Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Religious Upheavals; Defenders of Faith, Defenders of Culture

An excellent article in the Telegraph Blog which I picked up through the Diocese of Gloucester FaceBook page, in which it was suggested that Christians in the UK could take lessons from Muslims in showing more readiness in defending their faith, got me thinking. (Always dangerous of course - thinking.) There have been several things lately that merit some careful thought - especially on this subject. One being the revelation that over 400 young British Muslims, born in the UK, raised in the UK and educated here, have joined Al Qaeda supporting or affiliated insurgency groups in the civil war in Syria. So have some 500 German Muslims, a similar number from France and a few hundred more from other European countries.

The unifying rallying cry is that they are 'defending Islam' from the 'forces of Satan'. In their eyes the Assad regime is apostate, undermining 'pure' Islam and this is a Holy War. The last time Christians were prepared to fight a war over differences in their theological, liturgical and authority positions was in the 17th Century, and for this we are very thankful. Islam, at present, is being torn between competing visions of what, exactly, 'true' Islam is. In many ways it mirrors the divisions of the 15th to 17th Century Christian struggles between Protestants and Roman Catholics, and will probably, eventually, have a similar outcome, but in the meantime, it promises to be bloodier and even more divisive than the Christian Reformation was.

Friends living in a number of Muslim governed countries have spoken of a sea change occuring in the attitudes of the young, pointing to the fact that many of these countries have a majority of their populations under the age of 30. Saudi Arabia (Kingdom of Saudi) is an excellent example. It is the nation that includes the holiest sites in the Islamic world. It is also Wahabi/Sunni and very 'conservative' in its governance. The 'Religious Police' have sweeping powers to maintain 'public decency' and 'religious order' and use them to enforce the letter of their interpretation of Sharia Law. But, Saudi Arabia is also in the position of having 52% of its population under the age of 25. The tensions are building as young women demand rights they are currently denied, and many young men openly defy authority demanding more freedom for themselves and their sisters. It isn't helped by the uncertainty of a regime on the point of change (the King is well into his 80s and some reports suggest he's comatose and on life support) and the Islamic 'scholars' led by the Mufti of Mecca determined to prevent any 'liberalisation' in their society. The problem they face is that a growing majority of young people in these countries are disaffected with the strictures of their faith, and more and more are paying 'lip service' only to stay out of trouble, while privately seeking ways to escape.

The west has already undergone an 'anti-religion' sea change, albeit a less violent one than that currently wracking many Islamic countries. Many younger people have turned away from Christianity, the main objection being the 'heirarchical' nature of churches and the refusal to accept any new thinking on many aspects our children find inconsistent with scientific findings and the realities of peoples' lives. This doesn't mean they don't 'believe' - they do, but in something far more nebulous, less structured and more, as they see it, in touch with where they are. So Humanism (modern version of the Pelagian heresy of the 3rd and 4th Centuries) and Atheism have become popular, alongside neo-Paganism, Wiccanism and a few others. One catalyst for all of this is the internet. Never before has it been so easy to access information and disinformation - and sadly, there is a vast amount of the latter about everything on the 'net'. And, as we all know, if its on the Net, it must be fact ...

The UK, until fairly recently, prided itself on having a Judeo-Christian Heritage and culture. Most of Europe (with the possible exception of France) sees itself in a very similar manner. Germany, it must be noted, has no doubt on that score and even more 'faith' holidays than the UK. While the UK leans toward the more Protestant end of the Christian spectrum, Germany and most of Europe lean toward the Roman Catholic or Orthodox traditions which are often more colourful - a legacy in the UK, perhaps, of the Puritanical attempts to expunge joy from worship. This has its parallels in Islam, with the more 'puritanical' sects attempting to restore what they believe are the 7th Century practices and interpretations of their faith, while others want to make it more 'open'.

As the Telegraph article points out, it has become, under the ideology of 'multi-culturalism' OK to denigrate any Christian society, culture or heritage, but if one dares to criticise anyone elses - take shelter. The hounds of Political Correctness, the Media and numerous 'minority rights' groups will be unleashed against you. Why is this? Why have we allowed ourselves to be marginalised in our own countries, our own societies - often by very small, but very vocal 'pressure groups'? To a very large extent this is exactly how the Nazis in Germany, and the Soviets in Russia silenced and controlled the majorities in their countries.

I have long said that I ask only that my culture and my faith is accorded the same respect I am asked to show anyone elses. If you denigrate mine, then how can you demand I respect yours? None of us live in a perfect society or a perfect world, and all attempts to impose any given 'vision' of a perfect society inevitably lead only to conflict. History is littered with the wreckage of such attempts by those seeking to gain power or to retain it - and the legacies of those attempts still fuel conflicts and divide us. I agree with the authoress of the article I have linked above. It is time to stop allowing everyone, from Islamic extremists, Humanists, Atheists, Political Activistas and the Media to denigrate, slander and destroy our heritage, our culture and our faith. I do not advocate taking up arms, or revolution. I do advocate ceasing to simply swallow the epithets and to stand up for ourselves

The Attorney-General has been forced to 'apologise' for stating something most people recognise as being grounded in fact. Corruption has many faces and forms, and it is endemic in almost every society. Perhaps he was unwise in his choice of example, there are many others he could have chosen. That fact that most of the corruption is just on the legal side of the law - by a split hair - does not mean, as those hurling abuse at him claim, mean it doesn't exist.

I agree with Christine Odone. It is time we stood up and were counted.


Cristina Odone is a journalist, novelist and broadcaster specialising in the relationship between society, families and faith. She is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies and is a former editor of the Catholic Herald and deputy editor of the New Statesman. She is married and lives in west London with her husband, two stepsons and a daughter. Her new ebook No God Zone is now available on Kindle.

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