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Secularists need to tread carefully on female bishops

When the Church of England’s General Synod vote on permitting female clergy to become bishops fell short of the necessary majority (as discussed ad nauseam in previous posts), a number of people asked why an apparently sexist and discriminatory organisation should hold a privileged place at the heart of our society, even being granted a substantial presence in the House of Lords.


Who honestly expects people like this to believe in absolute equality?

That’s a fair question, and a useful way of highlighting the constitutional peculiarities of having an established church, but it would be very easy to take that line of argument too far. There is a campaign at the moment to drum up further support for a petition calling for the removal of the CofE’s presence in the Lords on the basis of the church’s (current) position, in a push towards 100,000 signatures, but I think this is a mistake. Read More…


Nadia Eweida’s ECHR victory is a hollow one

The long-awaited ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on four cases brought under articles 9 (freedom of religion) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights has finally been delivered. Bafflingly, although the court rejected the appeals from three of the four applicants, much of the coverage has concentrated on the one they upheld, from Nadia Eweida. The BBC’s headline “BA discriminated against Christian” is a typical example.

However, while the single overturned judgment may be the most interesting story, the details are a lot more complicated than you might expect from the headlines, and parts of the ruling seem positively perverse. Read More…

Do Christians actually want people to celebrate Christmas?

The Church of England is making a special effort to promote the Christian message of Christmas this year, with a bizarre campaign to live-tweet their Christmas sermons. It’s not clear what this is meant to achieve, although it appears that evangelism is a part of it.

The significance of the occasion is being asserted (or possibly assumed) with the cumbersome hashtag #ChristmasStartsWithChrist. Whether or not this is the intention, it’s reminiscent of claims that “Jesus is the reason for the season” or some such, looking like the latest salvo in the ongoing battle to plant a cross in the middle of a significant date and claim it for the church. Apparently, the day gets its name from Jesus, so it’s a solely Christian occasion.

This is a dangerous line of argument for the church to adopt, as Sunday starts with Sun, from which the day gets its name. So by the same reasoning, the church should recognise that Sundays are pagan occasions and stop imposing their own weekly celebrations on someone else’s day. Read More…

Should anyone care about Ed Miliband’s faith?

Ed Miliband made a speech at the Labour Conference yesterday. I’ve been busy enough recently that I wasn’t paying that much attention to it, but he’s made a bit of a stir by talking about his faith. Or possibly his lack of faith:

I was angry. I knew that wasn’t the way the world was meant to be. I knew I had a duty to do something about it. It is this upbringing that has made me who I am. A person of faith, not a religious faith but a faith nonetheless. A faith, I believe, many religious people would recognise. So here is my faith. I believe we have a duty to leave the world a better place than we found it. I believe we cannot shrug our shoulders at injustice, and just say that’s the way the world is. And I believe that we can overcome any odds if we come together as people.

That concludes a passage about his upbringing and influences. It’s all very interesting, but probably not entirely for the reasons he intended. Read More…

Practical secularism: Can we distinguish between people and positions?

I was woken this morning by a rather strange story of the Sunday morning variety on the radio. The Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police was talking about his faith, and how important it is to him at times like this, after two of his colleagues were killed on duty. It jolted me out of my sleep because it seemed like an egregious intrusion of religion into public service, but the more I think about it, the more complicated it seems to be. Read More…

Is secularism a gateway drug?

Religion seems to fear secularism. I often hear people saying that secularism is a threat to religion, or treating it as synonymous with atheism. I find these arguments rather odd – secularism has no relation to religion, being a position that can be held by all beliefs or none, and it actually protects believers from persecution by ensuring that no religious belief can take precedence over others and claim the right to enforce its own particular dogma in the public sphere. But my own experience makes me wonder if that fear of secularism might be more rational than I previously thought. Read More…

Michael Gove and King James

Michael Gove is giving a lot of commemorative King James Bibles to schools, to mark the, er, 401st anniversary of the publication of the original (thanks to typical government efficiency), and a lot of people are unhappy about it. Atheists and secularists are unhappy at religion being pushed into schools, while many Christians are furious that their holy book has been turned into a cultural artifact, doled out in a form of political patronage with Gove’s name on the spine. And then, just when it seemed that there was a clear consensus against the Bibles, Richard Dawkins made headlines by saying they were a jolly good thing. Read More…

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