“Is Christianity being marginalised?” asks the Observer

This week’s “panel question” in the Observer asks Mary Warnock, Donald MacLeod, and Anastasia de Waal whether Christianity is being marginalised.

The introductory context to the question is this:

Nurse Shirley Chaplin lost her legal battle for the right to wear crucifix at work

So if you thought the question was about secularisation, it’s clear what is really being asked is whether Christians (and/or Christianity itself) are being pushed to the margins of society.  We are obviously intended to take Chaplin’s Employment Tribunal defeat as an example of that happening.   As opposed to what it really was, which was simply the Tribunal upholding the importance of NHS health and safety rules against someone who wanted to be able to disregard those rules merely because her jewellery was associated with her Christian beliefs. 

If rules about jewellery are really important and necessary in a workplace (they often aren’t, it should be said), then any exceptions need to be carefully considered.  Wearing a crucifix (which of course is not an obligation for Christians) as a public declaration of private beliefs doesn’t on the face of it seem to be a case deserving of an exception.   If you allow a dangling crucifix, you may as well allow all dangling jewellery. 

I support freedom of expression at work, but we should be clear about the agenda of some Christians.  What they seem to want is the ability to evangelise in the workplace: how many people go to work expecting to be subjected to evangelical campaigns?   When people come to your door, you can close the door.  When people try to stop you in the street, you can detour around them.  But at work you can’t always avoid unwelcome attention of that sort.  So you can understand why many people think you should leave your religious propagandising at the door.

Anyway, Chaplin’s NHS Trust did the right thing – they tried to find a compromise.  Could she wear a crucifix pinned to her uniform?  She rejected that, complaining that Muslims were allowed to wear hijabs.  A hijab, of course, does not dangle around the neck in quite the same way as jewellery. But in turns out the Trust had actually instructed Muslims wearing hijabs to use tighter “sports hijabs”, which wouldn’t present any kind of risk. Sikhs had been told to take off loose bangles.  In other words, they had been sensible and even handed.

So it’s hard to see that Christians or Christianity were being marginalised in Chaplin’s NHS Trust.  Rather, Chaplin was marginalising herself. 

Surprisingly, none of the Observer’s panel made any of those points.  Instead, they all give variations of “yes” answers.

Mary Warnock says that “some evidence seems to show” that Christianity is being marginalised.  She neglects to say what that evidence is, so I’m not sure whether she is addressing general secularisation, or manufactured “persecution”.

Warnock holds, anyway, that if Christianity is being marginalised, “it shouldn’t be.”   Why?  Because,

in this country the Church of England is the established church, and we do well to remember this.

Well, Mary, I certainly haven’t forgotten it.  I just don’t like it.

Bizarrely, she then launches into a succession of non-sequiturs:

We need an established church. There are occasions when the cultural traditions and ceremonies of religion are essential, and nothing else will do.

What occasions are these, then?  I can’t think of any.   And even if there were any, that wouldn’t demonstrate the “need” for an established church.

Donald MacLeod delivers himself of a completely incoherent response.  He starts by opining,

We’ve redefined oppression as hurting people’s feelings, and suddenly the whole citizenry from the secular society to hospital patients are declaring themselves hurt by everything that in the least savours of Christianity.

This is paranoia; there is no trend remotely like this.  Certainly not in the Chaplin case, which was about health and safety rules, not “offence”.  If anyone in that case was redefining oppression, it was Chaplin herself.

It gets worse:

Muslims may wear their burkas, gays their earrings and Sikhs their turbans, but Christians may not wear crucifixes.

“Gays their earrings”?  Riiiiiiiiiight.  Anyway, Christians are wearing crucifixes, all over the place, and nobody cares.  Even non-Christians are wearing crucifxes, and nobody cares about that, either. 

 Marriage is attacked because of presumed links with Christianity.

It is?

Alone among nations we require our sovereign to be a Christian, then forbid her government to “do God”.

We do?

What is this guy talking about? 

Anyway, it all turns out for the best, because,

  Christianity is by definition marginalised. Followers of a Crucified God cannot be insiders.

Now there’s a tasty morsel of nonsense.  Not only is the Queen a Christian, but she reminds us of the fact regularly.  Gordon Brown and Tony Blair have both emphasised their religious beliefs.  They seem quite “inside”.

Mind you, MacLeod is part of the Free Church of Scotland, the “Wee Frees”.  They aren’t known for their progressive theology.

Finally, Anastasia de Waal of Civitas names the Church of England as the real victim, rather than Christianity generally:

We’ve adopted a bizarre interpretation of tolerance which involves positively falling over ourselves to celebrate every religion under the sun – except, God forbid, “ours”.

That must be “ours” is some historical/cultural sense, since most people don’t go to Church and are probably quite ignorant of Christian teachings and rites. 

De Waal blames the Church for the problems she imagines it faces, because it’s not militant enough:

 As friendly as its non-dogmatic approach is, the “please don’t feel you should listen to us” stance doesn’t exactly whip up a frenzy of faith. In fact, probably the greatest engagement Rowan Williams’s comments have ever elicited are his – swiftly retracted – thoughts about other religions. The only surprise is that it wasn’t the Church of England that banned crucifixes.

Nobody banned crucifixes, Anastasia, do try to keep up.

So there you go, three useless panellists delivering themselves of three ludicrous opinions.  Thanks for that, Observer!

Posted by: Dan @ Incredulity Services

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