Secularism, it seems, is the topic of the day. Last month, prompted by an article titled ‘The silencing of Christians in the public sector’, I blogged about the powerful currents of faith and secularism. The article was penned by William Nye, recently appointed Secretary General to the Church of England, and he wrote about a prevalent ‘secularising spirit’ that ‘permeates the machinery of government’.
The appeal of secularism lies in the apparent fairness of neutralism in a multicultural, pluralist society. The argument is for a neutral public space that only allows for private expressions of faith and belief. But there’s a problem. We all believe something, and our belief defines the very essence of our identity. It’s a conflict which is being explored in one of Europe’s most established secular democracies: France is discovering that faith cannot be relegated to private space.
Following the Charlie Hebdo attacks and those in Paris last November which left 130 dead, France is asking itself why French men are killing their own people. Why is neutrality, which should protect the freedom of all to practice their faith, apparently part of the problem? The answer, they are discovering, is that neutralism alienates people. Far from protecting them, secularism criticises who they are by prohibiting them from publicly being themselves. It strikes at identity.
Think for a moment about racial diversity. Imagine what would happen if the government decided that in order to improve social cohesion and create racial neutrality, everyone’s skin should be coloured green in public. People would be free to adopt their own skin colour and ethnicity in private, but in public we should all look identical. Racial tension would be a thing of the past, because racial identity would be a purely private matter. Perhaps we could do the same with regional accents, too. And clothes. And cars. And everything else that communicates our unique identities. Ridiculous, isn’t it? But it’s exactly what the government’s relentless march to the secularist music is doing to faith.
Sir Michael Wilshaw joined the debate this week, too. He argued that ‘Christians must stand up for their faith in a secular society where pupils can lose sight of what really matters’. Oh, we are, Sir Michael, we are. Don’t miss the irony of that – the Chief Inspector of Schools is joyfully acting as the government’s enforcer in creating a culture of measurement that is slowly squeezing all humanity out of our education service. And he talks about pupils losing sight of what really matters? Well, Sir Michael, who enforces the idea that the purpose of education is to serve the economy? Who enforces a system that is indoctrinating our young people to believe that the value of a person’s life should be measured by academic and financial success? Who has enforced the identity politics of LGBT rights as a byword for British values?
SMW makes another interesting statement. He says that as a Christian teacher, he was ‘about helping students to understand that by living a good life and living by Gospel values, they would eventually come to God.’ That seems rather back-to-front. It’s only through daily living in relationship with God that we have the power to live out gospel values. We are human. We are broken. Rather than somehow finding our way to God through being good, we start with God’s forgiveness and the healing of our brokenness. Only when we know that forgiveness and healing can we live in God’s strength rather than our own – a strength which would eventually fail us.
My faith is as central to my identity as my DNA; the framework on which my unique story is built. I am not finding my way to God. I know God. I live in relationship with Him. And because my faith is my story, it cannot be relegated to the realm of my private life.
I am. I am Christian.