently in Britain now

“Perhaps more than ever before there is that “aggressive secularism”; and there are those who would indeed try to destroy our Christian heritage and culture and take God from the public square.”

Religion, he declared, “must not be taken from the public square” because it plays a “positive role” in society. Christians in Britain are “increasingly marginalized”, partly due to their unwillingness “to publicly endorse a particular lifestyle”. The “lifestyle” he is too cowardly to mention, of course, is homosexuality.

He ends with a ‘rousing’ call to his supporters-in-faith:

“Christians must be united in their common awareness of the enemies of the Christian faith in our country, of the power that they are at present exerting, and the need for us to be aware of that right to equality which so many others cry out for….[i]n the face of persecution”

Well, this is to be expected. O’Brien is an officer of a fading faith, wracked by scandal and corruption, which has been rightly criticized for the systematic abuse and torture of children and its total lack of desire to do anything whatsoever about it – except cover it up. He is an anti-gay bigot who resigned his leadership of an adoption agency after it was required to serve committed gay couples, who spoke out against civil partnerships for same-sex couples and continues to campain against equal marriage rights.

So no surprise that he now turns his Scottish brogue against “aggressive secularism”.

But weightier voices have been raised against our cause today, too, from people who should know better. Lord Patten of Barnes (the leafy suburb of London where I went to high school), former Cabinet Minister, former Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Hong Kong, and current Chairman of the BBC Trust has also weighed-in.

According to The Telegraph, he was “dismayed by the attitude of secularists to the Pope’s visit last year”, and felt that “Some of the arguments put forward by secularists against the Pope’s visit were lacking in intellectualism and were extraordinarily mean-spirited”.

“It is curious that atheists have proved to be so intolerant of those who have a faith…Their books would be a lot shorter if they couldn’t refer to the Spanish Inquisition, but it is them who tend to have a level of Castillian intolerance about them.”

“Castillian intolerance”? This is heavy stuff. Those who criticized the coming of the Pope to British shores, at the height of the child abuse scandal and at great public expense, are somehow like the Spanish Inquisition? Whence comes this opprobrium?

Patten is no fool. You can’t manage the transition of a former British colony like Hong Kong (and be widely praised by the subjects of colonial rule) without some serious intellectual and political chops, and while Oxford is no Cambridge, it’s still a decent university. Nor, we must admit, is Patten a man of the cloth. So his intemperate and extreme attack against atheists and secularists (a distinction both he and Cardinal O’Brien fail to make) is more surprising.

The common thread that connects both defenders of the faith is a narrative of Christian persecution: in the UK today, they claim, Christians are being treated poorly. This is a story that is woven with increasing frequently by mouthpieces of the dwindling repressive right in the UK. Anne Widdecombe, former Conservative MP frequently bemoans “discrimination” against Christians, as does Pastor David Robertson, author of a little-read rebuttal to Dawkins’ The God Delusion and frequent broadcaster on Christian Radio. But is there any truth to these claims?

O’Brien points to the most oft-cited examples in his homily. First, a case in which an electrician was almost disciplined for placing a palm cross in the windshield his company van. Almost disciplined – he won the right to display a cross on the glove compartment, even though the company had a blanket policy against any personal items being displayed in company vans.

Second, a husband and wife who were denied the “right” to close their door on a gay couple who had booked to stay in their bed and breakfast. They lost their case, because in Britain it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, sexual preference, gender, sex or religion when offering services to the public, which their bed and breakfast was.

And third, a couple who were denied the right to foster children because of their religious objection to homosexuality. Fostering children, since it is essentially a public service, requires those who wish to perform it to demonstrate they are capable of doing so. Declaring themselves unwilling to support the developing sexuality of a queer child, the couple in question showed they were unfit to perform the public service and were rightly disqualified.

And this is the evidence of an “aggressive” secular attack on Christianity, an attempt to “destroy the Christian heritage and culture” of the UK?

What monstrous bollocks.

This narrative of Christian persecution in the UK – when Christianity still receives many tangible benefits from the state, including money to run schools and representation in Parliament itself – suits those who follow a religion which has at its heart a figure who felt the whole world hated him and would hate his followers.

But it is a fiction. Primarily, these attacks are coming our way because we are winning. Patten and O’Brien feel the winds of change blowing across the UK, and they don’t like the rationalist, reasonable, progressive, Humanist direction they are gusting.

Theirs is a cry against the wind, and will be lost in it.

About James Croft

James Croft is the Leader in Training at the Ethical Culture Society of St. Louis - one of the largest Humanist congregations in the world. He is a graduate of the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard, and is currently writing his Doctoral dissertation as a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is an in-demand public speaker, an engaging teacher, and a passionate activist for human rights. James was raised on Shakespeare, Sagan and Star Trek, and is a proud, gay Humanist. His upcoming book "The Godless Congregation", co-authored with New York Times bestselling author Greg Epstein, is being published by Simon & Schuster.

  • http://nathandst.blogspot.com/ LucienBlack

    Seems a little insulting to people who actually have been persecuted, and I’m not talking about atheists. Christians, or at least certain sects of Christians, may have been persecuted historically, but that doesn’t mean it’s happening now.

    • TempleoftheFuture

      You’re absolutely right, and indeed real persecution of Christians is happening now in some parts of the world, as you know. To harp on about an imagined problem in the UK is to diminish the importance of real abuses where they’re found – excellent point.

  • http://sirlancsallot.blogspot.com clod

    Terribly disappointing that Patten fellow. Used to think he talked some sense too. Pity.

  • Pingback: “Aggressive Secularism” « TRiG's links


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