Cameron’s concept of religious freedom
But His Grace has been pondering a point which caused him a little disquiet. He has held back for a few days because he was unsure of whether the religio-political point was purposely made by the Prime Minister as an article of his personal belief, or if it was a lazy insertion by a speech-writer not too well-versed in religio-political matters.
Having received an email pointing him the observations of Mats Tunehag, it is clear that there is speculation abroad, and so the matter ought to be addressed back home.
The Prime Minister said in Munich:
“…I believe a genuinely liberal country does much more; it believes in certain values and actively promotes them. Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy, the rule of law, equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality.”Mr Tunehag quite rightly makes the point that freedom of worship is not the same as freedom of religion. And, as he says, this is not a matter of hair-splitting semantics or personal preferences: it is indeed a matter of life and death in some countries.
By using this term, David Cameron is following the Western zeitgeist adopted by President Obama and Secretary Clinton. It sounds enlightened, but to laud freedom of worship is to diminish freedom of religion. Mr Tunehag explains:
Freedom of religion includes the right to have a faith, to manifest it and propagate for it, alone or together with others, also in the public arena. It also gives the right to change beliefs and religious affiliation. This is what democracies would adhere to.A shift from ‘freedom of religion’ to ‘freedom of worship’ moves the narrative from being ‘in the world’ to the physical confines of a church, temple, synagogue or mosque. It is also disconcerting that the new state orthodoxy of religion has been defined in terms of a Kantian notion of inviolable rights, as though the Platonic Forms and Aristotelian Virtues constitute no part of our syncretised conception of Christianity. Freedom of worship is meaningless for the Christian if it may not be performed in spirit and in truth; if it may not be the result of vibrant, living relationship with the Lord; if it may not sear the conscience daily on the life-long journey of faith.
Freedom of worship is a definition practiced (sic) in countries influenced by Islam. You may be allowed to be a Christian, but you mustn’t take it into the public arena or share your faith with others. If you are a Muslim you are free to be a Muslim and display it publically but you can’t leave Islam.
In the Declaration of Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae from the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church summarised this right: "Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ."
The practice of religion – true religion – permeates every fibre of our being and enters every fabric of our lives. After centuries of constitutional theo-political development, the British arrived at a notion of tolerance and an understanding of liberty which the Prime Minister appears to be intent in limiting to state-approved expressions. By advocating ‘freedom of worship’, he adopts the narrative of the ‘aggressive secularist’ who seeks to relegate faith to the private sphere. This is antithetical to British ‘core values’, for it is as totalitarian as the approach taken by Saudi Arabia, and as illiberal as the banning of crucifixes by the European Union.
In calling for ‘muscular liberalism’ (as opposed to liberal Conservatism), the Prime Minister has subjugated holiness to his form of social contract, and relegated the peace of Christ to the absence of civil strife. There is no space for religious dissent: the imposition of the liberal creed is total. This we see Parliament agitating to impose women bishops upon the Church of England, despite the Church having its own democratic bodies to debate such issues; and we have a Prime Minister who presumes to lecture the Archbishop of Canterbury on ‘gay rights’, as though he may arbitrarily and unilaterally set aside Holy Scripture and dispense with centuries of Church tradition and orthodoxy.
To be politically liberal is to tolerate; to be Christian is to be a living sacrifice. These are not antithetical.
But to be ‘muscularly liberal’ is to be intolerant not only of ‘extremism’, but also of what is moderately liberal. And that which is moderately liberal is fused with two centuries of that which is liberally conservative. No true liberal society can impose an agenda upon any peaceable individual or democratic group whose conscience(s) do not permit obeisance to its formularies. Our freedoms of speech, religion and association predate the ‘Rights of Man’; indeed, those rights spring from the fount of Scripture and so should be understood and interpreted in their Sitz im Leben. And the Gospel of Christ is paramount and preeminent: it is not for the state to re-write the Word of God or to impose a uniform theo-political exposition.