The Threat of the Religious to Religion and the Nonreligious to Freedom

I welcome Baroness Warsi’s remarks that “militant secularisation” is threatening religious freedom in Britain and Europe. Fanaticism is often associated with religious individuals and groups, but atheists and anti-religion movements can be equally intolerant. Warsi is spot on when she says: “One of the most worrying aspects about this militant secularisation is that at its core and in its instincts it is deeply intolerant. It demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes – denying people the right to a religious identity because they were frightened of the concept of multiple identities.”

In December, David Cameroon described Britain as a “Christian” country. Some welcomed this view but many attacked it. But the Prime Minister did not make this up, as almost 50% of Britons still describe the country as Christian, even if the percentage of those who describe themselves as religious or Christian has been falling in recent times and will probably continue to fall.

As a British Muslim, I do not feel threatened by Britain being described by politicians as Christian or by half of its population using this identity. I see Christianity as a faith, and religious faith for me is an intimate and private relationship that the individual has with God. This is a fundamental human right that no one should be denied.

Where I find religion — that is any religious identity — a threat is when it is turned into politics, power, control, and aggression, i.e. when it is used as a cover or pretext. Even though I do not believe in the doctrines of Christianity, I completely respect the rights of others to embrace them. But I am completely against those for whom being Christians means helping equally fanatical groups and individuals kick a whole people out of their land to facilitate the return of Jesus or the coming of the awaited Messiah. Anyone has the right to believe that Jesus will return or that the Messiah is yet to come and will come, but when exercising this faith means destroying the lives of millions of people then it is no more a religious faith. This is the same abuse of religion that Islam has been subjected to by those who use it to advance political agendas.

Those who oppose religion rightly point out that religion is open to abuse. There are numerous examples throughout history of this. But what the anti-religion groups choose to ignore to observe is that there is no concept, principle, practice, or doctrine — whether religious or not — that is immune to abuse or has not been abused. Think of “democracy.” It is such a positive concept that anyone who appreciates freedom loves. But then think of how it was used as a cover by Bush and his gangs and followers to launch a devastating war against Iraq that has destroyed a whole country and its people. Think of how many times Western leaders cited the once unique position of Israel as the only “democracy” in the Middle East to provide cover for its crimes against humanity. Does this mean that “democracy” is intrinsically wrong? Of course not. Even the concept of “charity” has been abused in various ways.

As long as Christianity is treated as a religious faith it should not be a concern for anyone. What people should keeping an eye on is any attempt of politicize Christianity or for that matter any other faith.

Copyright © 2012 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved

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8 years ago

I think Baroness Warsi makes the mistake here of conflating secularism with some kind of political wing of atheism. I have little time for the condescending approach of Richard Dawkins, and have no problem with people self-identifying as Christians in this country, or accepting the important role of Christianity in our history. But it’s interesting that the Reverend Giles Fraser, who demolished Dawkins on just this point about what it means to be a Christian country, refers to himself as a ‘secular priest’. So my question would be, in referring to ‘militant secularism’, does the problem Warsi addresses even exist?… Read more »