I doubt Jesus would be flattered by the Easter messages of David Cameron or Ed Miliband. But then Jesus is not so much God made flesh, or a great man in his own terms, but made in the image of whoever speaks of him. I am no exception here.
Cameron made a wishy washy appeal to all while saying we needed the established Church of England to help support rights of other faiths, and Jesus was for the “Big society” that Cameron now and again attempts a Lazarus rise from the dead on. Jesus the Zealot wanted God’s Kingdom on earth in the here and now – the sword very much in one hand with charity in the other as God’s Law became Man’s Law. Equal marriage doubtful as would tolerance of non Judaism religion. Jesus was no secularist or religious freedom advocate if we go by Reza Aslan’s “Zealot“.
Ed Miliband talked of service to communities, especially in times of austere government policy. Instead of political masters it was time for servant leaders. The resurrection of Tony Blair, winner of three elections, in that sentiment was rather welcome. With the new appointment of political messiah David Axelrod, Labour might even win the next election. Though even he could not bring Mario in Italy back from the dead by polling day.
My point is that Jesus was not a pluralist – he advocated one narrow path and the establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth. Islam would not have got off the ground under it. The Church of England supported the state by seeking out heretics and traitors – often being one was the same as the other. Any claim that it supports other faiths now is more to the secularising of the institution in modern times.
The establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the horrors of the holocaust have more to do with the secular nation we live in today than Christianity. King Henry VIII “domestic relations”, let alone foreign ones, are the reason for an established church and the anachronism remains. It was only in 1858 that a Jew could become an MP in Britain – Disraeli’s father converting to Anglicanism was his only chance earlier.
So Miliband has a point identifying himself as potentially the first Jewish Atheist Prime Minister. That again a reflection of a more tolerant attitude to immigration in the past. Britain became a melting pot of ideas and cultures. Pluralism allows that self identity, just as secularism defends it.
An established church does not secure or underpin religious freedom; it rather risks the privileging of a state faith. Twenty six un-elected bishops in the House of Lords. The Head of State must be Defender of the Faith. A role Prince Charles has questioned wanting to be “defender of faith.”
I might add Prince Charles has raised the issue of apostasy in Islam as he has the persecution of religious people, including Christians. No monarchist heart have I, but Charles is an educated enlightened man of his times (ignoring quack homeopathy; no one is perfect). The Church of England reflects the times we live in rather than being a trend setter regarding plurality of faith. That is to be welcomed without being confused as the de facto cause.
Secularism is about safeguarding citizens from coercion in matters of religion by the state being neutral. The morality that makes people generously give of their time to others is separate from public policy formulation and delivery. We are all equal citizens whatever our belief or none.
This Easter my message is that we are not a Christian Nation anymore than we are a White Nation. We are a nation of many people, united that making sense of ourselves is for our own conscience. That we shall have the freedom to worship God as we understand them, or to be against the very notion there is one. One where Anjem Choudray and Richard Dawkins may make their pronouncements under free speech whatever you may think of them.
I am fortunate to have been born here. May all be free to be who they are and express it, without fear or favour by the state or other people. Violence and intimidation has no place. Free debate is to be valued and when it comes to charity, also be charitable to your critics. For forged in fire of open debate we may yet refine our arguments.
That in living and thinking, we might all look to serve humanity as best we can in a pluralistic society.
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog