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Gutless humanism

In their war on all things religious, Humanists UK likes to pick soft targets

Artillery Row

The signs of religious fanaticism and incipient theocracy in modern Britain are familiar to us all by now: the sinister sound of children singing “Who put the colours in the rainbow?”. The ominous sickly-sweet taste of half-stale biscuits served on a chipped plate. The noticeboards bearing such blood-curdling fundamentalist messages as “This is an inclusive church, welcome to all”. The stentorian Sunday morning sermons thundered forth by terrifying middle-aged curates called Jan.

That’s right. According to Humanists UK, that doughty, tireless custodian of our national religious liberties, unless we act soon against the nightmarish myrmidons of the Archbishop of Canterbury, we will soon be little better than the Republic of Gilead. Thankfully for us all, Humanists UK vice-president Alice Roberts is conducting a brave campaign against the Church of England’s dystopian programme of religious indoctrination to protect us from this menace.

You can tell how effective Anglican schools have been at indoctrinating schoolchildren by rocketing church attendance over the past five decades. After years of intensive scriptural education, endless instruction in the Thirty-Nine Articles, and a relentless process of having Cranmer, Jewel and Hooker crammed down their throats, the nation’s children have grown into devout worshippers. Churches all over England are so crammed on a Sunday morning that a new church-building programme is surely being seriously considered?

Some of us would genuinely like to live in such a world, but, alas, we find it’s a crazed fantasy that the popular academic Alice Roberts has conjured up in her extremely active imagination. You know Alice — scourge of the iron-clad Christian hegemony of the public sphere whose fearless campaigning largely consists of beclowning herself on Twitter. She’s a bit like Richard Dawkins, except without the distinguished career of groundbreaking scientific research or the pleasing resemblance to Professor Yaffles from Bagpuss.

She lacks something else that Dawkins possesses: guts. Richard Dawkins is a theological illiterate whose work on religion has about as much merit as one would imagine a book by the Pope on evolutionary biology to possess. I am no great fan. However, he has two virtues: consistency and bravery. He has the balls to argue with Islamist extremism as well as Christianity. He is also prepared to attack the most significant post-Christian religion in the west: gender Gnosticism. However much I think he is astoundingly, breath-takingly wrong about many things, he deserves some kudos for this.

Contemptible, however, are the washed-up remnants of midwit Generation X radicalism who pretend that they are being ever-so-edgy and cool by lacerating the twitching corpse of a moribund religious establishment whilst ignoring the real religious threats to our freedoms.

LARPing faux middle-class radicalism requires no guts and runs no risks

The Church of England has not existed in anything like a form that even the most milquetoast liberal could seriously condemn as authoritarian or politically repressive for at least a hundred and fifty years. In their minds, a timorous middle-aged bishop called Tim or Brian pontificating about climate change in the House of Lords is the equivalent of an Iranian faqīh vetoing proposed legislation due to its incompatibility with Sharia. Church of England schools — which in reality are woefully ineffective at passing even the most basic teachings of the Christian religion down to the next generation — are apparently doctrinaire Anglican madrasas producing generations of crusading Protestant firebrands.

This sort of nonsense is not radical, or courageous, or even based in anything remotely resembling reality. It’s pitiable. Being a bone-headed atheist, who doesn’t even understand anything meaningful about the religion you reject so forcefully, is not brave or edgy. It’s the orthodoxy amongst a certain kind of tired post-war radical who thinks that transgression and “progress” are by definition good things — that is, the sort of people who now run pretty much the entire state, educational system, media and universities (and, incidentally and ironically, the Church of England itself).

They are the people who, despite in reality being the establishment, have to constantly delude themselves into thinking that they are still really “sticking it to the man”, whilst “the man” in question has had no meaningful cultural or political power for decades. It is, in short, the standard issue view of a lazy, LARPing sort of faux middle-class radicalism that requires no guts and runs no risks.

This sort of nonsense would be no more than mildly depressing were it not for one thing. It is not just wrong to tilt at the windmill of non-existent Christian cultural and political domination when there is, in fact, a religious force in modern Britain that clearly presents a threat to basic liberties — it is, for a supposedly secularist organisation like Humanists UK, an unforgivable and serious dereliction of its purported duty and purpose.

In the last few years, the following things have happened. A teacher has had to go into hiding for his life after death threats and a campaign of intimidation from local Muslims; no one has been arrested for these threats. An autistic child was subject to an officially-sanctioned kangaroo Sharia court for accidentally scuffing a copy of the Qur’an. Dozens of Muslim preachers have openly called for genocide against Jews and received no sanction whatsoever. There have been marches in London in which groups of Muslims have brazenly declared their support for an organisation, Hamas, that murders, tortures and rapes Jews. Opinion polls show that worryingly large minorities (around 4/10ths) of British Muslims hold overtly anti-semitic opinions. Anyone who dares mention any of this is instantly branded as “Islamophobic”, the latest weasel scare-word used to bully people into silence.

In other words, the British state has either acquiesced or been actively complicit in the toleration of an overt religious fundamentalism that directly, and violently, threatens basic liberties. Have our secularist heroes in Humanists UK been bravely leaping into the breach to fight this trend?

If you go to the Humanists UK website “News and Stories” and search for “Islam”, you will find exactly two stories published since the beginning of 2019. If you search very carefully, you will, to be fair, find the occasional story about some of the incidents I mention above. Stories attacking Christianity are two-a-penny, though, whilst Islamic fundamentalism is hardly ever mentioned.

Its “campaigns” section does not mention the threat of violent Islamist extremism as a priority at all — but disestablishing the already completely docile Church of England features prominently, as does proposing the dismantling of faith schools (overwhelmingly Christian ones) which forms the basis of its current main campaign. In December 2023 — post-Batley, post October 7th — whatever one thinks about Christian faith schools, focussing on the issue seems irrelevant and out-of-touch to the point of wilfully looking the other way.

Humanists UK keeps up a relentless barrage of criticism of the Church of England, Roman Catholicism and other Christian organisations on the most flimsy and esoteric of pretexts. Its criticism of Islamic extremism is so quiet that you have to listen very hard to hear it at all. This is in a context where Christians silently praying in their heads near abortion clinics are arrested, whilst Muslims who threaten to kill, maim and commit genocide routinely get away with it. Indeed, the authorities often defer to them.

Why? Humanists UK knows that the consequences of beating the soft underbelly of Christianity carries no risks at all, either of social sanction or threats of violence — unlike even muted criticism of Islam, a religion that clearly still does incite (amongst some of its followers) violence, intimidation and a contempt for the sort of secularism and state neutrality that Humanists UK claim to support.

If it were to seriously focus on the threat from Islamism, there would be a Twitter backlash, and its partner NGOs would mutter darkly about “Islamophobia”. There might also be some rather more frightening consequences.

So Humanists UK attacks the institutionally weak and entirely toothless religion that it knows won’t fight back, and it ignores and remains all but silent on one that is, at least from a minority of its active adherents, a genuine threat to secularism and liberal values in the UK.

There’s a word for that.


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