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Fighting For Secularism

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England has a 'privilege-complex'. Only last month, the former Sir Fred Goodwin, banker extraordinaire, had invisible sword strokes scrubbed off his shoulders, and thus the economic crisis was resolved. Oh, how the proletariat did cheer as the Queen resumed her duties and the priests returned to their pulpits.

Though we are a little too quiet on economic privileges, we can be grateful for the frequency with which religious institutions make claims to being marginalised, defined here as having their privileged status undermined by a 'militant secularism' i.e., secularism.

During his state visit in 2010, the pope compared this fictional brand of secularism to Nazism in an absurd and disgusting reductio ad Hitlerum argument:

1. Nazis wished to eradicate God.
2. Nazis perpetrated the Holocaust.
3. Thus, extreme secularism leads to the Holocaust.

It's an interesting argument considering the Nazis couldn't even secularise their belt buckles, which were inscribed "Gott Mit Uns" (God with us). Now, Baroness Warsi has taken up arms in the fight for faith and marched to the Vatican. Thankfully, she hasn't mentioned Nazism - well, at least by name.

Writing in The Telegraph, Warsi fears "a militant secularisation is taking hold of our societies". This militant secularism

"demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes - denying people the right to a religious identity because they were frightened of the concept of multiple identities. That's why in the 20th century, one of the first acts of totalitarian regimes was the targeting of organised religion."

Here, the Pope's argument comes with a sugar-coating, just for those of us who find reference to Nazism hard to swallow. The wholly implausible idea that secularism might actually be the best defence of "multiple identities" is put aside for fear mongering. It's hard to pinpoint what sparked Warsi's irrational fears, though I suspect the recent rulings against unlawful Christian practices.

Perhaps it was the realisation that it might be unlawful for Bideford Council to allow prayers at meetings. This, as you will have already noted, is classic Nazism. Or maybe it was the failed appeal by the married Christian hotel owners who had no room at the inn for a gay couple. Like Warsi, you may wonder: "Why can't secularism and religious homophobia co-exist?"

Fans of irony would be unfortunate to have missed The Telegraph's coverage that day. Along with Warsi's article was as a story about the Bishop of Shrewsbury urging M.P's to "vote down plans to legalise same-sex marriage". Despite recent findings that 74% of Christians believe religion shouldn't influence public policy, Rev Mark Davies babbled on:

"We face a mindset which sees progress only as a continuous shifting of our society further and further from its foundations until we have nothing left for family and society to be founded upon than changing, political fashions of thought.

"By attempting to redefine marriage for society, politicians will find they have not only undermined the institution of marriage but obscured its identity for generations to come.

"For politicians of Christian conscience this will be a moment to resist the leadership of their own political parties together with every parliamentarian who recognises the Judeo-Christian foundations on which our society rests.

"Our voices must now be raised as clearly as they can be, in order to proclaim the God-given meaning of marriage not only for the sake of this generation, but for the sake of all generations to come."

It is the essence of a secular society to dismiss that which is claimed as God-given, given that God isn't even a given. Now you may well ask: "Who is this Mark Davies to say who should or shouldn't get married?" Well, he's a man of God, and as such his voice reaches far too many ears, echoing out of the pulpit and, apparently, into the House of Commons. And this is in a militantly secular society.

Thankfully, Warsi, like many religious apologists, become advertisements for their opponents cause.

"When we look at the deep distrust between some communities today, there is no doubt that faith has a key role to play in the bridging these divides. If people understand that accepting a person of another faith isn't a threat to their own, they can unite in fighting bigotry and work together to create a more just world"

Any reader tangled in Warsi's acrobatic logic can at least deduce that her opening sentence has one too many words. To quote the late Christopher Hitchens, "where does the religious divide come from?" Even the faithful concede that history aches with religious division and conflict. Why shouldn't secularists be burning bridges?