Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Point of Separation of Church and State is Not to Eradicate the Church and Deify the State

Here is some intelligent commentary from Ed West on the "Not Ashamed" campaign in Britain led by Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury is essentially talking sense, but unfortunately what happens with this debate, like those about political correctness and illegal immigration, is that the serious issue gets lost below the silly. Christmas lights are the light froth at the top that covers the real story, which is that practising Christians really are being harassed by Britain’s “equality and diversity” laws in a way that is quite new, illiberal and authoritarian.

Earlier this year Lord Carey criticised the judiciary for making “disturbing and dangerous” rulings that could lead to Christians being banned from the workplace. He was speaking before relationship counsellor Gary McFarlane lost his case against dismissal, after he refused to give sex therapy to gay couples.

Other cases include a paediatrician thrown off an adoption board because she would not recommend giving children to gay couples, and a man suspended from a Christian homeless charity after a colleague asked him in a private conversation about his views on homosexuality.

Now most people might not agree with these peoples’ views on homosexuality, and I personally don’t, but that’s why it’s all the more important to defend them against sinister laws. No authoritarian system, after all, starts off by clamping down on popular and uncontroversial figures; no dictator is going to start off by having a go at Joanna Lumley.

A free society must always choose between legitimate conscientious objection and illegitimate ones; pacifists have always been able to opt-out of front line battle and pro-life doctors do not need to carry out abortions, while vegetarians are not force-fed meat, even in prison. Traditionally many of these objections are framed by religion, whether it’s Quakers, Catholics, Muslims or Buddhists, something that an open society accepts, even if most people find them bizarre and based on irrational and false beliefs.

But perhaps because we’ve taken multiculturalism too far, with some members of minority religions making sometimes outrageous demands, and with a few members of one immigrant religion having extreme views, we now seem willing to accept equality and diversity laws that crush opposition.

It’s not just about sexuality and it’s not just Christians; earlier this year a court ruled that the JFS, an Orthodox Jewish school in north London, had broken discrimination laws by refusing to accept a boy they did not regard as Jewish. The state, in other words, was overruling the Orthodox Jewish authorities in stating who they considered Jewish.

How is it the state’s right to decide this? Because under Britain’s equality laws, where public authorities are now required to “promote equality in everything that they do, also making sure that other organisations meet their legal duties to promote equality while also doing so themselves”, any belief that clashes with the state’s creed of “equality and diversity” is illegal. That’s not liberalism as I understand it.

Of course I agree with the National Secular Society that the church should not force itself upon people who have no interest in it, but the question is: what replaces it as the body that decides right and wrong? Alas, it’s the state – which now controls morality in a way not seen for centuries.

It is a basic principle of liberalism that church and state should remain separate, so that power is spread as thinly as possible. This not only requires that the church should abstain from lawmaking, but that the state should not seek to become the arbiter of morals.

It’s almost as if Britain’s social and sexual revolutionaries have gone all Animal Farm and started to mimic the most intolerant aspects of the old regime, so that we’re back to the days of Elizabethan England, where only those who believed in the state church could be full members of society.

So while I won’t spend each December 1 talking to my colleagues about Jesus, I’m happy to tell them just how evil statism is.

Many people today completely overlook a point made here by West that the idea of separation of church and state - a Western Christian (Augustinian) invention which preceded the Enlightenment by a millennium - is designed not only to curb the power of the church but also of the state.

The idea that the state confines itself to making laws while the church deals with morality is what keeps the state from becoming such an interfering busybody that it eradicates our individual freedom and takes over all civil society. West is right on the money to view 21st century Britain as more authoritarian than at any other time since the Elizabethan period. Only today the state church is the political class with its incoherent bundle of trendy beliefs clustering around multiculturalism, cultural Marxism and equality.

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