Enoch Burke heard a horror story from a “Christian couple” who visited a Christian bookshop in Northern Ireland. In what should have been a place of sanctity, they were confronted by a false idol.
A large poster hung on the door. On it was the face of evil: Daniel O’Donnell.
In his book, written in 2020, The Hedonism and Homosexuality of John Piper and Sam Allberry: The Truth of Scripture, Burke explains that not only is O’Donnell “a Roman Catholic”, but “he has never professed to be a Christian, is married to a divorcee, and in recent years came out in support of both same-sex marriage and abortion rights”.
According to Burke, “When the couple asked the shop manager why he was selling the music of such a singer in the shop, he was antagonistic in his response. The shop owner said he didn’t know what Daniel believed and what his spiritual condition was and claimed that, if he wished to find out, he would have to meet him.”
Burke is having none of this flabby tolerance of the crooner of corruption. He denounces the shop manager as a hypocrite, every bit as bad as those Christian pastors who “shake hands with fornicators and infidels at the door of the church when the whole town is aware of their sins”.
Burke has become a cause célèbre for right-wing culture warriors everywhere, a martyr, allegedly, for free speech and the tolerance of dissenting views. He was suspended on full pay because he publicly confronted the management of the school he taught in for allowing a gender-fluid pupil to be addressed as “they”.
Burke’s imprisonment for defying a court order to stay away from the school is very sad. But his transformation into an icon of freedom of expression is frankly hilarious. Genghis Khan would be a better poster boy for tolerance.
Burke’s book argues that pretty much everything that is rotten in the state of the world is the fault of the gays. “The lawlessness of our day”, he thunders, “has as one of its hallmarks the widespread normalisation of homosexuality.”
The only things that appear to rival queer people as objects of Burke’s righteous indignation are the fantasy novels of CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien and JK Rowling
He deplores laws banning so-called conversion therapies as “an aggressive homosexuality seek[ing] to limit the church’s freedom”. That’s what he means by freedom.
He very much approves of God’s punishment of the Sodomites: “the church does not have to repent of its ‘homophobia’ any more than the Lord Jesus Christ, who commended the destruction of Sodom”. Likewise, he endorses God’s chastisement of homosexuality by “the egregious medical afflictions which often accompany it, including the chronic scourge of HIV”.
At a personal level, Burke makes a point of his particular disdain for the former minister Katherine Zappone for being a “childless homosexual”. He seems to suggest that neither she nor Leo Varadkar should be allowed to be in government.
The only things that appear to rival queer people as objects of Burke’s righteous indignation are the fantasy novels of CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien and JK Rowling. He seems to suggest they should be banned for the crime of “finding… spiritual powers in sources which God has forbidden”.
Burke, then, is a rather familiar figure in today’s culture wars: one who demands absolute respect for his own right to be who he is and say whatever he wants yet affords none of that respect to those who differ from him.
Interestingly, in his book, Burke tells us something about his work as a teacher: “On the wall of the classroom where I teach, I have affixed a poster in prominent view of both my students and I (sic). The poster reads: ‘Watch your thoughts, for they become words…’”
He is open, then, about seeing himself as the thought police for his students. They must not think about, still less talk about, sexuality. For Burke, the evil of liberalism is that “Conversation is restarted around issues which ought not to be named: fornication, homosexuality and indecent material.”
He repeats as the gold standard for obedience (itself the touchstone of his theology) Tennyson’s praise for those who rode to their deaths in the infamously idiotic Charge of the Light Brigade: “Theirs not to make reply/ Theirs not to reason why/ Theirs but to do and die.”
The rights and wrongs of Burke’s suspension from his teaching job will undoubtedly be argued through several layers of the legal system. But let’s just say that unthinking obedience is not current best practice in education.
What is instructive, though, is how Burke’s alleged martyrdom illuminates the slipperiness of self-proclaimed free speech warriors: I have freedom of speech; you should shut up and obey. My opinion is God’s will; yours “ought not to be named”. I should be admitted everywhere; you should be shunned. Free expression is absolute – except for Daniel O’Donnell or Narnia, or anything else I declare anathema.
One good thing, though, is that the religious right now embraces freedom of conscience for Irish teachers. Thousands of them, throughout the history of the State, have had to hide their views and their sexuality or risk being fired, as Eileen Flynn was, with the approval of the courts. How heartening for them to know they now have Piers Morgan and Jordan Peterson on their side.