Secular First – The Separation Of Faith And State
“mutato nomine de te fabula narratur.” – Quintus Horatius Flaccus
“Change only the name, and the story applies to you.”
I will begin by saying that I will be very surprised, given the alleged controversial nature of what I am going to speak about, if this piece actually makes it.
As for my initial quotation from the Roman poet, Horace, I find this to be an extraordinarily apt quote for many of my readers, and the readers of the various other articles and essays that appear on this outlet. Specifically in regards to pious politics, or political religion. Even more specifically in regards to the faith of Islam. I have written several less than flattering essays on the subject for my own amusement, and two here, so far. With many more soon to come, should dame fortune, and of course the site admins, smile upon me. It is of course, abundantly clear to any of us that Islam’s political face, also known as Islamism, and its militant face, jihadism, are arguably the two most immediate threats to our secular, democratic state, and indeed western civilisation.
One point often missed by others, be it the regressive left, pseudo-communist intellectual types, conservatives and neo-Nazis, that it is more than just one specific, extreme ideology that threatens us. It is any and all extreme ideologies. Absolutely any religious group that elbows its way into the political sphere, ideological offshoots of communism and fascism, totalitarian elements in the feminist or homosexual or transgender communities. Anybody who demands total conformity to their beliefs or otherwise attempts to force their beliefs and values onto others, these are all extreme in nature, regardless of intention. It may not be incorrect to say that these ideologies are not equally as dangerous to the same people, or as many people, at the same time, certainly, I happily concede to this fact. However, it must be noted, that when one bestows upon any of these a ‘get out of jail free card’ of sorts, one must, according to our own democratic and fair-minded principles, apply the same leniency for all.
I recall an example, about two years ago. Less than twenty-four hours after the Tunisian beach attack by an IS gunman, killing thirty-eight civilians, thirty of them British, three Irish, two German, one Russian, one Belgian and one Portuguese, and injuring a further thirty-nine, members of the ‘LGBTQ community‘ staged a ‘pride’ event in London. The purpose of the event, if I recall, was to celebrate the decision of the United States Supreme Court to allow same-sex marriage in all fifty of its states. I recall finding it ironic and amusing that such hysterical rejoicing was distinctly absent, at the very least at such a level, when the same decision was reached here in Britain, two years prior, despite the fact that all those in attendance were only subject to the British change in legislation. Among the attendees to this demonstration, was one chap who obviously considered himself rather clever and amusing, carrying, as some flamboyant vexillarius, a banner, or more specifically, a mock Islāmic State flag. On this flag, the Arabic Slogan had been replaced by white, rather gruesome looking anal sex aides. One of the anchors covering the event, CNN’s Lucy Pawle, glimpsed the sinister black flag in amongst the rainbow dream sequence and understandably mistook it for the legitimate item. She was immediately, viciously, ‘trolled’, slandered and ridiculed as both homophobic and Islamophobic, along with the expected allegations of bigotry and ignorance. She was lucky to keep her job, in retrospect. Yet surprisingly few people elected to comment on what was not only the insensitivity to grieving families and poor taste of this prank, given the deadly attack only the previous day, but the fact that if any straight man were to organise a public, grandiloquent display of lewd and lascivious behaviour, wondering public streets in bondage gear and carrying flags, let alone IS flags, depicting sex toys, would be arrested for indecency before he could pull his trousers up. This is, in itself a form of extremism. And we see the exact same unwillingness from all authorities to label it as such, as we see with most forms of extremism.
Another example, I shall present to you in the form of an experiment. I shall ask you to open up two new tabs in the top bar of your desktop screen, or your phone or tablet. In one, search for Google’s definition of communism. In the other, Google’s definition of fascism. Communism and all its sects and offshoots, we can all agree, is a uniquely left-wing ideology. Yet not once can the words left, left-wing or left leaning be found here. But aha, what have we here? The words right-wing appear twice in the definition of fascism, amusingly condemning authoritarianism and totalitarianism, all the while subtly manipulating language in an authoritarian and totalitarian bid to alter the meaning of things and condition society. Again, an extremist approach.
In a secular society, such extremism cannot be permitted to go on unnoticed. While one cannot physically ban or prohibit a thought or an idea in itself – nor should one desire or attempt to – it ought to be considered a moral duty of sorts, to observe and identify such threats wherever and whenever they may occur, so that they might not fester and grow into a subversive force.
