Mr President : Defender Of The Faith

8 11 2007

According to the last census there are 170 religions in Britain. Yet, instead of embracing this cultural diversity that makes us so unique in the world, we seem to want to remove any reference to religion and pretend it doesn’t exist. Forcing secularism onto people is no different to forcing them to convert to your faith. It smacks of Rousseau’s flawed social contract forcing us to be free.

We seem to labour under the idea that by “sanitizing” society from these religious and cultural differences, by becoming secular, we may discover what it is to be “British” and yet it is this multiculturalism that defines what modern Britain is all about. Our “Britishness” is (or perhaps was?) our willingness to accept people from all backgrounds. Americans are no less American for celebrating things like Cinco de Mayo, are they?

If we think this is how to avoid divisiveness in society we’re wrong. It is not religion that causes the divisiveness that leads to international terrorism but intolerance. Does it matter if this intolerance is by radical Islam or radical secularists/atheists? Hitler, though not an atheist as is often mistakenly stated, did desire a religiously neutral state, as did Stalin. In what way can we distinguish those Totalitarian secular states from the one we seem hellbent on building these days? The Economist put it well when they say:

Why has the public square become so fiercely contested? One reason is that both religious people and their secular opponents are getting more uppity: now that they are both choosing their beliefs, they are damned if they are going to let others boss them around. But in truth drawing a strict line between church and state has always proved enormously difficult.

Of course ridiculous things like suggesting Christmas should be “downgraded” to help race relations don’t help. I am of an ethnic background, raised in a minority religion, yet I celebrate Christmas every year and absolutely love it. Of course my celebrations are secular in nature but it doesn’t offend me to watch the Christian ceremonies on television during Christmas. Why should it? When I went to primary school (that’s from age 5 until 11 for our American cousins) I sang hymns in assembly.

Not only that but I was actually part of the choir because I had an excellent singing voice. I took part in nativity plays too. Neither my parents nor I had any issue with singing religious songs from another faith. My parents raised me to be tolerant of all faiths. Nor does having an Anglican Head of State, defender of the faith no less, offend me. It might be a good idea to have religious leaders of other faiths sit in the House of Lords for balance (they’d be an asset on issues like immigration and race relations) but it doesn’t offend me that they don’t. I don’t think Christmas or nativity plays offend Jews either. I hate to quote the Daily Mail but they make a point when they say:

Can you imagine the outrage if Christians in Muslim countries called for the downgrading of Eid, or for the Bible to have equal prominence to the Koran?

The glaring flaw in that argument, of course, is that it is not minorities demanding that Christmas be downgraded, but misguided members of the ethnic majority who seem to feel they need to do something to better integrate people (nevermind that we’ve been successfully integrating people for over 60 years). Naturally what’s good for the goose is good for the gander and this is used to justify banning religious symbols in schools. To be fair, the logic is sound, if you ban Christians from celebrating their faith, then all faiths must be treated equally. Yet I keep going back to the basis of this argument, why did we even go down the road of banning Christians from celebrating their faith.

These political-correctness think-tanks are often made up of white middle-class men, and as such are they really representative of minorities? Not one person I know of from an ethnic background objects to Christmas, or to the fact that this is a Christian country and was when they emigrated here. All they ask is that they be given freedom to follow their own faith. A society where we live and let live, true multiculturalism at work.

Which brings me to immigration. Far be it from me to agree with the Daily Mail but discussing immigration is not racist, it’s a genuine problem when immigration causes a strain on public services. I think most people support those who migrate here to work hard and pay taxes to better this country but resent those that come simply to claim welfare (which I do too). A good idea might be to limit welfare payments to those born in this country. The unwillingness of politicians to discuss this problem for fear of “upsetting” minorities (many of whom I doubt would be all that offended) actually causes resentment amongst the white Christian majority, and understandably so.

It’s things like this that create an “us and them” mentality. I resent the idea that I am a “foreigner” and that this not my home, as suggested by the following quote from that Daily Mail article, and yet if we continue to refuse to discuss issues like immigration, multiculturalism and integration we risk such comments becoming the norm:

So despite the fact this is overwhelmingly a Christian country, our most celebrated religious festival must be diluted to make foreigners feel at home – in our home.

Some people argue that we are a Christian country, so only Christian symbols should be allowed in public places. At a time when seven out of ten Brits call themselves Christian but only one in ten actually goes to Church every Sunday does this really hold any weight? We’re told “but we’ve always been a Christian country” except we haven’t. Go back 1500 years and we were a country of heathen pagans. Interestingly enough we then became a Catholic country, and then 500 years ago we became a Protestant country. We seem to change our national faith with great regularity so the basis of the idea that Christianity ought be the only religion “allowed” in public places is flawed. The spirit of this being a Christian country was killed by Sunday trading laws.

