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Christians Who Turn the Other Cheek Haven't Got a Prayer


The Scotsman, Dec. 26, 2004

Photo: Behzti (Dishonor)

Today is the feast of St. Stephen when, as the Christmas carol tells us, Good King Wenceslas famously looked out. More seriously, the festival commemorates the first Christian martyr, who gave his life for his faith just two years after the death of Christ. It is an appropriate date, therefore, on which to consider the confrontation between religion and secularism, especially in the light of recent events.

The cancellation of the play Behzti (Dishonour) at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre last week, after Sikhs had mounted a violent protest against it, has provoked a response of epic incoherence from the Blair régime and the self-styled 'liberals' and acolytes of political correctness who occupy the commanding heights in our cultural police state. This was an intolerable assault, ran the burden of their complaint, on 'freedom of speech.'

What freedom of speech? Liberty of expression has progressively been outlawed by this government, under the relentless advance of tyrannical political correctness. Observe the demeanour of those around you at work, in pubs, at dinner tables or in any milieu where conversation is wide-ranging. Note the hesitancy of expression of otherwise articulate people, as they grope nervously and self-consciously for a vocabulary of illiterate euphemism whenever they are obliged to make reference to any minority group championed by the liberal establishment.

Formerly, free-born Britons voiced their views openly, even trenchantly: today they have been cowed into submission to a liberal orthodoxy imposed simultaneously by statute and by social censure. Yet the very people who have abolished free speech are now making a fetish of it in their angry reaction to the Sikh protests. Lefties crowded into television studios to condemn 'mob rule' - changed days from their gloating over the poll-tax riots.

Part of David Blunkett's legacy is a proposed law against the inciting of religious hatred: would that not ban any similar production in future? Labour and its media satellites are all over the place. They are eager to impose discriminatory laws that will favour their protégé groups (ethnic minorities, homosexuals, asylum seekers, etc.) but to persecute those minorities they dislike (fox-hunters, Christians, smokers, et. al.). There is no consistency, because their agenda is prejudice masquerading as social responsibility.

In any other circumstances, the Sikhs could expect to be favoured by the liberal consensus; but what made this case different was the fact that it involved religion. For today the secularist Left has broadened its longstanding vendetta against Christianity to include all religions. With the rise of militant Islam, the Left has lost much of its enthusiasm for foreign creeds, formerly seen as helpful supplanters of Christianity. The Sikhs have now served notice that any provocation against their religion will be met with the same ruthlessness that ended the career of Indira Gandhi.

As in the case of Salman Rushdie, the provocation has come from an insider: Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, the Sikh woman author of the offending play. What caused offence was its portrayal of rape and murder in a Sikh temple. Do such crimes take place in Sikh temples? If so, why did Bhatti not inform the police instead of writing a play? If not, why did she defame her faith?

At the same time as the play in Birmingham was offending Sikh sensibilities, Christianity was being vilified at St. Andrews. A production of Corpus Christi, the blasphemous play by Terence McNally, portrayed Christ and his apostles as a gang of promiscuous homosexuals, with the saviour represented as the son of an alcoholic. Christians protested in an orderly fashion: the play completed its run. Future Christian protesters, contrasting their result with that of the Sikhs, will not need a degree in logic to draw an obvious conclusion.

Could so gratuitously offensive a play have been staged if its central character had been, say, the Prophet Mohammed? Of course not, because the fatwa is a much more effective guarantee against blasphemy than the Lord Chamberlain ever was. The cosy explanation is that Christians are more tolerant. In reality, they simply do not care. They have made themselves a soft target because they are largely indifferent to their faith. The injunction to turn the other cheek is often quoted, out of context, to justify craven submission. It was intended to inform the response of Christians to personal affronts; but the appropriate reaction to insults against God was demonstrated when Our Lord whipped the traders out of the temple.

Internationally there is a vicious campaign being waged against Christianity, which on mainland Europe means Catholicism. The European Union is showing itself the inheritor of the anti-Christian tradition of the French Revolution, as exampled by the victimisation of Commissioner Buttiglione over his Catholic beliefs and the refusal to countenance any acknowledgement of the Christian heritage in the text of the proposed constitution. Rome has discovered too late what is its reward for decades of doctrinal fudge, ecumenical accommodation and grovelling apologies.

The response from the Church to aggressive secularism should be a firm intransigence, on the model of the Counter-Reformation, along with a re-affirmation of doctrine. The false pretence by rationalists that science has discredited the faith must be refuted. No discovery of modern science is in conflict with doctrine - rather the reverse. The mapping of the human genome gives added coherence to creation, as do investigations into the origins of the universe, which increasingly suggest the existence of a prime mover. When geneticists speculate that we descend from a common mother on the African continent, even the least proficient former Sunday school pupil must feel a twinge of familiarity.

It is likely the Church is about to experience a new era of persecution. If so, it should draw inspiration from the martyrdom of St. Stephen, celebrated in the Introit prayer of his Mass today, from Psalm 118: 'Princes sat, and spoke against me: help me, O Lord my God, for Thy servant was employed in Thy justifications.'