Cardinal Keith O’Brien rebukes the Lord Bishop of Oxford
The humanists, atheists and secularists are incandescent: “How dare he,” they spluttered. “How very dare he,” they raged, after Cardinal Keith O’Brien railed against ‘aggressive secularism’ in his Easter homily. Dr Evan Harris was particularly incensed: “Hey Cardinal,” he tweeted, scornfully. “Here's what secularists want & its neither aggressive nor intolerant!” And there was a link to ‘The Secularist Manifesto’, written by, err... Dr Harris himself (did he form no committee?). And its demands are indeed a tad aggressive, since he calls for the curtailing of freedom of religion; a ban on preaching the gospel in public; an end to freedom of association; the eradication of freedom of speech; the emasculation of faith-based education; the disestablishment of the Church of England; and constitutional reform which would forever make the Monarch subject to a higher sovereign power.
Dr Harris’ founding charter is the European Convention on Human Rights, which, as we know, is the mildest, most moderate and utterly innocuous of documents. And yet he nonchalantly asks: ‘Why does Archbishop allege that those who call for church-state separation are "aggressive"?’
His Grace patiently replied, explaining that aggressive means 'openly hostile’; ‘forceful’; ‘self-assertive' (OED). But Dr Harris didn’t engage: he is neither hostile in his assertions nor forceful in his demands, and there is absolutely nothing of 'self' in his secularist charter - it is generous, benevolent and utterly altruistic.
But the Doctor did not respond: he doesn’t play ball with His Grace any more – not since this little spat (which continued). Dr Harris has done a Johann Hari (no, not quite: Mr Hari has blocked His Grace from following his tweets, presumably because of this reasoned response: at least Dr Harris is rather more reasoned and mature than that). But he doesn’t seem to appreciate that Secularism has two main denominations: the Aggressives and the Moderates, and they scarcely acknowledge each other’s existence. So he tweets all day long (quite literally), sometimes moderately and sometimes aggressively (though he fervently denies it), assiduously re-tweeting those who worship at his feet and laud his gospel, patiently waiting for some media outlet to pick up on his agitation (and manifest popularity) and offer him a national pulpit. And yesterday, as if by magic, along came Radio 5 Live, and so Dr Harris, with humility and bashful reluctance, tweets to his secularist-humanist-atheist faithless to announce that he has been chosen to preach an imminent sermon.
It was unfortunate that he ended up debating with Stephen Green of Christian Voice – a rather (how shall His Grace put this?) ‘robust' Christian with a Phelps-like following. But the juxtaposition was doubtless purposeful, and Dr Harris leapt at the chance, once again, to convey the impression and perpetuate the media myth that Christians with conviction are essentially aggressive and hateful bigots.
The curious thing (which appears to have escaped the notice of Dr Harris) is that nowhere did Cardinal Keith O’Brien actually attack aggressive secularists: he criticised what Pope Benedict XVI termed ‘aggressive secularism’, but the clearly-stated ‘–ism’ part eluded Dr Harris (or he purposely chose to ignore it). In his world, to question an ideology is to offend its adherents, rather like the correlation between Islam and Muslims: if you so much as question one action of ‘the Prophet’ (or even audaciously place Mohammed’s moniker in inverted commas), it is potentially offensive and may cause distress or alarm to Muslims. In his Manifesto, Dr Harris seeks to stamp out all such offence, and thereby eradicate historical examination, intellectual reasoning and rational discourse on religion and religious ethics from the public sphere.
Because that is what the Cardinal’s homily essentially was. In the context of history and in a spirit of unity, he referred to the 450th anniversary of the Scottish Reformation and spoke of the importance of the nation’s Christian heritage and culture. He spoke of the challenges of proclaiming Christ in our day, especially in the context of ‘aggressive secularism’ which he defined as the agenda ‘to destroy our Christian heritage and culture and take God from the public square’.
Dr Harris denies, of course, that he is out to destroy our Christian heritage but he is an ardent proponent of eradicating God from the public square. He cannot see the corollary that by pursuing the latter you embark on the former. He cannot see, as Pope Benedict emphasised, that ‘Religion is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation’.
But all the time Dr Harris thought that the Cardinal was ‘preaching hate’ directly to him, he was actually rebuking those bishops and leaders of the Church who are content to sup with the Devil: those who compromise the Faith, undermine Christian mission or preach a gospel more palatable to the National Secular Society, The Guardian and to Polly Toynbee. The Cardinal said: “Christians must be united in their common awareness of the enemies of the Christian faith in our country.”
As the left-leaning Lord Bishop of Oxford joins with Dr Harris and placates the secularists, humanists and atheists, and delights Polly Toynbee with his attack on Church of England schools, he deserves a rebuke.
But it should not need to have come from a Scottish cardinal.
No, while the Archbishop of Canterbury was droning on about David Cameron’s ‘Happiness Index’ and how to achieve ‘authentic happiness’ in ‘growing vegetables or running a drama group’ – how to feel “happy” in a world full of atrocity and injustice – he missed the second-best opportunity of the year to preach salvation to the nation; to exhort the faithful to persevere and run the race; to withstand the forces of evil; and to reproach those who abdicate their spiritual responsibilities, abandon the sheep, and betray their vocation to consort with the enemies of the gospel.
No doubt Dr Evan Harris and the Lord Bishop of Oxford will be taking tea together soon.
To them, His Grace is just an embarrassing monument to hatred and bigotry in the Bishop’s diocese and Dr Harris’ former constituency.
Little do they know.