Sunday 31 March 2013

Carey is blind to the real 'aggressive secularism'

As a member of the Church of England, I am occasionally irritated by our erstwhile archbishop George Carey.  Occasionally more than irritated, but - since it is Easter - I am choosing words carefully.

There may indeed be problems in our society about what he calls 'aggressive secularism', but it has little to do with David Cameron's plans for gay marriage.

In fact, statements like that - timed for Easter by the Daily Mail - simply plays into the hands of those in the media and the church who seem to think the central Christian message is some kind of warning against homosexuality.

How many times, incidentally, do you think Jesus mentions homosexuality in the gospel accounts?  The answer is not at all.

Some kinds of secularism are important.  We should not be ramming specific religions down the throats of people for whom they are unwelcome (as if we were).  Equally, we should not be insisting on secular culture for everyone in every situation, especially when 'secular culture' is interpreted as a narrow, puritanical positivism.

So my irritation with Carey is that he seems to be blind to the real problem, which includes:

  • The way political parties encourage a miserably empty consumerism, and assume this sums up people's highest aspirations.  See my blog on the 2011 riots.  One result of this kind of perverse morality is the way we allow big banks to do almost whatever they like because they pay so much in tax.
  • The way every high ideal, at work and in social policy and every hope beyond, is assumed to be measurable, and reducable to some kind of digital delivery system.  See my blog about measurement.
  • The way a small group of extreme positivists pour public scorn on anything that cannot be seen under a microscope, whether it is complementary health or God.
All these reduce our common life, narrow our aspirations, fetter our imaginations and provide what for me are the real symptoms of aggressive secularism.  So why does Carey obsess about the way some people express their love for each other?  That reductionism is a symptom of the very secularism he warns against.

We have managed to shake off the most miserably utilitarian government in history (I refer to New Labour).  We haven't really struggled out the other side yet.  I don't suppose we ever will if people continue to imagine that the profundities of religion - whatever you might think of them - can be reduced to your attitude to same-sex relationships.

No comments: