’Tis the season to be spiteful?

By Simon Barrow
December 23, 2009

Peace on earth, goodwill to all? Stuff that. Zealots in our misnamed ‘culture wars’ are much keener on promoting discord than harmony. Well, that's how it seems.

Take Stephen Green, otherwise known as ‘Christian Voice’. He has used Advent to make known his repugnant view that gay people who are HIV positive should be executed – in line with a proposed law in Uganda that would make gay sex punishable by a life sentence or even death.

Green, who came to brief prominence when the BBC mistakenly thought he was responsible for 50,000 complaints against Jerry Springer: The Opera (in fact it was the Evangelical Alliance and Premier Radio), also wants to see homosexuality re-criminalised in Britain.

Presumably he’s not too pleased that it was a former Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, who played a key role in decriminalising it. (Actually, maybe some of Ramsey's contemporaries need more reminding about that.)

In addition to "persecution" stories of different kinds, there’s also a miserable misinformation campaign currently being waged from various quarters to suggest that equalities legislation in Britain will somehow "outlaw evangelical Christianity and Roman Catholicism in the UK" and threaten "our very right to believe". No it won't, it aims simply stop unjust discrimination in employment and services.

The National Secular Society says that this kind of thing "is religion at its self-serving worst", and I quite agree with them.

So what's religion at it's compassionate best then? Here the NSS is not quite so forthcoming. In fact it's Seasonal Message is mostly an extraordinary rant against... well, quite a lot of people, really.

There's "immigrants", for example, who are "importing their own brands of religion into Britain". They are denounced as "primitive, hysterical, fanatical and alien, full of hatred and intolerance and crazy, senseless rules." Case closed, then. And not a hint of prejudice.

Christianity, meanwhile, is dismissed wholesale for "its intolerance, its bigotry and its irrationality". These are its "true traditions", apparently. People like Desmond Tutu, Christian peacemakers, and people of faith campaigning against all kinds of injustice and abuse are presumably just fakes?

Next there's the government, which has "developed a kind of religious mania". Then let's not forget "the Tory Taliban" and "the happy clappies" and... well, you get the picture.

The problem, it seems, is that even "self-professed atheists" like government ministers John Denham and Ed Balls are not towing the line, and people just aren't joining the NSS - which, despite its media savvy and extensive coverage, only has a few thousand members. (That's many more than Christian Voice, mind!)

Maybe this reluctance to sign up to what looks like a very negative version of secularism has something to do with the tone and assumptions of NSS pronouncements?

Or perhaps it has something to do with the regular insults in NSS media summaries, with calling health service chaplains "parasites", and with defending the pronouncements of people such as 'comedian' Pat Condell - who tells us he fears being attacked by Muslims "with shit for brains" and thinks that "Muslim women in Britain who cover their faces are mentally ill." (I'm against censoring him, by the way, but this surely isn't the "free criticism of institutions and ideas" the NSS promotes -- it's just bile.)

The really sad thing is that the 'victim narratives' of these different warring groups (you can find plenty from other religious and non-religious websites peddling the same kind of stuff) simply feed on each other.

The good news, however, is that in my experience (and according to opinion research) the great majority of believers and non-believers in Britain don't spend their time demonising others.

Indeed, as on climate change, more and more people of all beliefs and none are committing to work together for justice, peace, equality and compassion. And they know such active goodwill isn't just for Christmas.

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