Friday, 28 October 2011

Baroness Warsi: Britain needs to become more Christian

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Baroness Warsi
The Conservative Party chair Baroness Warsi, who has previously sparked debate with speeches about the government's willingness to "Do God" and the supposed social acceptability of Islamophobia, has a piece in today's Daily Telegraph in which she discusses the importance of religious tolerance.

At first glance, it doesn't seem as though Warsi is making an unreasonable argument. She begins with the tragic example of the Pakistani politician Shahbaz Bhatti, who was assassinated in March of this year on account of being a Christian, and goes on to argue that understanding between people of different faiths is important:
"Two things struck me that are as relevant to us as they are to Pakistan. First, it is a mistake to assume that you compromise your identity the more you try to understand others. The stronger your understanding of your neighbour, the stronger your own religious identity becomes."
Leaving aside the manner in which Warsi seems to ignore people of no religion (we'll come back to that one), I can't really argue with what she says. Remove the word "religious" from the last sentence, and it's a perfectly reasonable, if slightly platitudinous, statement. But then she goes on to say:
"For many years, I have been saying that the stronger we are as a Christian nation, the more understanding we will be of other faiths. That is why, a year ago, I went to a bishops’ conference and said that this Government would “do God”. It is why the Pope’s visit was so important for our country. And it is why I am proud that this year, for the first time, the Prime Minister held an Easter reception in Downing Street.

We need to create a country in which people can be unashamedly proud of their faith – where they don’t feel that they have to leave religion at the door. That means being proud of Christianity, not downgrading it. It means encouraging people to say that their faith inspires what they do. It means supporting religious charities in delivering public services in schools, hospices and rehabilitation."
So suddenly we have made the leap from the importance of people being secure in their own identity – fine – to the importance of Britain being stronger as a "Christian nation". Why must the former necessitate the latter? In order for people to feel secure in their own religious (or non-religious, but Warsi doesn't seem too concerned with that) identity, is it not better for the "nation", by which I'm assuming Warsi also means the state, not to side with one religion over all others? I'm not even sure how being part of a "Christian nation" is supposed to work for non-Christians  – is someone supposed to consider their individual identity to be, say, Muslim, but their "collective identity" to be somehow Christian, as a citizen of the "Christian nation" of Britain?

Whenever I read something like this, I find myself wondering why some people have such a problem with secularism. Baroness Warsi writes of the importance of religious freedom and tolerance, and goes on to talk about Britain's "proud history of pluralism and inter-faith dialogue" – surely having a secular state that favours no one belief system over another is the most effective, and indeed the most simple, way of securing that?
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