A great cloud of witlessness: the Not Ashamed campaign

I’m back, bitches. I’ve been roused from my slumbers by a friend’s link to the Not Ashamed campaign against the marginalisation of Christianity in the UK. It’s fronted by George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury.

A great cloud of witlessness

Apparently, it’s getting harder to be a Christian in this country. So, what’s the problem? The campaign’s choice of heroes of the faith makes it clear that the essence of Christian practice is stopping gays getting the same rights as everyone else, getting yourself special exemptions from workplace dress codes (keeping up with the Muslims, I suppose), and proselytizing on the taxpayers’ time. The Ministry of Truth examines these bold martyrs in detail (I’ve previously discussed the cases of Olive Jones and Gary MacFarlane myself) and concludes that they probably should be ashamed, really.

Now, I’ve had a rough time over the last few months, hence the lack of posting, and some Christians have been very kind to me (as well as some non-Christians, of course). So I’d formed a different view of the essentials: I had thought they were things like kindness and goodness, those things against which, as St Paul says, there is no law. But who am I to disagree with the former Archbishop of Canterbury?

I imagine Carey would say that if you can’t spurn the gays or wear a silver ring to school, you can still be a Christian, but well, it just wouldn’t be the same: hence the campaign’s description of the heroes as “those who have suffered”. It must have been awful for them.

The grand metanarrative

Some time ago, Weeping Cross (who is one of those moderate religionists of the sort that never gets enough publicity for condemning the extremists: glad to help) wrote that

the narrative of persecution is a terribly comforting one for many modern Christians, and is to a great degree generated by them. It’s a way of taking cultural marginalisation and making it a sign that they’re getting something right: people don’t like the truth, so the more truthful we are about the Gospel, the more disliked we will be.

Someone called JPea commented on Heresiarch’s latest, informing us that all this is part of the cosmic battle between good and evil which will soon culminate in the kind of end of series finale where they blow the entire special effects budget. Luckily, Rev Cross was around to tell them not to be so silly: “Try looking at what’s actually happening and not trying to fit it into a grand metanarrative.”

I’m not sure that’s a realistic instruction for most of the Not Ashamed types: the whole point of that style of religion is to be part of the big story (I’ve just discovered Greta Christina had my idea first, curse her). The mundane facts that Christian observance is on the decline in this country and that more and more people won’t put up with discrimination against gays must be invested with cosmic significance: there is a conspiracy of “strident” atheists and “politically correct” bureaucrats, with the Dark Lord behind it all. If the meteor that flew by last night wasn’t a special signal to me on whether I should buy a new car, then how terribly shallow it all is.

Edited: One of my nice Christian friends didn’t like the Advice Dog image which was attached to this posting, so I removed it.

21 Comments on "A great cloud of witlessness: the Not Ashamed campaign"


  1. You can have persecution without a cosmic end-of-time narrative, of course: you can see that societies tend to move in cycles where decadence and license increase (it happens in most empires before they eventually collapse), and in those circumstances it’s understandable that those who say point out that not everything is in fact permitted will find themselves on the receiving end of ire from those who don’t want to be reminded that they shouldn’t just live their lives exactly as they please. They will definitely find themselves marginalised, and their voice removed from the public sphere, and efforts made to remove them from public sight.

    That is, persecution can be real without being of cosmic significance: it can come simply from social circumstances of a move towards liberalism, circumstances that tend to occur again and again throughout history (and therefore it would be pretty odd to think that something which happens on a fairly regular historical schedule presages the end of time!)

    And therefore the fact that the ‘cosmic significance’ theory is silly (and the people behind this particular campaign are odd) doesn’t say anything about whether the persecution, marginalisation, and removal of Christian voices from the public discussion is actually happening.

    S.

    Reply

    1. Ah, you’ve just replaced the eschatology story with the Decline and Fall story.

      I am, let’s say, unconvinced. The objections of the decadent liberals to Not Ashamed’s heroes of the faith are not predicated on the idea that everything is permitted or that people can live their lives exactly as they please. They are moral objections to unfairness and to doing harm, both of which the objectors think should not be permitted.

      And therefore the fact that the ‘cosmic significance’ theory is silly (and the people behind this particular campaign are odd) doesn’t say anything about whether the persecution, marginalisation, and removal of Christian voices from the public discussion is actually happening.

      Carey launched his campaign from the steps of the House of Lords, which contains the Lords Spiritual, unelected legislators who hold their office only because of their position in the church. As Bishop Baines says, Christians aren’t a beleaguered minority, they’re everywhere.

      What I suspect is happening is increasingly, people just don’t see the church as relevant and therefore don’t see why they should listen to priests. Framing this as persecution just looks silly and desperate given the real persecution that occurs in other countries.

      Reply

      1. The Decline and Fall story, though, is historical fact: every empire in history has declined and fallen. Well, except the ones that are around at the moment, but arguing from the fact that I haven’t died yet that I might be immoral doesn’t seem a particularly sensible thing to do.

        So is the question just the definition of ‘persecution’? I do admit that it’s a troublesome word. There are, after all, bits of the world where members of the Church are being seriously, properly persecuted, right now. It does seem a bit rich of a Christian in Britain to claim to be ‘persecuted’ when Christians in China are being locked up and executed.

        Nevertheless, there has been and is ongoing an attempt to remove Christian voices away from the public sphere and to ‘fence them off’ into specific areas where they are not allowed to affect the general discourse — ‘god slots’ and the like. Religious reasons are simply not allowed to be used these days as reasons for anything: if I were to argue against a particular law for religious reasons, say, the response would not be ‘I disagree with you because I disagree with your religious reasons’ but rather ‘religious language has no place in public discourse, please shut up.’

        And while ‘persecution’ does seem a bit of a strong word to attach to that, ‘discrimination’ doesn’t as there certainly is discrimination against religious arguments being made in the public sphere (that sometimes extends even to expressions of religion in the public sphere) when, say, scientific arguments are seen as fine.

        Now you may agree with this discrimination. You may think that it is right and proper that scientific arguments are admitted to the public debate, but that religious arguments ought to be kept out of policy-making. I suspect in fact that you do, but I’d just like you to be honest and therefore say that you support discrimination against Christians being in the public sphere qua Christians.

        The Lords Spiritual are a case in point. The important thing to note there is that their presence is tolerated pretty much exactly as long as they don’t actually say anything specifically Christian, ie, anything that disagrees with the prevailing secular liberal humanist dogma. And God forbid they should ever attempt to vote according to Christian principles!

        Another case to make the point that this kind of de facto discrimination has been going on for a long time is Tony Blair: whatever you may think of him, you must admit that he was terrified, while he still was at the mercy of voters, of appearing openly religious of of looking like any of his decisions were motivated by religious reasons. His PR team — and they were one of the best at reading he public mood — realised that the public mood was to discriminate against religions, and specifically against Christianity, in the public sphere by punishing electorally anyone who seemed ‘too Christian’.

        There is, I don’t think anyone can deny, an anti-Christian public mood in this country: a general feeling that Christians are to be tolerated, but only as long as they go away over there and say and do and believe their funny things, but that they must not allow their Christianity to either inform any statements they make in the public sphere (in which case they will be instantly discounted) or to influence their behaviour or actions in public life. That is, someone may in private believe for religious reasons that, say, it would be better for a child not to be adopted by a couple of the same sex, but it is not acceptable for that belief to either be spoken in public discourse or to be acted upon in public.

        And, as it is perfectly acceptable for someone to believe for secular liberal humanist reasons that it is fine for a child to be adopted by a couple of the same sex, and moreover to say so and act on that in public, that is discrimination against Christianity and in favour of secular liberal humanism. That discrimination is part of the public mood at this time and in this country. And you may think — you do, I expect — that that discrimination is right and proper, but whether it’s right or not doesn’t change the fact that it exists.

        S.

        Reply

        1. You may think that it is right and proper that scientific arguments are admitted to the public debate, but that religious arguments ought to be kept out of policy-making. I suspect in fact that you do, but I’d just like you to be honest and therefore say that you support discrimination against Christians being in the public sphere qua Christians.

          I support discrimination against Christians being in the public sphere qua Christians only in the sense that I also support discrimination against Muslims qua Muslims, Scientologists qua Scientologists and so on: my preference for arguments based on public reason does not pick out Christianity and so isn’t specifically discriminatory against it. Science is our best tool for answering certain questions of fact. All the religions I’ve just mentioned are basically made up, though some have more gravitas than others from having been around for longer.

          As far as I’m concerned, religious people should be free to make such arguments in public: if a Christian wants to say that gay adoption is bad because God says so, or a Scientologist wants to say that psychology is bad because psychologists assisted in Xenu’s genocide, good luck to them. I suspect that the reason sensible religious people don’t engage in such arguments is that they know the response they’ll get: they recognise that such arguments make them look bonkers, so they don’t use them.

          I struggle to see a tactical desire not to use ineffectual arguments as evidence of something bad going on. If all the campaigners (and you) are complaining about is that “people don’t listen when we tell them what God says they have to do”, well, it’s world’s smallest violin time. This isn’t some sort of decadent moral decline so much as people having the temerity to have moral opinions which disagree with yours.

          Reply

          1. ‘I support discrimination against Christians being in the public sphere qua Christians […] All the religions I’ve just mentioned are basically made up’

            As long as we’re clear. The discrimination is real: you think it’s a good thing.

            (There is discrimination, and indeed persecution, I think is a good thing: discrimination against stupid people applying to (some) universities, and persecution of racists. I have no desire to try to argue you into changing your mind; I suspect it is made up. The important thing is just not to, as you seemed to be doing originality, deny that it goes on.)

            ‘I suspect that the reason sensible religious people don’t engage in such arguments is that they know the response they’ll get’

            Yes…

            ‘they recognise that such arguments make them look bonkers, so they don’t use them’

            … but no. I know the response I’d get, and it would be violent (inasmuch as British public discourse ever gets violent, which probably just means people would tut and stop talking to me, but translate that to, say, Burma and I’d probably be shot) but it wouldn’t make me look bonkers (because I’m not) — it would just be because people don’t want to listen.

            (The Christian view, as I’m sure you know but equally sure you don’t care, is slightly more nuanced than ‘gay adoption is bad because God says so.’)

            S.

            Reply

            1. That sort of selective quoting is pretty much equivalent to lying in my book. Do you self-identify as a Christian, by any chance?

              The discrimination is real and healthy but not specific to Christians. To describe tutting and deciding not to listen as “violent” is itself bonkers, so I’d say you already sound bonkers, you just don’t seem to realise it: you are not in Burma, you are not a character in the Book of Acts or a Roman watching the approach of the Visigoths. Deciding not to listen to people who sound bonkers is a perfectly healthy form of discernment, or discrimination if you prefer.

              (Scientologists’ view on psychology is more nuanced than I quoted, too: I don’t really see the relevance of that).

              Reply

              1. Why would it matter what I identify myself as? What I am is not up to me.

                I did say that the discrimination is not specific to Christians, but directed at all religious voices, which are (it has apparently been decided) to be banned form the public sphere; however Christians are (probably for historical reasons to to being the ‘default’ voice of religion in the country during the time in which many of those now doing the banning grew up) treated with special ire (if a Muslim or a Hindu says something antithetical to secular liberal humanism, the reaction tends to be a patronising ‘oh, those silly religious people’; if a Christian says it it tends to be ‘how dare those moralistic types try to tell us what’s right!’).

                And if you really find it that difficult to notice an attempt at humorous exaggeration… well, I don’t think there’s any way I can help you.

                S.

                Reply

                1. I did say that the discrimination is not specific to Christians

                  Er, actually you said “there has been and is ongoing an attempt to remove Christian voices away from the public sphere … you support discrimination against Christians being in the public sphere qua Christians … the public mood was to discriminate against religions, and specifically against Christianity, in the public sphere … that is discrimination against Christianity and in favour of secular liberal humanism”. (Emphasis mine, though the general picture is quite clear even without it.)

                  well, I don’t think there’s any way I can help you

                  I don’t think he wants (or needs) your help.

                  Reply

        2. There is, I don’t think anyone can deny, an anti-Christian public mood in this country…

          That’s an odd predicament the Britain finds itself in, then. I was under the impression that the majority of populace self-identified as Christian. At least nominally. Though survey data varies widely, The Office for National Statistics had the number at ~70% Christian in 2001. So is a vocal minority guiding this ‘public mood’, or are we seeing what self-hate en masse looks like? I’m confused.

          Reply

          1. Which stats you quote depend on what you’re trying to prove: if you want to show that this is a “Christian country” and therefore there should be bishops in the House of Lords and whatnot, you quote the census data, where a majority of people identified as some sort of Christian in 2001.

            If you’re an atheist who wants to show that religion is in decline, or you’re an evangelical wanting to motivate evangelism, you quote church attendance figures or the British Social Attitudes survey which shows a trend towards “no religion”.

            My perception is that quite a lot of people are culturally Christian but being serious enough about it to go to church regularly or worry about gay adoption for religious reasons is getting rarer.

            Reply

            1. You forgot ‘if you’re wanting to prove this is a “Christian country” and therefore Christian’s can’t be in a persecuted minority, you quote…’

              S.

              Reply

              1. Oh, sure. As I said, there’s a lot of cultural Christianity, so what actually seems to happen is that the moderate sort of Christian that everyone’s used to still has a lot of what the annoying identity politics people on LJ call “privilege”: see Cross’s description of talking to a builder in his parish (near the bottom), for example. But any hint of enthusiasm is looked on as a bit odd.

                I’m not convinced this is a new phenomenon: Kate Fox comments on it as an aspect of the British character.In her book Watching the English, she writes that calling yourself C of E is “a sort of default option, a bit like the ‘neither agree nor disagree’ box on questionnaires”. As Heresiarch says, most English people aren’t even interested enough in religion to declare themselves agnostics.

                Reply

          2. Define ‘Christian’.

            And, as a general policy, don’t believe any ‘self-identification’. On any topic. If you are something, it should be evident to everyone.

            S.

            Reply

  2. Huh. Now, I’m going to be fairly positive-sounding, and say there isn’t anything wrong with being a Christian (although there are rare or less-rare times it goes horribly wrong). But I think the CoE problem is with people not really giving a crap, not with persecution. Which I would suppose is a reason to SAY there’s persecution, but not an honest one.

    There is a certain amount of lost fire with CoE — obviously many people love it dearly, and I love having a state religion which is much more benign and inclusive than many branches of Christianity, but Christian friends who seem to get the most from Christianity, seem to think of themselves as owing allegiance to something more specific than CoE.

    I imagine if Jesus were around, he would advocate getting passionate about something — maybe charity work, or something else incredibly positive but not especially controversial, and showing everyone how awesome the CoE is — which I would be quite happy to endorse! I do NOT imagine he would advocate standing around whining vaguely on the internet about how people don’t take you seriously.

    (To be somewhat fair, in a declining majority’s fall, there comes a point where it stops being so overwhelmingly in charge, and DOES start to need protection from discrimination. So we can’t just ignore stories about people who feel their Christianity has bee hard done by. But I don’t think “forced to express religion without contravening reasonable minimal health and safety standards” is a very high level of discrimination panic.)

    Reply

  3. “So I’d formed a different of the essentials” – there is a grammar error there – missing “view”?

    Q: I get the impression that quite a lot of people – including you – are ex-Christians because some bits of it obviously don’t make sense; and high on the list, possibly at the top, is the obvious problem of discrimination against woofters. And yet (as I understand it) whilst said discrimination is definitely in the Bible, it isn’t a major part of it. At one point, after all, the Bible definitely said that the Earth didn’t move; that got bunged out when it became inconvenient. It could have happened, perhaps, that the anti-woofter bit got declared “metaphorical” too, or whatever it was that happened to earth-not-moving. So, do you care to speculate, supposing that *had* gone: would it make a major difference, or would people just find something else to fight about?

    Reply

    1. missing “view”?

      Yep, fixed it.

      The gay thing is an interesting one: it wasn’t one of my major reasons for leaving, though it was one of the problems. So I don’t think it would have made a big difference to me personally.

      I imagine there are people for whom it is a big reason, though I’m not sure how much sense that makes, as there are bits of Christianity which are not anti-gay, so someone whose only concern was that could choose a church which didn’t mind gays. I can imagine it being the first crack in the dam, as it were, though.

      In his lovely essay Ballad of Reading Diocese, Andrew Rilstone views the whole thing as a proxy for the disagreement between the people who think that the CofE should be a sort of National God Service, and the people who think should be a supernatural religion with revealed scriptures.

      A lot of British evangelicals are slightly apologetic that “the Bible says” gay sex is wrong, but bemused that anyone would think otherwise (at least, this is what the ones I knew thought when I was one). They don’t hate gays, but they don’t want the church to become the National God Service.

      Reply

  4. The far more worrying trend is the assumption that thought will become act. Someone who sees homosexual sexual activity (or all sexual activity outside of the context of heterosexual marriage) is automatically a homophobe, and by that I don’t mean the definition has been made wider (although it has by many), but that having those views will make Christians want to cause harm to those who identify as homosexuals. Or even that they will. I don’t know what you think about that, I know you refer to the position as bigoted, which is along the scale towards homophobic (expressing animosity to those who think differently, being hostile to homosexuals). I hope it isn’t in bad taste to mention David Starkey, who said this week that we are in danger of replacing one tyranny with another – once homosexuals were criminalised, soon those who disapprove of homosexuality will be criminalised.

    Genuine prejudice is about discriminating against people on the basis of who or what they are, what they think and believe, based on the assumption that they are more likely to act in a certain way as a result of this. It is not impossible to disapprove of something someone does but to not let that alter the way you act towards them at all. Conversely it is perfectly possible to agree with everything someone does but shit all over them anyway.

    I agree that Reform et al are being a little overdramatic, but where we have religious vs homosexual in the law courts, it is clear that the latter trumps the former. Christians are right to try to check this, before it gets worse – and it could get worse for all of us, in an extreme scenario. If a government decide it is wrong for minority x to hold an opinion about what minority y do in their bedrooms, could this same government decide all sorts of opinions are wrong? Who knows how views will change in a postpostmodern society.

    Reply

    1. but that having those views will make Christians want to cause harm to those who identify as homosexuals. Or even that they will. I don’t know what you think about that, I know you refer to the position as bigoted

      I said at least some Christian anti-gay sentiment as a bit like that embarrassing relative who reads the Daily Mail and starts muttering about “darkies” taking our jobs and benefits (indeed, “the Bible says gay sex is wrong”, and “The Mail says darkies are stealing our jobs/women” seem roughly equivalent as justifications for prejudice).

      The two cases seem to have a lot in common: in both, the person making the statements is probably OK with the brown people/gays they actually know, and probably isn’t going to join the BNP or engage in queer bashing. Nevertheless, we don’t approve of either sort of statement (well, I don’t), and I think that disapproval is a good thing, because to disapprove sends the message that such sentiments can generally be harmful in the hands of other people who would join the BNP or go queer bashing, or, less dramatically, act on their prejudice in other ways.

      So, disapproving of the harmless dodderers is a good thing because it creates a society where those prejudices are unacceptable. I’m pretty happy with that.

      soon those who disapprove of homosexuality will be criminalised.

      That’s Daily Fail thinking: my position is that you may think what you like, but if you voice it, you should expect me to voice criticism, and if you act on it, you may then indeed face some kind of legal sanctions.

      If a government decide it is wrong for minority x to hold an opinion about what minority y do in their bedrooms, could this same government decide all sorts of opinions are wrong?

      The government has made no such decision, nor have the courts.

      Reply

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