A Tear in our Culture
‘I have always held that everything to do with “interfaith dialogue” should be regarded with intense suspicion’
How do we mend the tear in our culture? On one side we have a growing number of atheists who refuse to acknowledge where they come from. On the other we see a small, but perhaps growing number of believers who appear ignorant of the tradition of Western secularism.
The former refuse to give any credit to the culture which produced them while the latter are developing an incomprehension of a settlement that had been understood. In France huge crowds, encouraged by the Catholic Church, marched against the state allowing civil marriage for gays.
I understand the religious trying to stop whatever they want in their own churches.But how to explain this great confusion over the Church-state relationship in one of Europe’s most rigorously secular countries?
Worryingly, opposition to gay marriage in France briefly united French conservative Catholic leaders with Muslim leaders. I have noticed this temptation before and always wondered who could be next on the list of moral fury once that one was expended. Might common cause be found with Islamic leaders over certain issues to do with women? And how long before such an “orthodox” alliance turned on the Orthodox Jews in their midst?
In such small things we see a disturbing possible wrong direction. Rather than seeking to form an alliance of 18th-century revanchists it seems to me that the churches should be in dialogue with the people they have produced. It might require a trust and humility currently absent on all sides, but we could start simply by encouraging the non-religious to accept their origins and the religious to accept their present.
Besides, I have always held that everything to do with “interfaith dialogue” (beyond simply meeting and being nice to each other) should be regarded with intense suspicion.
In my legally productive career (productive, that is, for the legal profession) I have never had a complaint from a radical Islamist who did not, by way of character reference, cite a whole cast of rabbis and vicars available to attest to their “inter-faith dialogue” work.
I recently had a discussion with a vicar who was unaware that one of his sweet interfaith interlocutors had just been convicted for his participation in the 1971 genocide in Bangladesh.
To Cambridge to debate the “Arab Spring”. My side argues that we should not “regret” the events and thus wins. Despite being largely in agreement on the facts, the other side had to “regret” the Arab Spring and so lost. There is an almost immovable certainty about such things. Few people want to be thought (or, crucially in a public vote, seen) to be against anybody and nobody wants to be thought to be “pessimistic” about anything. Anyone who is “optimistic”, or can paint their opponents as “pessimists” nearly always wins. Is there any way around this or must we simply accept that certain arguments are always naturally slanted either for or against us? Welfare good, taking it away bad and so on.
For the second time in a few months I go on BBC Radio 3 and find myself facing not with a longed-for constructive and nuanced conversation, but a harridan. A little while back it was an Oxford tutor so angry about Samuel Huntington that she could barely speak. This time a similar interlocutor is fresh from the National Theatre, high on the class resentment fostered by a lifetime of success and a top-up from A Taste of Honey. Everything I say produces a flush of hostility and simple rudeness. After I attempt to explain certain virtues in the scholarship and grammar school system I think she actually accused me of personally aiming to grind down the poor. I am reminded of why I normally refuse to discuss anything to do with class in Britain. It is our national obsession and nothing seems to be able to wean us off its poison. It is the one national characteristic I would really not miss.
The mainstream media campaign to paint UKIP as a party wholly comprised of nutters and fruitloops continues. Yet it is suffering, to my mind, from a form of expectation inflation. The Times recently had a week of stories revealing the “truth” about the party. One story attempted to depict UKIP’s central office as some sort of asylum. Yet the craziest revelation they broke was that one of the workers at UKIP HQ allegedly occasionally brings her cat with her to work. I cannot be alone in finding this a terrible disappointment. I would have been more shocked if the paper of record had splashed on the fact that they had found a “You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps” mug in UKIP’s office kitchen.