Thoughts on ‘The Strange Death of Europe’

I’ve just finished reading strangedeathofeuropeThe Strange Death of Europe by Douglas Murray. It’s not an easy read – it deals with an issue which we as a Western society do not want to talk about (immigration) – but I think it’s important to deal with these issues.

If you want to listen to him talking about the book and its main ideas, you can find a few interviews on YouTube such as this one.

I don’t want to review the book as such – please read it for yourself – but off the back of it I wanted to mention a couple of thoughts I had while reading it.

The main thing is: what gives a society a sense of identity? I think this is a hugely important question which is often overlooked in the UK. You have a group of people living together in a town. How can they get on with each other? You could list a few things: common language, jobs, values, etc. Values are important – we have to value certain things in order to get on with each other.

The government recognised this when it created “British Values” (which are, for the record: democracy, rule of law, individual liberty, and respect for and tolerance of those of different faiths and those without faith). Those are all apparently British values which all children are being indoctrinated in – sorry – educated about at school.

The thing is, being taught about British Values at school doesn’t really give us a sense of identity, does it? It’s just “the way we do things round here” – without a coherent system of thought to back it up, they’re meaningless. This brings me to the question of religious identity.

In the past, this country has largely been held together by a broadly Christian worldview. It has permeated the monarchy, our government, our laws, our national institutions (such as the BBC), and of course an established church. Now this is all rapidly being demolished for a new secularist world where there is no place for religious belief. The best the government can come up with is some rather vague and not particularly convincing “British Values”.

Then Islam enters into the picture. The secular world simply has no idea how to respond to Islam. For most secularists, religious is an irrelevance. They seem to think most religions are more or less the same – they believe in a different ‘sky fairy’ but they’re pretty much the same (I talk about that more here). The problem is, religions are not all the same. British Values have nothing to say to someone who is a convinced Muslim.

Tom Holland did a documentary recently for Channel 4 called Isis: The Origins of Violence (at the time of writing you can still watch it on 4oD). In it he interviewed a Muslim (can’t remember who it was but it was someone important) who said that Western laws were not good because they did not come from God. He sincerely believed that Islamic laws were best because they were given by God and not man. (This is also the man who was somewhat evasive about condemning violence.)

How do you convince someone that our laws are good in those circumstances? 

It seems to me the only way is to actually demonstrate that our laws actually do come from God – from the Christian God, ‘the God who is there’ as Schaeffer put it. Secularism simply has no answer to orthodox Islam, it is impotent in the face of it.

What’s interesting about Douglas Murray’s book is that he identifies the problem (the decline of Christianity in the West) – but at the same time he believes that it is impossible to believe in Christianity now due to 19th century higher criticism (much of which has now been discredited).

I believe that the only ultimate solution to the problems we face – both personally and as a society – is the Christian faith. This is the social glue that helps to bind us together. This is the foundation of our society, the foundation of our morality and laws. This is the only way Western society can survive. My prayer is that God might send another revival as in the days of Wesley and Whitefield, or the Great Awakening in America. It has happened before, it can happened again. Lord, have mercy.

David Cameron and the ‘Christian Country’

Image source: Flickr
Image source: Flickr

It seems that David Cameron can’t say or do anything right when it comes to faith. Either he’s not Christian enough, or too Christian, or gets faith involved in politics, or doesn’t get faith involved in politics – he seems to receive criticism from all quarters. Most recently, he’s been criticised in a letter to the Telegraph for calling the UK a ‘Christian Country’. According to the letter:

Apart from in the narrow constitutional sense that we continue to have an established Church, Britain is not a “Christian country”. Repeated surveys, polls and studies show that most of us as individuals are not Christian in our beliefs or our religious identities.

Frankly I think this is an exaggeration when, in the last UK Census – which is surely by definition the most comprehensive survey of them all – 59.3% of the population voluntarily put ‘Christian’ on the form. Not only that, but the established Church is not simply ‘bolted on to a secular state: it has legal recognition (the relation of canons of the Church of England and the Law, for example), Bishops sit in the House of Lords – whether you like it or not, the Church has a role in the fabric of the country at the highest levels. That role may be diminishing, but it is still there. It is not merely a ‘narrow constitutional sense’.

However, aside from that, there is another historical angle on this – which would be true even if the Church of England were to completely disappear, and Christianity became a minority religion. Continue reading

Secularism: What does it mean to you?

Image source: Flickr
Image source: Flickr

The title of this blog post is taken from an article I read yesterday. The Guardian basically asked a few different people what secularism meant to them, and published their responses. To be honest, the article doesn’t encompass a huge range of beliefs (most of the people there seem to be atheist / humanist in outlook), but I think it’s an interesting window into a what a cross-section of people think ‘secularism’ actually is. Especially when the most visible thing about secularism recently is the National Secular Society’s campaigns, most lately against the Church of England’s role at the Cenotaph on remembrance day.

Anyway, I’d just like to pick up on a few comments from the article because I think they’re worth dealing with. In particular, I think many people seem to be confusing secularism with being ‘secularist’: to be secularist means the systematic eradication of any religious influence on public life; whereas secularism as I understand it is about a level playing field between competing views. (See my previous post about secular law for more thoughts on this – in particular I believe a secularist society is a tyrannous society).

Continue reading

Is Secularism ‘neutral’, ‘godless’ – or even possible?

Image source: Flickr
Image source: Flickr

After writing my previous post, I read Gillan’s excellent post over at the God and Politics blog, which I do commend to you. At the bottom of the article, he linked through to an article on the Theos Think Tank website, written by a Christian barrister, entitled “Is Secular Law possible?” I would encourage anyone who has an interest (either positive or negative) in religion in the public sphere to read it. It’s not a short article but it will be well worth your time.

It basically argues: (1) secularist law – i.e. law which excludes any religious influence – is impossible, but ‘secular’ law (understood correctly) is possible; (2)  secular law is only possible because of Christian foundations in distinguishing between law and morality; (3) secular law is imperative, the idea of limited government logically comes from Christian foundations.

In these days of alleged ‘militant secularism’, I think it’s high time that these kind of issues got out into the open and were actually discussed rather than simply being assumed. What kind of secular society do we want? I don’t think we want a secular society which can be used as a weapon against religion. To whet your appetite for the article, I’d like to quote from the first section on morality, which puts rather more eloquently what I have said here before:

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The Church is wiser than our secular society

A BibleOne of the articles that seems to have been doing the rounds on Twitter lately is “Our secular society is wiser than the Church” by Oliver Kamm (most recently I saw it tweeted by my friend @pandammonium). I often read articles online without responding to them, but sometimes one annoys me sufficiently that I feel the need to write something about it here.

The article itself is pretty short, it won’t take a minute of your time to read, but the argument is basically that the church always lags behind societal attitudes. Frankly I find the thinking in the article so muddled I don’t quite know where to begin, but I’ll quote a few sentences and try to explain:

Gay marriage will become established and there will come a time when few of its current opponents (including Archbishop Welby) will be exercised by the issue.

This is unbelievably patronising. Kamm is basically saying, “There, there, dear – your petty and ridiculous objections to same-sex marriage will be forgotten in a few years when you’ve finally caught up with society – and you will.” In other words, “you’ll come round, just give it time”. It doesn’t deal with any of the objections to same-sex marriage (hereafter known as SSM); it just assumes that SSM is correct and that any objectors are purely irrational hatemongers who will come round.

Continue reading

Toynbee Strikes Again

I don’t usually write about such things on this blog, but this article by Polly Toynbee has got me quite annoyed. Her article is full of misinformation and slightly odd logic (something she’s been guilty of before, but we’ll leave that for the time being). It baffles me how someone who is so vitriolic can get a regular hearing in a national newspaper – but then, I guess Richard Dawkins has written articles before, so…

Seeing as I don’t have much to do this afternoon, let’s take a quick look at some of the claims and arguments she makes:

Rows over gay marriage and women bishops bewilder most people. With overwhelming popular support for both, how can abstruse theology and unpleasant prejudice cause such agitation at Westminster and in the rightwing press? Politics looks even more out of touch when obscure doctrine holds a disproportionate place in national life.

It’s true that most people are probably in favour of women bishops – although that was more of an internal Church of England thing. Parliament haven’t really had to get involved in that; it wasn’t a political issue in the governmental sense. As for gay marriage, I’d hardly say there was “overwhelming public support” for it: according to the statistics from this article, just over 50% of the responses to the government’s proposals were in favour. This is ignoring the number of responses on both the “Coalition for Marriage” and “Coalition for Equal Marriage” petitions (c. 500,000 vs c. 60,000). Clearly, the world which Polly Toynbee lives in is one where even the government’s own official statistics are only just barely in favour of gay marriage is equal to ‘overwhelming public support’.

With a third of state schools religious in this most secular country, Michael Gove not only swells their number but lets them discriminate as they please in admissions. As he is sending a bible to every English school, the BHA is fundraising to send out its own Young Atheist’s Handbook to school libraries. Government departments are outsourcing more services to faith groups in health, hospice, community and social care.

Not entirely sure what the point of this paragraph is. So… religious schools are increasing in number. They do a good job; they’re usually popular. And each school has to be somewhat discriminatory in its admissions policy. What’s the problem? [See also this on the Church Mouse blog] And the government are ‘outsourcing’ services to faith groups. Because Christian faith groups tend to have a good track record in health, hospice, community and social care work. What’s the atheist record like in those areas? Oh.

But of all the battles Jim Al-Khalili confronts, the most urgent is the right to die. Powerful religious forces block attempts to let the dying end their lives when they choose … The public supports the right to die, but many more will drag themselves off to a bleak Swiss clinic before the religions let us die in peace.

Oh dear oh dear. So the only reason anyone would ever oppose euthanasia is because of religious ideas? Once again, I don’t think this is supported by the evidence. It’s not just the religious who have issues with assisted dying: see, for example, this piece (and, related, this one about the Lords which Toynbee mentioned in the article) – particularly the link through to the Scope website in the quote at the end. It seems that what Toynbee says is just propaganda; the BHA have set out their stall here and I don’t think they’ve considered all the implications.

Sensing the ebbing tide of faith since the last census, the blowback against unbelievers has been remarkably violently expressed. Puzzlingly, we are routinely referred to as “aggressive atheists” as if non-belief itself were an affront. But we are with Voltaire, defending to the death people’s right to believe whatever they choose, but fighting to prevent them imposing their creeds on others.

What Toynbee doesn’t seem to get is that governments, pretty much by definition, have to impose a view or creed on others. The government has to take a position on assisted dying. The government has to take a position on gay marriage. Her beef seems to be that the government don’t take her particular view, or that of the BHA. As I said before, atheistic secularism is NOT neutral ground.

For instance, he might take offence at the charge that without God, unbelievers have no moral compass. Hitler and Stalin were atheists, that’s where it leads. We can ripost with religious atrocities, Godly genocides or the Inquisition, but that’s futile. Wise atheists make no moral claims, seeing good and bad randomly spread among humanity regardless of faith. Humans do have a hardwired moral sense, every child born with an instinct for justice that makes us by nature social animals, not needing revelations from ancient texts. The idea that morality can only be frightened into us artificially, by divine edict, is degrading.

‘Seeing good and bad randomly spread among humanity’ – that’s interesting. Why is ‘good and bad’ randomly spread among humanity? What’s the ‘bad’ doing there? If everyone truly has a hardwired instinct for justice, why is there bad? And what can the BHA do about it? I’m asking a genuine question here. If humans are so brilliant, why is the world in such a mess – especially when much of the world’s current mess is caused by the least-religious West? (i.e., it wasn’t ‘religion’ that caused the problems.)

And the statement about morality being ‘frightened into us artificially, by divine edict’, is ignorant if nothing else.

The new president will confront another common insult: atheists are desiccated rationalists with nothing spiritual in their lives, poor shrivelled souls lacking transcendental joy and wonder. But in awe of the natural world of physics, he’ll have no trouble with that. Earthbound, there is enough wonder in the magical realms of human imagination, thought, dream, memory and fantasy where most people reside for much of their waking lives. There is no emotional or spiritual deficiency in rejecting creeds that stunt and infantalise the imagination.

‘Creeds that stunt and infantalise the imagination’ – all I will say is, [citation needed]. I mean, seriously? Given how much incredible art, music, architecture etc. that religion has inspired? Sounds like the words of someone with a massive chip on their shoulder.

Still, if all members of the BHA are as bitter as Polly Toynbee, with such a massive chip on their shoulders, I can’t see them ever being that popular. Self-worship is never particularly inspiring; and I think essentially that’s what is happening with humanism: we have a ‘can-do’ attitude, we can solve all our own problems. “Hey, look at us! We’re brilliant!” This ties in with something else I’ve been thinking about recently, about atheism being the ultimate form of idolatry, but we’ll leave that particular theological discussion to another day…

No More Page 3 and ‘Rape Culture’

I haven’t blogged about this before now, so firstly: if you haven’t seen the No More Page 3 campaign, I do encourage you to have a look and sign the petition if you agree. Frankly I think Page 3 is a dinosaur – a relic of a bygone age which should have been gone long ago. (Well, should never have been allowed to start, but let’s not go there.)

I signed the petition a while back, but what prompted me to blog today was this article about ‘rape culture’. I find it seriously disturbing to know the kind of things which are going on around Universities these days (although, to be fair, it was probably going on when I was at uni almost ten years ago too – but the rise of Facebook and social media seem to have made it more prominent).

I’m not sure how we got to this point in our society: clearly there are many factors at play, and I’m not clever or well-versed in history enough to understand them. But I do wonder whether this is partly down to our understanding of what it means to be human: if people coming through school are constantly being told “we’re basically fancy bald monkeys” – i.e. we are animals, nothing more and nothing less – then can people really be blamed for indulging in ‘animal instincts’ a bit? If men are designed by evolution to spread their genes as widely as possible – can they really be blamed for trying to indulge that?

Obviously that is far from the whole picture, but it seems that once a society abandons the idea of a good Creator who values each of his creations equally, this kind of thing is almost to be expected. (Similarly with my previous thoughts on secularism and infanticide). It will be interesting to see what, if anything, can be done about this in our society: I struggle to believe that more ethical education is what is needed for lads who are being educated at university.

A societal change is needed, and indeed I believe abolishing page 3 is a step in the right direction. The question is, whether it’s enough to stem the tide in a sex-saturated culture, or whether a more deep-rooted and fundamental change needs to happen in the life of society.