For the past decade, I have lived — literally — between a church and a synagogue; as metaphors go, I would get laughed out of town if I stuck it in a novel. I left my church (not the one next door) when a ten-year-old child (not just a random passer-by, but a regular attendant) identified the cross as ‘a space rocket’ and everyone laughed indulgently. And then I left my synagogue (again, not the nearby one) when the liberal rabbi’s insistence that all religions were equally worthy of respect began to sound increasingly hollow in the face of the increasing intolerance and bigotry of Islamism. Now I exist in suspension between the two faiths. It doesn’t trouble me (I’m far too shallow to agonise over matters of life and death), but it does interest me, for I am that strange being, the reverse of the vile modern type who parrots, ‘I’m not religious, but I am spiritual’, in the belief that it makes them sound deep and interesting as opposed to a vacuous ass-hat. I’m not spiritual — but I am definitely religious. Specifically, I have a great respect for Judeo-Christian culture as I believe it to be the creator and guardian of those freedoms we in the West enjoy today, including secularism.
So I was annoyed to see That Letter in the Telegraph from 55 self-regarding sticky-beaks — sorry, 55 respected public figures — taking the Prime Minister to task for claiming that Britain is still a Christian country. It’s simplistic to evaluate whether a country is Christian or not by counting the heads bowed beside stained glass each Sunday. If we were talking about Catholicism, fair enough, but isn’t it a particularly appealing facet of Protestantism that a person who does good and doesn’t go to church is more of a Christian than one who doesn’t and does?
The letter was particularly pointless at a time when Cameron and the Church of England are having a wuss-off over who’s the most caring and inclusive. Cam backs gay marriage; the Church think he’s gone too far. But then the Church gets that big foam wagging finger moving eight to the bar over food banks, scolding Cam that Jesus wouldn’t like it. It’s extraordinarily foolish at a time when a genuinely restrictive, repressive religion is making ever greater gains in this country.
Ofsted recently drew our attention to English schools, run by Islamists, where girls are forced to sit at the back of the classroom, teaching of GCSE biology is ‘restricted to comply with Islamic teaching’ and Christian students have to ‘teach themselves’ GCSE religious studies as the teacher only speaks of Islam. The usual weasel-way of failing to address the very real threat of one specific religion by tarring all religions with the same barmy brush is the school of logic which ends up with Quakers being strip-searched at airports lest terrorist profiling be deemed racist, or brings up the Westboro Baptist Church as an example of Christianity being as crazy as Islam. But there were only a few dozen people in the WBC last time I counted: Islamists, there are a lot of.
Writers in particular — and there are several who have signed this letter — should not underestimate the privileges they take for granted in a Christian country. It’s well documented that Spain translates more books from English in one year than the entire Arab world has in 1,000 years, but I wonder what the Umma would make of Sir Terry Pratchett’s statement ‘I create fresh gods almost with every new book’? Here, it’s helped make him a national treasure and got him a gong from the Defender of the Faith.
From Brandeis to Brunei, Islamists are shutting down debate and turning back progress — and these writers are tilting at the C of E. Well, I’m not a Christian, but I want to live in a Christian country — a Protestant country, specifically, as I believe that it is the best guarantor of my freedom and the freedom of others, many of whom I disagree with. What will happen to the churches when the worshippers are gone? They may become modish metropolitan apartments for polite atheists, as many already have done, or they may become charnel houses, as they currently are all across the Middle East. Then our little letter-writing friends will have something to fret about. My husband sometimes complains about the loudness of the church bells in our square, but I like them; they wake me up, and they reassure me. One day perhaps the bells will be silent. Let’s hope that when they no longer toll for you, what replaces them helps you sleep even sounder in your safe European beds. But I do wonder.
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