"The key to rubbing along in perfect harmony – shut up and do what I say!"

I haven’t updated this in a little while, and was expecting to write on a slightly lighter topic, but again this topic rears its head. I’m not sure what The Times has against religious liberty anymore, but this article here seems to support my thoughts last time. I had several reactions to this piece:

1) “Decent Muslims, undoubtedly a majority, opt like Jews and sane Christians for the minor key and the modesty of a settled faith which resolves neither to despise nor proselytise.”

It’s interesting that Libby Purves feels that denying the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20) is necessary to be decent and sane. It gets worse.

2) “If society must tolerate diverse faiths, so must faiths return the compliment and pragmatically avoid clashes.”

Again notice the shift from religious liberty – an inalienable freedom belonging to the individual, to a grudging tolerance extended by society – one that carries a price. Due to the wide range of her examples, the nature of that price is unspecified. She mentions the Fort Hood shooting, but few engage in gunning down their fellow citizens. However she also mentioned proselyting – is that to be forbidden so that tolerance be extended?

3) “Equally, on a lesser matter, it seems obvious that when her country’s law brought in civil partnerships, the Islington registrar who huffily refused to perform them on Christian grounds should just have sighed, muttered a prayer and found another job. One makes sacrifices for one’s beliefs, surely? ”

It ill behoves anyone to demand others make sacrifices as a sign of “respect”. One can only notice the lack of reciprocity that runs through this – believers are to accept marginalisation and loss of jobs without complaint, to avoid bothering “the secular majority”. The same runs through the whole premise – believers of all stripes are to shut up so that others won’t be bothered by their opinions, but the same is not applied to secular newspaper commentators.

4) But the most truly awful, blindingly stupid part of the whole column comes with its essential premise – that Judaism learnt to “sing in a minor key” and that this “once it has been learnt, as Judaism has found, it brings great rewards.”

Really? Really?!? REALLY!?!?!

Which part of the last two thousand years does Libby Purves see as that time of great rewards? For fear of godwinning this post, I’m not going to bring up the obvious example, but the repeated persecutions in Jewish history of the last two thousand years can hardly be seen as a “great reward”. Jews learned “to sing in a minor key” to avoid being noticed out of fear. Worse, that didn’t even work, as sadly a lot of Jewish communities discovered. I presume Ms Purves merely chose an unfortunate example, and wasn’t seriously advocating that the “respect” demanded by the “secular majority” was sheer terror, but such idiocy doesn’t exactly help her point.

I find this worrying. Now noone is yet seriously advocating the state suppression of religious liberty. Noone outside of internet comments threads anyway, and you can find any barmy opinion espoused in those. Yet I find it increasingly worrying that the terms of the debate have so shifted. The principle of religious liberty – that men (and women) are free to worship what where and how they may – is being increasingly forgotten, in place of the idea that grudging tolerance may be conditionally extended – or refused.