Monday 16 April 2007

'Aggressively promoting secularism'? (yet again)

Just back from a week's holiday and already forced back into the fray by yet another example of cliche'd anti-secularism from a religious commentator whose opinion I have valued in the past. Nicholas Buxton was the hippy-ish ex-Buddhist PhD student from the BBC series The Monastery, now apparently training to be an Anglican priest, who was one of the few to question the therapeutised, belief-lite character of the programmes. All the more disappointing then to read him in a 'Face to faith' column in last Saturday's Guardian complaining that

so-called liberals who aggressively promote secularism in the name of an objective truth or rationality routinely fail to realise that they have simply substituted one set of mythic narratives for another.

Norm has already deconstructed Buxton's defence of religion, but my concern here is with the latter's lazy pairing of 'secularism' with 'aggression'. As I've pointed out on various occasions in the brief life of this blog, this verbal tic irritates me no end, firstly because it is fast becoming a tired cliche among even liberal religious commentators, secondly because it erects barriers that block dialogue between believers and humanists, and lastly because no evidence is ever presented of secularists (or to use Buxton's needlessly derogatory term 'so-called liberals' ) acting 'aggressively' towards believers. Certainly not as aggressively or as threateningly as some believers have acted recently towards those who dare to criticise or mock religion. Equally lazy is Buxton's attempt to equate the 'mythic narratives' of religion with the constantly self-questioning traditions of rational humanism.

Buxton ends his article by drawing parallels between the fate of Christians under the Roman empire and their experience in contemporary secular society, arguing that 'we have come full circle', and that 'Christians are once again atheists and heretics because they do not worship the "god" of today's orthodoxy'. If I remember rightly, Christianity was outlawed in imperial Rome and believers faced torture and death for professing belief: in modern Britain, Christianity is not only tolerated but actively supported by the state (subsidies for church schools, bishops in the Lords, regular comment slots on Radio 4 and in The Guardian), so that particular analogy doesn't really hold up. What I find more worrying about this increasingly pervasive strategy to cast Christianity, and religious faith generally, as marginal and persecuted is its suggestion of a desire among Christians to play the role of victims, even when the evidence of victimisation is terribly thin.

P.S. Here's a sensible Christian response to this kind of persecution complex (thanks once again to Ekklesia).

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