Saturday, June 07, 2008

Church and State

The report, commissioned for the Church of England and to be published on Monday, accuses the Government of discriminating against the Christian Churches in favour of other faiths, including Islam. It calls for the appointment of a “Minister for Religion”, who would act as the Prime Minister’s personal “faith envoy” and who would recognise the contribution of faith communities to Britain across every government department.
The Church of England really is trying to roll us back to the priest-ridden nightmare of the Middle Ages.
The report comes only days after Dr Sentamu accused Mr Brown of sacrificing liberty for misguided notions of equality and of betraying new Labour’s mantra of “rights and responsibilities”. It shows the extent to which church leaders feel betrayed by the Government’s embrace of a secular agenda.
Liberty depends on the removal of religion from any direct involvement with government. Dr Sentamu is part of a new clerical activism that seeks to destroy liberty, not safeguard it. The government has not embraced a secular agenda; we have seen a faith-driven Prime Minister, who appointed religious cultists to the cabinet, replaced by a faith-on-his-sleeve "son of the manse".

In fact, the Christian church has become radicalised by the eruption into our society of the extremist practice of immigrant religions, principally Islam but also Sikhism.

Human progress depends on the disconnection between religion and state. Western progress in the past half millennium has only been possible because the Catholic Church was undermined by the Reformation, and has been weakened by growing rationalism ever since. This can happen in any culture; the Golden Age of Islam happened for the same reason, Islam was very weak. It's actually a complete misnomer, like calling the 19th and 20th centuries the Golden Age of Christianity. This earlier age of reason - the Golden Age of the people now smothered by Islam - was snuffed out by an absolutist Islamic resurgence and that part of the world dominated by this religion has spent half a millennium in darkness, ignorance and poverty.

We are not immune just because we are Westerners. It happened here before and could happen again. These old tyrannies - religion and monarchy - never go away, they just keep re-appearing in new forms. It falls to some generations to fight old battles yet again, and we have the misfortune to be such a generation. The Church must be fought.


Anonymous said...

Yeah! We've beaten Queen Hillary, now let's attend to the God botherers.

Peter Risdon said...

"Queen Hillary"

Well, exactly. Dynastic democracy is with us.

Anonymous said...

I just love Britain's secular "no convincing moral direction". Human progress, is this the progress that equates to this civilised society? Don't make me laugh...

Peter Risdon said...

I had things like medical science, life expectancy, knowledge of the physical universe and racial and gender equality in mind when I wrote about human progress. But I can't completely untangle your comment, Mark, so can't give a more substantive response.

Anonymous said...

Well I agree that calling post reformation the golden age of Christianity would be nonsense but I don't think that's a good analogy for the golden age of Islam. It's not reasonable to claim that Islam was weak at that time.

The golden age is agreed to be the 8th century to the 13th century. It began during the Umayyad Caliphate, 661-750, which saw the conquest of Iberia. The period saw: incursions into Southern Italy (831-902); conquest of Anatolia (1060); conquest of Afghanistan (656-870); incursion into India (starting 12th century). The conclusion is that militarily they were strong and societally self confident.

I understand the argument that following the early Muslim conquest of places like Syria and Persia, Muslims were in the minority and therefore were more tolerant. I don't think that stacks up. Whilst there is no doubt that many, so called, Islamic contributions can actually be traced to non Muslim persons many can't. Islam was more open to ideas.

I think two things ended the golden age. First the religious authorities ended Ijtihad. Second the Mongol invasion devastated the region. Now many also blame the Crusades but I think this is nonsense because (a) they never penetrated past the coastal strip. Baghdad was never in danger (b) the crusades were a local set back. Within a hundred years, only city states remained. In contrast the Mongols destroyed Baghdad in 1258 along with many other cities. The loss of this city, the capital of the Abbasid caliphate, must have been particularly shocking. It's not unusual to see returns to fundamentalism after major civilisational shocks.

Peter Risdon said...

