Warsi: British Government is proud to 'do God'
So Tweeted Sayeeda Hussain Warsi, the Baroness Warsi, Minister of State for Faith and Communities and Senior Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, at the UN yesterday .
His Grace has been over this before, and the Groundhog dimension of religio-political blogging is becoming tiresome. But perhaps it is unavoidable when governments change and cabinets are reshuffled and one observes the next generation of ill-informed and ignorant politicians uttering the same platitudes and making the same mistakes as their predecessors. There is nothing new under the sun.
It is ironic that this 'Senior' Minister of State (whatever one of those is; not, of course, that the creation is in any sense tokenistic) should boast that the UK Government 'does God' while their lawyers at the European Court of Human Rights have made it clear that the position of HM Government is that Christians should ‘leave their beliefs at home or get another job’.
David Cameron - like Tony Blair before him - appears to mistake freedom of worship for freedom of religion. The Baroness apparently grasps the difference, and yet she is part of that government which is arguing in Strasbourg that there is a ‘difference between the professional and private sphere’.
Freedom of religion includes the right to have a faith, to manifest it and propagate it, either alone or together with others, in private or in the public sphere. It also includs the right to change beliefs and religious affiliation. This is a foundational principle of liberal democracy.
Freedom of worship is the right to express a faith in private, but not to manifest or propagate it in the public sphere. It is a freedom not uncommon in many Islamic countries: you are permitted to be Christian, but not to share your faith with others or to manifest it publicly. Muslims are free to be Muslim and to display their adherence, but they are forbidden to convert.
Whatever the Baroness may spout at the UN, the UK has seen a gruadual shift from ‘freedom of religion’ to ‘freedom of worship’. The whole narrative surrounding religious faith has gone from being ‘in the world’ to the physical confines of a church, temple, synagogue or mosque.
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.
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 Government appears to be intent in limiting to state-approved expressions. Whatever the Baroness Tweets, faith - and especially the Christian Faith - is being relegated to the private sphere. This is antithetical to British ‘core values’, for it is as totalitarian and illiberal as the approach taken by any Islamic country.
For this Coalition Government, and the New Labour one before it, holiness is subjugated to an increasingly secular social contract: the peace of Christ is relegated to the absence of civil strife. There is no space for religious dissent: the imposition of the liberal creed is total. Thus we see Parliament agitating to intruduce same-sex marriage and threatening to impose women bishops upon the Church of England, despite the Church having its own laws and democratic bodies to debate such issues. This Government 'does God' only to the extent that His creed begins with equality and rights, as though they may arbitrarily and unilaterally set aside Holy Scripture and dispense with centuries of Church tradition and orthodoxy.
Freedom of religion includes the freedom not only to be intolerant of extremism, but also of that which is liberal. No true liberal society should impose an agenda upon any peaceable individual or group whose consciences 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 Scripture or to impose a uniform socio-political exposition of how we must 'do God'.