When I started writing this piece, I quoted “mutato nomine de te fabula narratur“, ‘Change only the name, and the story applies to you.’ I meant this specifically in terms of religion. Even more specifically, political Christians, opposed to political Islam.
Now, I’m not going to argue the fine points of faith, why I apostatised from this particular faith less than two years ago, whether or not there is or isn’t a God, none of this is relevant. I’m not here to draw comparisons or parallels between faiths, Islam and Christianity. None of this matters here, and frankly, it would be a pointless exercise anyway. People will always believe what they want, and they are of course free to do so. However, what I will insist upon, is that the aforementioned beliefs are kept well away from me. I don’t personally care what faith or which God – this soul is closed for business.
I feel it obligatory to say this, in part as a response to an article published early this morning by my colleague Darrell Goodliffe, entitled Squaring The Circle: Faith And Politics, and from my conversation with various other Christian elements, within UKIP and elsewhere.
Darrell has produced an impressive article, yet I would challenge him on a few points he makes. Not purely because he makes them here, but because they are views held by many others, views which I feel are not compatible with our secular democracy. He quotes the former Lib Dem leaders reasons for resigning from his position, and elaborates slightly on his own feeling towards his faith and it’s relationship with the political sphere;
“he said it was ‘impossible’ for him to be a Christian and lead the Liberal Democrats. It is a watershed moment in British politics – as the former Anglican Honorary Chaplin to the Queen put it, it really is the beginning of the exclusion of the Christians from the public sphere … Having said that I cannot see a Biblically faithful Christian leading a right-wing party either because deeper contradictions exist in a liberal democracy, in a liberal democracy, a career politician aspires to serve the people where as the appointed role of a Christian is to serve God and these two things are most certainly not always the same thing”
He is not wrong in either of these points. However, I feel he has missed the point, to a certain degree.
I sympathise with the feelings of many Christians that the faith is being pushed out of the legislature and out of the public sphere generally, replaced both by atheism and by Islam, or rather Islamism, the latter being both alien in many senses and in others quite harmful. I would not say that the removal of Christianity from the public sphere is at all a bad thing. Quite the opposite, I would argue that the removal of religion in fact ensures the safety and equality of members of all faiths and doctrines, although I shall elaborate further on this later on. The issue I have with his attitude can be summed up quite simply in his quotation from the Acts Of The Apostles, chapter five, verse twenty-nine: “We must obey God rather than men.” Does this equal a justification to defy the laws of the land, in favour of divine law? Some will argue yes, others no. Both are irrelevant. The point here is that this recitation suggests that the laws of the divine and ordained are of a higher authority or significance than the democratically elected legislation. This concern about the lack of God and his divine will is not unique to Christians. I have written on numerous occasions about Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a serial Islamist apologist and anti-seclularist. I quoted her in an article of my own, published yesterday. British Islam – Friend Or Faux? ;
“For me, one of the most worrying aspects of this ‘militant secularisation’ is that at it’s core it is deeply intolerant. It demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes – denying people the right to a religious identity because they are frightened of the concept of multiple identities … Secularism is not intrinsically damaging, my concern is when secularism is pushed to an extreme and calls for the complete removal of religion from the public sphere.”
Does this, by chance, sound familiar? “mutato nomine de te fabula narratur.”
From this statement alone it is clear that Baroness Warsi is either under a grave misapprehension about the core values of secularism, or as I suspect, is deliberately attempting to misrepresent it. Now, I have on occasion raised my own personal concerns in regards to pseudo-secular states such as our own. Whilst not precisely partial to any particular faith or other belief system, it does seem, at least in our case, to leave something of a central, ideological vacuum, which Islamism appears to be doing it’s very best to fill. However, the very concept of ‘militant secularism,’ as Ms Warsi so lovingly phrases it, is something of an oxymoron. The entire basis of a secular society is one where one is free to believe whatever one may so desire, as long as said beliefs do not infringe on anybody else. A secular society promotes the free exchange of ideas and views, without bias. It appreciates the value of civilised, sensible discourse, with the guarantee of safety for all parties. It is not possible for a secularist to be ‘militant’ or ‘extreme,’ because the moment one begins to dictate what a person may think or say, one ceases to be a secularist. A friend and colleague of mine, with whom I have written elsewhere, recently wrote of secularism;
“Secular laws are rooted in moral principles devoid of religious influence … It does not matter about race, colour, gender, religion, or sexuality … Supremacy of secular law requires clear definitions between executive administration, judicial administration and enforcement and, not least, religion. A failure to maintain these formal separations is authorisation of power and/or theocracy… Today the supremacy of secular law is challenged by aggressive politically religious groups, supremacist in nature.”
It is important to note that secularism is also in no way exclusive to atheists such as myself. I would invite anyone interested to follow such groups and individuals on social media, such as Secular First, British Muslims For Secular Democracy, Shaaz Mahoob and Maajid Nawaz. I myself will concede that atheism has, in recent years, become something of an ideology in itself, as opposed to a mere demographic. Which seems, at least to me, to be missing the point.
Regardless, it is clear to me, as ought to be abundantly so to you, that speakers, writers, and other public figures with religious convictions, seek to crowbar their faith into the political sphere and into the laws that govern how everyone else lives, regardless of whether or not it is welcome. I am not accusing Darrell of this, certainly not. But I should like to point out both to him and to you, that there is a discrepancy between a politician with religious principles, and a religious politician. The former is a man or woman, much like you or I, who goes to work and does his or her job, and keeps religion an issue of personal faith, whereas the latter seeks to push his or her theological agenda. To insist that we ought to have Christianity in the political sphere, is to say that we must allow every other faith in also, and in equal measure. In an egalitarian democracy, one cannot apply one rule for one, and one for another, after all. But then, a hypothetical. What if the Muslim demographic were to continue to grow and expand to such a degree that it constitutes a majority? What then if they collectively, unanimously decide that they would see Sharia implemented as a substitute for the laws we otherwise know? By the standards many theocrats and evangelists set for their own beliefs, this is not at all unreasonable. Yet would they, or you, be inclined to allow this? Is it particularly appealing or desirable to you? Well, now you see how those who do not share your faith feel when you poke your own ordained rules and regulations into our lives. “mutato nomine de te fabula narratur.” Many who take a skeptical view of other faiths are either unwilling or incapable of applying the same scrutiny to their own.
We see this throughout history, as wee see how the sectarian and religious divides in politics invariably lead either to conflict or oppression. In the Islamic Middle East, where Shia states tend to neglect Sunni minorities, and vice versa. I’m sure we all remember Bosnia and Northern Ireland. John Adams, one of the founding fathers of the United States of America, once wrote of sectarianism and religious zealotry;
“There is a germ of religion in human nature so strong that wherever an order of men can persuade the people by flattery or terror that they have salvation at their disposal, there can be no end to fraud, violence or usurpation.”
A closely related example to this, would be in the United States, in 1802, when the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, wrote to contemporary President, Thomas Jefferson, expressing their concerns about oppression. Who were they afraid of being oppressed by? The Congregationalists of Danbury, Connecticut, no less. To this, Jefferson responded with his famous ‘Wall of Separation’ letter, reassuring them that there would be no state support of oppressive tactics by any religious sects, and assuring them that there would always be a wall of separation between the Church and the state.
This brings us nicely to the compromise that we all ought to seek, beneficial to all parties. A secular state with a godless constitution; no favour or bias offered to any religion, nor indeed any other extreme ideology. I say to pious readers that this is no insult to you, by any means. Please, have your beliefs, and do not allow anyone, peasant or emperor or cleric, dictate what you may or may not believe. Have your traditions your temples, your sacraments, your holidays and your holy days. But I must insist that you take religion, dogma, and doctrine out of politics, and most urgently out of the legislation that governs how I, and everyone else of other faiths or no faiths, must live our lives. You would not wish to live under Sharia. The only system at our disposal, by which we can guarantee the freedom of religion and the freedom from religion for everyone, is a secular state with a godless constitution.
To conclude this lengthly diatribe, I would first like to congratulate Darrel on his otherwise impressive article, along with his many others, and that I have the utmost respect for him as a writer and an individual, and for his right to his religious convictions. And to say that should this piece actually escape the administrators scissors, of which I am skeptical, I invite Darrell and indeed anybody else to contact me for further discussion on the topic. Secondly, I would like to coin a slogan of the late Christopher Hitchens;
“Mr Jefferson. Build up that wall.”