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Food From Thought

Separation – and Atheism

Separation – and Atheism

In 2004, a law was passed in France disallowing school children to wear religious clothing, or symbols, in state schools. Early in 2005, a young Muslim girl in Britain won a historic court case against religious discrimination, allowing her to wear full Islamic dress at school.

No commentators that I heard of drew attention to the ironic contrast of these events, nor the historical traditions that lay behind them. Though the separation of church and state in France was only formalised a century ago, apparently, the roots of this French attitude go far deeper.

It was surely the bitterness and extremism of the French persecution of Protestants in the 17th century, which produced the 18th century reaction in the form of anti-clericalism and atheism. Anti-Christianity was well entrenched in French thought before the Revolution (1789), when Rationalism was made into the state religion (belief in “Reason” is surely among the strangest, most hopeless, aberrations in human thought).

French republicanism probably contributed much to the thinking behind American republican theory. The separation of church and state, enshrined in the American constitution, no doubt originally prevented groups from different religious persuasions struggling – and then fighting – over ruler ship in the emerging country.

At the time, such old-world nations as Britain, with its state-Established church and grudging tolerance of other religious groups, probably seemed hopelessly old-fashioned, repressive, an intolerant formula-for-future-disaster. Republican meant freedom, it no doubt seemed.

Things are different today. From America we constantly hear how militant-atheist organisations (such as the ill-named American Civil Liberties Union) exploit the traditional separation of church and state to promote atheism, and prevent religious free-expression (surely the opposite of the intentions of America’s founders).

Such agencies give particular attention to education, where they know that “getting them young” is a sure-fire way to affect peoples’ later lives; to orthodox Christians, atheism involves one certain consequence – an eventual destiny which is the negation of the only purpose of human existence; “freedom” and “liberty” as could only be conceived by humanity’s fiercest enemy.

This could never happen in Britain, where, we have seen, the law protects peoples’ rights to religious expression (surely the result of Christianity being long part of the state, and legally required within state education) – or could it?

The Racial and Religious Hatred Bill (going through Parliamentary process at this time, Summer 2005) has given rise to deep anxieties in various quarters, and earlier attempts to make it law have been successfully fought off.

Now, apparently, the Government are determined to make it law, whatever the cost. Allegedly introduced in order to placate and secure the Muslim vote, assurances have been given that freedom of religious expression is not endangered by it.

Undoubtedly any continuing freedom will include the right of television comedians to ridicule and denigrate religious believers – in a materialist society where the amoral media hold all the real power, this is to be expected – and surely Islam and Eastern-derived religious will be removed from the area of public expression; but the prospects for orthodox Christianity, its defence and proclamation, are very bleak. At the moment we are effectively in a situation of officially-promoted multifaithism (at least in education), and next will surely come state-enforced multifaithism.