Warsi on Secular Society

Baroness Warsi has been complaining about the ‘militant secularisation’ of society and the ‘marginilisation of religion’. If she means that the views of the religious are not deferred to in policy making, she is probably right but does she really want to change that? As a Muslim, she should perhaps be careful what she wishes for.

If she wants religion to play more of a part in society, which religion does she have in mind? This country has been Christian for over a millenium and for nearly half that time the dominant Christian denomination has been Anglicanism – Church of England/Church of Scotland. For centuries this Church was fully integrated in ruling this country – and persecuted other Christian denominations. Jews were marginilised and had there been any Muslims in the country in those days they would have been given short shrift too.

The secularisation of society was driven by the campaign of Christian minority groups such as the Quakers for civil rights. Freedom of worship is only an issue where there is an official or a preferred religion. If the civil power exercises no religious preference then it does not matter which, if any, religion the citizenry profess. To prevent such a religious preference, officials of religions should play no part in the civil power. Seperation, or ‘marginilisation’ as the Baroness prefers to call it, is not suppression. Nor is not giving in to one particular religious viewpoint, though you would not think so if you read Daily Mail stories which equate the prevention of discrimination against gays with suppression of Christianity.

It could be that she equates secularisation with atheism. It is not – as noted above, it was minority Christians who campaigned for a secular society. It is true that in the last few years (in Britain at least) atheists have felt comfortable in being openly atheist, and saying why. I suspect it is this that gives Warsi problems – certainly the term ‘militant’ is frequently used to describe atheist writers such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. It is a bit of a smear since when used to describe the religious it means something far more extreme – ‘militant Muslim’ brings to mind suicide bombers and ‘militant Christian’ brings to mind rednecks blowing up abortion clinics. I have heard it said that ‘militant’ also means ‘confrontational’ and if by ‘confrontational’ one means saying forthrightly what you believe then Dawkins and Hitchens can be so described. But with that meaning it could be applied to the Pope – and indeed writers on faith in the newspapers but for some reason it is not. Why is it ‘confrontational’ to wear the atheist “A” symbol but not ‘confrontational’ to wear a crucifix or clerical dog-collar?

The fact that this aversion to a particular viewpoint is shown by many religious spokespeople shows why society needs to be secular – having no official viewpoint. If Baroness Warsi still doubts this, perhaps she should read some Catholic or Jewish or Quaker histories of Britain and ask herself she truly wishes to risk being on the receiving end of that.

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2 Responses to “Warsi on Secular Society”

  1. Recovering Agnostic Says:

    The irony of a British Muslim telling a Catholic how terrible secularism is wasn’t lost on me. They just can’t see that without secularism, people like them would be excluded from all sorts of aspects of public life, at least in Britain. It’s worth looking at the full text of the speech – some of her arguments are really something.

    You were just dying for an opportunity to use that antidisestablishmentarianism tag, weren’t you?

    • jaycueaitch Says:

      Not exactly – but since the opportunity came up I just couldn’t resist.

      I’m sure someone’s going to come along shortly and tell me it’s not a real word.

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