Sentimental bullying

John Denham really does talk the most rebarbative kack.

As communities secretary I am formally responsible for the government’s engagement with faith communities. Lacking some depth of knowledge I set about recruiting a panel of advisors (retained on an expenses-only basis) to advise me on relations with these communities.

And to encourage him to think in communalist terms and to use the word ‘community’ a minimum of six times whenever he opens his mouth, lest any foolish person somehow lose track of the fact that New Labour is obsessed with ‘communities’ to the point of insanity.

Outside of polemic is the real question of how a modern government should relate to the fact of faith. One view is that government should seek to marginalise faith as much as it can. The other, which I hold, is that something which is of immense importance to millions of people – the precise size of this minority or majority is not the real point – should not be lightly dismissed.

Note that – ‘the other’ – there are two and only two; there is one, and then there is the other. Bullshit, and coercive bullshit at that. It is not the case that the only alternative to thinking government should try ‘to marginalise faith as much as it can’ is thinking government should not ‘lightly dismiss’ anything ‘which is of immense importance to millions of people.’ That’s a false dichotomy, a bogusly limited choice, a stupidly narrow frame of reference, and a bullying piece of sentimentalism. It’s not a matter of what should or should not be ‘lightly dismissed,’ it’s a question of what the state should actively foster – particularly at the expense of alternatives, such as secularism, meaning neutrality among religions. Religion is important to lots of people, as Denham sagely points out, but he neglects to point out that freedom from religion, freedom of religion, separation of religion from government, is also important to lots of people. He simply plumps for the stupid retrograde intrusive notion that government should be sticking its nose into religion and shoving religion onto its balky citizens.

Over the past few weeks I’ve tried to set out a reasoned argument for government to take faith seriously. Firstly, the fact of faith for many of our citizens should be respected. Second, many issues which concern governments can not be tackled solely by regulation or spending. Governments and faiths share an interest in the values which lead people to act they way they do.

What does he mean ‘the fact of faith for many of our citizens should be respected’? That it should be acknowledged? But it already is, and that’s not a matter for government, and why should that fact be respected while the opposite fact is strenuously disrespected? That it should be respected in some substantive sense? If so, the hell with that. That it’s the governments job to go creeping around the landscape sucking up to various ‘communities’? That’s just absurd.

Campaigns for international development, peace, decent housing, living wages and many others have often been sustained by those of faith – not alone of course, but as key participants nonetheless. On these issues, and others including climate change and the values of our economy, faiths have views and values that deserve a hearing.

No they don’t. That’s flat-out nonsense. ‘Faiths’ have no views that are exclusively faithy that deserve a hearing – all they have are shared views that deserve a hearing for shareable reasons. ‘Faith’ as such adds nothing useful to views and values, and it often subtracts merit from views and values, by making them subject to threats and rewards, or predictions about some imagined other world.

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