The war against faith


‘THEY ARE taking faith and crushing it,” Rick Santorum early this week inveighed against President Obama. “When you marginalise faith in America,” he continued, “when you remove the pillar of God-given rights, then whats left is the French Revolution”... And the guillotine, he added. Last week Mitt Romney promised to rescind every “Obama regulation” that somehow “attacks our religious liberty.” Election rhetoric notwithstanding, playing shamelessly to the evangelical vote, they are nonetheless expressing a view that is finding currency beyond America. The idea that the religious-minded and the churches are under attack and face growing intolerance in increasingly secular societies is being articulated more often and more vigorously than ever.

Last week the British Cabinet Office minister and chairman of the Conservative Party, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a Muslim, visiting the Pope in Rome warned that British society is under threat from a rising tide of “militant secularisation” and that Europe needs to be “more confident in its Christianity”. And last August in Knock, in language perhaps more colourful but in sentiment not untypical of his fellow bishops, Bishop Philip Boyce of Raphoe spoke of “the arrows of a secular and godless culture” attacking the Catholic Church. Commentators have complained of a media culture that excludes or marginalises religious ideas, and even of the closure of the Vatican embassy as the product of a “militant atheist” Labour agenda.

The overblown rhetoric is almost comical, if not an insult to those who labour under real tyranny. But is there a germ of truth? Are we really living in an age of liberal intolerance? Hardly. In truth the reality of declining influence and deference – even within their own faith communities – is difficult to adjust to and accept. Denial starts with blame. Shoot the messenger, the infernal media! But amid the recriminations, compelling evidence of systematic media disparaging of religion has not been forthcoming.

It is easy to demonise Obama, or Eamon Gilmore, however preposterously, as campaigning atheists, and the media as propagandists for a godless future. Much harder, though, to take on the pluralist case for mutual respect, tolerance, and a neutral state. There is in the charges being made a deliberate and misleading conflation of three quite different and distinct agendas – atheism, secularism, and pluralism. To the latter only, this paper pleads guilty as charged.