TDK, The post-Reformation "Golden Age of Christianity" also saw almost all European colonialism. Religion, not civil state or military prowess, was weak. The analogy, surely, is strengthened not weakened by this.

The Mongols didn't have much effect in Spain, so far as I am aware, but a religious clampdown, which included the arrest of scholars, happened there too, where previously one of the main centres of "Islamic" maths and astronomy had flourished.

Peter Risdon said...

Weak should be weaker or weakening, really. I don't think colonialism was without any religious influence.

Anonymous said...

There's no dispute that post reformation saw a progressive weakening of the power and influence of the Christian church.

I wouldn't claim that the Mongols had any effect in Spain but I would claim that the end of Ijtihad did.

To establish your case you need to show evidence that religion was relatively weak in Islam's Golden age. Thing like the Huxley Wilberforce debate.

In some respects it not unreasonable to say that Islam was strong during the Golden Age and weak at the end of it. A self confident religion does not need to prevent critical enquiry. It assumes that its "truth" is self evident. A religion that considers itself under threat will do what it can to protect itself.

Anonymous said...

I don't think colonialism was without any religious influence.

As far as the British Empire goes, its early growth was driven more by trade than religion. eg. The British East India company, prior to the 19th century, had relatively little religious impetus. However the Victorian era saw a religious revival. Increased evangelism was a factor in the Indian Mutiny.

There's also evidence that Christianity evangelism was a significant factor in the colonisation of Africa. I'm not the first person to point out the parallels in the "do-goodery" of the middle classes then and today, although I'm sure Bob Geldoff would be upset by the thought.

So I agree with your point.

Peter Risdon said...

I made the same point about Ijtihad when discussing this with Ismaeel a few months ago.

I actually think we're in full agreement.

Anonymous said...

I think we agree on a lot, but I don't think it self evident that Islam was weak during its Golden Age.

There's a hint of tautology in your argument. Let me try and tease it out.
1. A golden age is an age where society made great progress in cultural or scientific areas.
2. We have evidence that religion impedes progress.
3. If a society makes advances then religion, ipso facto must be too weak to prevent it.
4. Society did progress therefore religion must have been been weak at the time.

That would be true if you could demonstrate that religion ALWAYS impedes progress. Whilst often true it isn't absolute. Christianity forbade many things but within constraints many cultural artefacts were created that were non oppositional or indeed celebrated Christianity. The Renaissance, the start of the West's golden age, started with devotional works. Many scientists in that era believed they were discovering god's laws. Societies can still make progress even if they accept limits to enquiry.

That's not to deny that the church determined certain immutable "truths", of which no challenge was tolerated. This phenomenon isn't limited to religions. Our secular age sees the denouncement of heretics who challenge the immutable truth of AGW. It's tempting to argue that this movement displays religious tendencies but that label only works because we take "religious" to mean that they have abandoned reason. It's notable that the AGW advocates use the same insult to describe the sceptics.

What does it say when such messianic certainty as Environmentalism can spring forth so easily from secular roots? If rationalism can so easily move to fanaticism, then is it not possible that religious belief might also have periods of sense as well as periods of censorious stupidity. Is it perhaps fanaticism that provides the anti progress rather than the religion per se?

So if we were to use "religious" in the limited sense as a term synonymous to "lack of reason" (or something similar) then by definition times of progress will always be religiously weak and times of reverse, religiously strong. In effect we are saying that any contribution to progress made by a person who professes religious faith is made despite his faith. That's just tautologous. We have made Islam's golden age a period of religious weakness because our definitions make it an oxymoron.

I don't think that's a reasonable argument.

So let's assume by weak you mean something else than above. You need to demonstrate one of two things
1. Golden era progress was made despite Islamic authorities.
2. Islam was relatively weak during that era (without tautology).

Anonymous said...

PS: Sorry to be so long winded. I should have edited it better.

Let me offer this article, which to some extent bolsters your case.