Then there are those, the small but vocal atheist minority, who want us to go towards a policy of secularism in schools like they have in France. What this fails to note is that France does not have our history of multiculturalism. The French seem quite happy with the idea that if Sikhs and Muslims don’t like the policy they can leave the country. We should not be. This Sunday we will celebrate our fallen soldiers and a quick look at the history books will show the many many Sikhs that fought bravely for the British. Lest we forget, they were fighting for a country which had invaded their own, and yet many of them received medals and honours, and all received acclaim for their courage and determination. Hence the recent drive to recruit more into the British Army.

People are happy to overlook these petty arguments when it comes to such things. On the one hand we have the British Army desperate to form a Sikh regiment on the other we’re telling a Sikh girl in school not to be a Sikh. At a time when soldiers born in Pakistan have died fighting for Britain in Afghanistan we’re not allowing Muslim girls to wear headscarfs, even those that do not cover the face. It’s easy to understand why anything that makes identification hard has to be banned or else anyone could sit exams for you but other than that, why ban religious symbols from schools?

An argument put forward to support such bans is that those religions that require wearing religious symbolism proclaim that we are not all equal in the eyes of whatever God is subscribed to and thus spread intolerance. Applied to Sarika Singh and her kara they could not be more wrong. Sikhism states very clearly that we are all equal in the eyes of God. Which is something more people would know if, instead of trying to remove religion from school, we encouraged discussion of religion in school. There are those who say religion has no place in school but why? Religion is merely a form of philosophy. Philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom, which is also the goal of education.

Nor do religious symbols spread the message “I am different from you, and I am better than you” as some claim. Different, yes, but we are all different, we are individuals, to pretend we’re a homogeneous whole is to deny children their individuality. It’s ironic that the latest incident involves Sikhism because Sikhism promotes equality of all people (including those of other faiths) and preaches a message of tolerance. Isn’t the goal of this “secularisation” of schools to create more tolerance? It should be but it seems that the truth is that this “secularisation” is simply a way to hide our differences instead of embracing and being tolerant of them. Ignorance instead of integration.

The issue is that if all state schools follow the practice of banning all religious symbols, then people will form faith schools, which is actually far more divisive than having religious symbols in schools. If we ban faith schools then we force people to leave the country, and I wonder how many English cricket fans would be happy to do without Monty Panesar, a prominent Sikh who wears his kara when he plays? His faith, he says, is one of the things that’s helped him stay grounded, and helps him when he plays. All symbols of faith should be allowed unless there is a practical reason to ban them (such as face-coverings for identification purposes or sharp objects for safety concerns).

It is interesting to take a look at India, a secular country with a variety of faith and a history of religious upheaval. A recent poll there of 20-30 somethings, with money, working in tech jobs for western companies, showed that 86% of them felt having a faith was important. They felt that it gave them a moral compass. I wonder what the same study of the same age-group in Britain today would show. We seem to be blaming minorities, often from India, for what’s wrong with the country. The truth is what’s wrong with this country is we could probably do with a little more faith. Not necessarily belief in a God, just belief in being good, a trait that seems to be missing from today’s youth.

I heard a story of a Muslim boy who went to a Christian school and won an award for “Christian Giving”. His parents were so proud. The word “Christian” didn’t bother them because they knew what it meant. The award was for working with your community, for doing good, being a good person, and who can object to that? Who cares if it says “Christian”? We are a Christian country, nothing I’ve said earlier was meant to detract from that, merely to point out that we are now a Christian country that embraces other faiths, as demonstrated by giving a “Christian” award to a Muslim boy.

Countries evolve over time, particularly those with a history of multiculturalism and immigration. Modern Britain is all about Christians celebrating Diwali, Hindus celebrating Christmas and us all getting together to burn a Catholic effigy every November 5th.

 


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3 responses

9 11 2007
Stella

I’ve tagged you for a meme over at my site http://stelladevine.livejournal.com

Please don’t hate me.

9 11 2007
Mr President

Hehe. I’ve actually been tagged for that meme already, just haven’t gotten round to actually doing it. I’ll be sure to give you and Jayne (the other person who tagged me) credit when I finally do. I did like the “Please don’t hate me” bit though. I won’t hate you so long as you visit regularly. Deal?

2 02 2008
Disturbing The Peace « Textual Relations

[…] atheism). Thus I’d oppose calls to prayer (except on special occasions), but not wearing religious symbols to school. One is a nuisance that infringes upon the freedoms of others, the other is a harmless […]

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