None of us are wanting for a reason to abhor Nick Folkes’s stunt at the Gosford Anglican Church. It was rude, as Andrew Bolt pointed out. It was a massive setback to legitimate conservative critiques of mass immigration. (Bolt again.) It gave heaps of free press to Father Rod Bower and his practice of parading socialist politics as Christian ministry. But there’s been woefully little attention paid to Folkes’s predatory invocation of secularism in the week since his attempts to generate outrage. ‘I have real concerns about the political agenda of Islam,’ Folkes told the Daily Telegraph after the incident; ‘I want to live in a secular country.’ As we all do. But a ‘secularist’ in the English tradition would never have behaved as he did. In the Anglosphere, secularism means freedom to worship according to one’s conscience. That means freedom from government coercion; it also means freedom from coercion by two-bit thugs like Folkes. Yet the former generally emerges from the latter. And that’s what really makes his escapade really dangerous.
France’s tradition of secularism was born during the bloodiest chapter of the French Revolution. Against the Anglo-American definition of secularity – freedom of religion – the French posited their own: laïcité, or freedom from religion. Rather than honoring the right of all men to practice their faith as they please, the revolutionaries embarked on a crusade to purge religion from their country altogether, in the name of patriotism and the universal brotherhood of man. Jacobin anti-clericalism led countless priests and nuns to the guillotine; Napoleon’s imprisonment of Pius VI in 1796 ended in the pope’s death six weeks later. Karl Marx and his followers in Russia hailed laïcité as a cure for the people’s addiction to religious opioids, leading to yet another century of brutal anti-religious persecution across the Soviet Empire.
Laïcité has been on full display in France again this month, in all its thuggish macabre. It began on August 3rd, when French riot police battered down the doors of Saint Rita’s Church in Paris and arrested the priests as they celebrated the Mass. Photos of armored cops pinning the priests to the steps spread rapidly through the international press. Their crime? St Rita’s was marked for demolition by the religious organization that owned the church grounds, but the congregants – including the district mayor – defiantly carried on holding services. Of course, the owners are well within their rights to redevelop the property. But that authorities chose to invade the church during the consecration of the Host shows ‘the eldest daughter of the Church’s’ harrowing contempt for her Mother.
As conservatives celebrate the banning of the ‘burquini’ in towns across France, they should bear the grim, ongoing history of laïcité in mind. Whatever our feelings about Islamic veiling, this isn’t a victory for cultural traditionalists. No: this is a victory for the latter-day Jacobins. It’s a victory for equal-opportunity discrimination. It’s a victory for those old-school Leftists who treat all faiths with an ‘Enlightened’ disdain. The burqini ban and the razing of St Rita’s are two sides of the same coin. Catholics and Muslims in France are both victims of their country’s secular tyrants.
Conservatives – especially religious conservatives – should learn from the lessons of France. This cold, systematic use of government power to suppress religious expression began with thugs like Folkes, who took a Machiavellian approach to secularism. Yes, the French church in the 18th century was rife with corruption, just as Australia’s Islamic community is today. Yes, it was wedded to the royalist establishment, just as the Gosford Anglicans are complacent with our multiculturalist one. But their sins were so grave as the revolutionary vigilantes’, who destroyed their chapels and slaughtered their clergymen. Of course it would be absurd to compare Folkes’s actions to those of the Jacobins, but the seeds are there. ‘Secularism by any means necessary’ will always and everywhere become ‘Secularism by the most appalling means possible’.
I know Nick Folkes and I genuinely sympathize with his concerns – about Islam, about the Gosford Anglicans, about Australia’s loosening grip on her liberal-democratic heritage. Our political, cultural, and religious elites are now dangerously complacent with the crimes of radical Islam. There’s no denying that. But he should take heart from the history of religious freedom in the English-speaking world. From the bloody persecutions of the Tudors came the First Amendment to the American Constitution. Australians have risen above the Catholic/Protestant sectarianism of her formative years; Anglophobes like Peter FitzSimons are pathetic relics of an unfathomable past. This is the power of true secularism, where the faithful of every creed can live and worship together in harmony. This is the Anglosphere’s gift to the world, and it’s been imitated (with varying degrees of success) by every nation that fancies itself ‘civilized’. We’ve set the bar for the entire human species.
I hope someday Nick can take pride in that inheritance and defend it, because there’s a storm brewing on the horizon, and we need all hands on deck. As the powers-that-be refuse to acknowledge the role that Islamic theology plays in the terrorist attacks and street violence that are tearing Western civilization apart, more and more law-abiding citizens will succumb to the temptation of laïcité. They’ll buy into the lie peddled by charlatans like Richard Dawkins that the world would be better off without religion. That’s the twisted logic that inspired Robespierre, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. And it’s always fallen to the Anglosphere to check such ‘Enlightened’ inquisitors. If we succumb to their philosophy, who will be left to save us from ourselves?