The Spectre of Militant Secularism
On the other hand, there were ‘militant secularists’, who… well, what? No one can say.
‘Militant secularist’ has become the ‘neo-con’ of the 2010s: a know-nothing label that signifies extremism, without explaining where the extremism lies. Radio 4 broadcasters prove that their bias is not always squishy liberal by allowing the religious to denounce the supposed militancy of their critics, without allowing the critics to reply. Like the small-c conservative columnists in the broadsheets, they forget to tell you what is ‘militant’ about ‘militant secularism’ because if they did, they would expose their own fatuity.
Militant secularism or atheism has a specific meaning. From the Jacobins through to the communists, militants murdered priests or sent them to camps, and destroyed churches, synagogues, mosques and temples. Militant secularism still exists in communist China and North Korea. I and every other British secularist I know oppose it because we believe in freedom of religion and freedom from religion.
A reasonable principle to hold? Not according to polite society. The request for ‘freedom from religion’ causes it to forget what few manners it possesses.
In this morning’s Telegraph the Bishop of Oxford says the Church of England wants the taxpayer to pay for at least 200 new primary and secondary schools to combat the influence of secularism. Notice that the bishop does not say that he wants to combat secularism by proselytising his religion, winning converts and engaging in the free arguments of a democratic society. He must know that that game is up. The Economist reports that the number of regular worshippers in the Church of England will have fallen to 680,000 by 2020, down from about 800,000 now and just under 1 million a decade ago. This is a pathetic position to be in for a church which wants to maintain unelected bishops in the House of Lords and keep Elizabeth II as a queen/priest — head of state and head of the state church. Knowing it is losing the battle of ideas among adults, the church wants to indoctrinate children.
If it were the moderate Anglican church of my youth, I would object less. But, the Economist continues, as mainstream Anglicanism withers, the evangelicals are taking over. Its new generation of clerics ‘make it clear they wish to work in large evangelical churches, ripe for American-style mission, rather than in slums or charming villages where social views are relaxed and doctrinal purity is not prized’.