The Church of England came in for something of a battering with the judgement against Bideford Council’s custom of beginning its meetings with prayers. This was deemed illegal by a judge citing local authority legislation, the case having been brought by an atheist councilor upset by the tradition, and he was financed by the National Secular Society. This judgement again hit the headlines over the weekend. Tory minister Eric Pickles rode to the rescue saying that the legislation was obsolete anyway. Commentators of the more ‘pc’ variety came out with ‘religion is a private matter’ and should not be part of the public forum. Generally the incident added fuel to the thesis, promoted by Lord Carey so ably, that Christianity is under a deepening chill factor in this nation as a result of legislation and the readiness of secular officialdom to hit at a soft target and so gain ‘pc’ points. Fortunately for the Human Rights industry this decision was not made on those grounds: the release of the bizarre West-hating Abu Qatada, who loves to inhabit the land he loathes, is doing quite enough damage to that cause.
A major problem with the secularist chill factor against Christianity is that it does not seem to apply to other faiths. That is because all ‘other faiths’ come under the Equality Act provisions and other legislation making deep exceptions on their behalf. Christianity is a ‘non-minority’ faith and so cannot produce a minority card. The same weekend saw the newspapers publish a photo of 500 Muslim men – no women of course — praying in Brune Street, Spitalfields, blocking a road and not being moved along by the police for obstructing the highway. This was ‘not a show of strength’ one Muslim was reported as saying, but the local mosque was, oddly, ‘too big’ for comfort. Another man was quoted as saying that the Christians had too much control, and ran the Royal
Wedding, as if he were in Saudi Arabia rather than the UK. Would the Copts in Egypt be given anything like the hospitality and toleration of Muslims here? Obviously not, and that is simply because Christianity is not Islam, the two are radically different belief systems. The former believes in a God who gives space to disciples, in the Spirit, for freedom in cultural life: the latter believes in a rigid commanding God whose finger dictates exactly how life should be lived in a powerful legalism.
Ayan Hirsi Ali’s brilliant article in the FT essentially makes this point, and wonders if Islamism, which is being voted into power by the Arab Spring nations, can in fact produce a liberal democratic society. Time will tell.
Whitney Houston’s tragic death somehow plugged Christians into the Gospel of Jesus. In this catastrophic burnt-out star’s death, the world was reminded of her raw faith, even as a grain of mustard seed. One of her last performances saw her singing ‘Yes, Jesus loves me’ – a witness for the world, including the world of Islam, and deeply encouraging to us.