A mean spirited and ignorant little letter in the Guardian the other day, signed by the great and lefty good, including Stephen Fry, has got me thinking about spirituality in Britain.
On the last ‘Any Questions’ on BBC Radio someone asked whether there is ‘an aggressive new atheism’ in Britain. The first respondent said that he didn’t recognise such a thing and the others dutifully and leftily followed suit.
I am afraid I recognise it only too well. It is not just the ubiquitous Richard Dawkins, whose aggressive atheism is paraded almost daily in the Press. Dawkins is beginning to look a fool, or at the very least a bore. His fellow anti-spiritualists – fifty signed the letter to the Guardian – would have you believe that they are providing a balance to an already established religious perspective, but it goes further than that. The thrust of the letter was that whilst the Pope should be allowed to come here and talk quietly to his flock (Oh! Thanks, Stephen) it should not be accorded the level of State visit. Now the Vatican is of course a State, recognised by our Government as such, and plenty of other states are against contraception and abortion and doubtful about allowing equal status to homosexuals in matters such as marriage and adoption. And we never heard Fry and his cronies complain about their visits.
No, this is a specific hatred of the Roman Catholic Church. And these lefties hate it so because it has a billion followers (each Sunday, despite being very much a minority in Britain, there are more Roman Catholics in Church than Anglicans). It is credible, is their problem, not only believable but believed.
And their answer? To prevent it from being heard. This is the new intellectual* fascism: they don’t even want you free to think about things they don’t approve of. They want the other side of the debate banned.
I’m afraid, however, that the new ‘aggressive atheism’ in Britain is in part also assisted by our terror of Muslims. No one pretends that if the BA stewardess had been wearing some sort of Islamic symbol she would have been forced to take it off. Nor do we pretend that she had to remove her crucifix for any other reason than that a Muslim might have been offended. When a bus travelled round London plastered with the message ‘There is no such thing as God’, several people suggested that for equality’s sake other buses should be festooned with ‘There is no such thing as Allah’. Fat chance. An executive from the BBC admitted that whilst he thought it would be permissible to burn a bible on screen, he would not allow the burning of a Koran. We welcome people from other faiths into our country and then pay Danegeld so they are not upset.
So any burgeoning spirituality in Britain is squeezed by the atheist left on one side and by the Muslims on the other.
This is Pope Benedict’s task (I think we have already given up on Rowan Williams who wouldn’t say boo to a goose). Si forent Christiani.
*I once heard Stephen Fry described as 'a stupid person's opinion of what an intellectual is like'