A politician with half the intellect of Eric Pickles should be able to articulate religious hatred and prejudice is bad, liberty and religious freedom is good. When you are at heart a christian nationalist intellectual rigor does not matter. You are preaching a vision of utopia. Facts and reality spoil the narrative. It is a public service to provide them when a Government Minister spouts such drivel as in his article “The fight against intolerance begins at home“
Eric Pickles claims England was increasingly a religious tolerant country in the 17th century by accepting French Protestants and protecting non conformists, via Christian values. He neglects these points:
Charles II (1660-1685) was not particularly religious but as far as he had any religion he secretly leaned to Roman Catholicism.
Meanwhile parliament was determined to crack down on the many independent churches that had sprung up during the interregnum (the period between 1649 and 1660 when England was without a king) and make Anglicanism the state religion again.
They passed a series of acts called the Clarendon code, a series of laws to persecute non-conformists (Protestants who did not belong to the Church of England). The Corporation Act of 1661 said that all officials in towns must be members of the Church of England.
The Act of Uniformity 1662 said that all clergy must use the Book of Common Prayer. About 2,000 clergy who disagreed resigned. Furthermore the Conventicle Act of 1664 forbade unauthorized religious meetings of more than 5 people unless they were all of the same household.
Finally the Five Mile Act of 1665 forbade non-Anglican ministers to come within 5 miles of incorporated towns. (Towns with a mayor and corporation). [Source]
The King’s son deposed later, the Bill of Rights 1689 made catholic succession to the throne or marriage to a catholic illegal. In another contradiction of words, the Toleration Act 1689 prevented non-Anglicans to hold public office or attend university. You could at least legally now pray in your own house of worship for things to change. Unsurprisingly Mr Pickles stresses that last part only in his article. The persecution of Catholics by the English State by the end of the 17th century was alive and well.
Even if these historical details – let alone the English Civil War and Thirty Years War – are sketchy for some it should be obvious the Huguenots were welcomed not because of religious tolerance but out of sectarian solidarity.
Of course Eric Pickles does this to suggest that Christianity has for many centuries helped make the English state a religiously tolerant nation. If truth matters, we need to point out in English history it was not the aggressive secularists that were terrorizing the populace. It was the religious. Subverting the liberties then that Mr Pickles claims to uphold now.
The Church of England is a symbol of such intolerance in our nation’s history – not the historical origins of our liberty. The freedoms we enjoy now were undoing the harm that religious sectarianism did to this nation. Not through our Christian values as Pickles claims. As Bertrand Russell explains:
The results of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, in the intellectual sphere, were at first wholly bad, but ultimately beneficial. The Thirty Years War persuaded everybody that neither Protestants nor Catholics could be completely victorious; it became necessary to abandon the medieval hope of doctrinal unity and this increased men’s freedom to think for themselves, even about fundamentals. The diversity of creeds in different countries made it possible to escape persecution by living abroad. Disgust with theological warfare turned the attention of able men increasingly to secular learning, especially mathematics and science. (History of Western Philosophy, p.424)
We can only hope that theological conflicts will give way to such secular learning and free thinking in the 21st century soon in the Middle East and South Asia.
Being outspoken that the sate should not appoint bishops in the legislative body as this is an affront to democracy, that the head of state has the same liberty to choose their faith as anyone else, that in the public space religion should neither favour or discriminate against you as a citizen, is apparently being too vocal for Eric Pickles:
The common theme is the politics of division and hate: attitudes and mantras that seek to divide rather than unite. Aggressive secularists would advocate the suppression of religion in the public sphere. Yet this would only perpetuate the message of intolerance towards others. Religion is the not the problem – political and religious extremism is.
Freedom of speech and freedom of religion go hand in hand – but both should operate within the law. Britain has a broad and generous vision of citizenship. It is important that we all take responsibility for defending it. The first is by standing up to the overt and noisy bullies. Second is constant vigilance against the sly pedlars of hatred whose crude prejudices masquerade as religious piety. Jesus recognised this risk when he warned us to “watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” One of the foundations of the Church of England was its “via media” – or middle way between religious hotheads. These guiding principles of the English Reformation should help us as we grapple with the religious politics and tensions of the 21st century.
Mr Pickles, where were you when people were advocating men and women being separated during public meetings at our universities? Where was your concern when our schools were being used to impose religious extremist views on our children? That religious freedom means a prayer should be a private matter before a public meeting and not part of the local government agenda dictated as a Christian prayer? When we called on religious hate preachers to be prevented from entering the country?
Removing Anglican privilege from the public sphere is about ending religious discrimination. Rejecting the notion of this country as a Christian Nation because national identity should never be fused with creed. The establishment of the Church of England heralded misery, oppression and bloodshed as a new channel for religious zealotry. It is not an institution to be proud of, created at the whim of a philandering and whimsically theologically tyrannical King.
We cannot hope to confront the theological nightmare that is ISIS if we are dishonest about our own theological sectarian history. Religion is a problem when we see the breathtaking ignorance expounded on it by the windbag that is Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, including responsibility for faith.
There are many problems in politics and political institutions. Religion has always been one of them. Secularists from faith and non faith backgrounds will continue to point that out vocally whatever smears and insinuations Eric Pickles continues to make about us. This is not about suppressing the religious, but preventing creed and dogma denying the liberties and freedom we would all have otherwise.
When it comes to a discussion of such issues, Eric Pickles is a blot on the political landscape.
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog