Believe it or not
Cristina Odone claims that, “without a change, the work that faith groups have carried out for millennia” – such as running faith schools – “will disappear” (“The new intolerance”, 10 January).
Perhaps she hasn’t noticed that the reverse has been taking place over the past two decades. Michael Gove’s “free schools” policy has only added impetus to a process that began under Tony Blair, as more state-funded faith schools are granted the right to discriminate against the children of non-believers or members of other religions in their admissions policies.
It may be true that fanatics of all kinds can be intolerant – even those informed by well-meaning “political correctness” – but Odone’s argument is selective when it comes to the historical record. For much of those “millennia” that the Christian Church was providing the “charities, hospitals, schools [and] orphanages” that she mentions, it was also stamping out alternative belief systems and denying freedom of conscience to all and sundry, including its own members.
Cristina Odone (“The new intolerance”, 10 January) writes that “believers should present themselves as ordinary people . . . They should not appear to be religious zealots or gay-bashers or rabid pro-lifers.”
She describes what many Christians have been doing since the Reformation. We’re called Anglicans. It would be a pleasure to welcome her back across the Tiber to join us.
Rev George Pitcher
Cross In Hand, East Sussex
Perhaps religion is merely reaping what it has sown for so many millennia, in its suppression of dissent from anyone who disagreed with whatever it held to be “true”. Suffering a few venue changes doesn’t compare to the vast numbers who have died at the hands of religion.
Cristina Odone feels aggrieved and persecuted after she faced difficulties in finding premises for a conference upholding “traditional marriage”. I can imagine how she feels. Forty years ago, the Campaign for Homosexual Equality faced enormous problems finding a venue for its meetings. It is hard to muster much sympathy for Odone now that the boot is on the other foot.
I was frankly appalled to see the NS give space to Cristina Odone’s anti-gay-rights rant. As a 17-year-old gay teenager, I was filled with indignation to see her attempt to place sexuality on an equal footing with religion. While both should be expressed freely, religious faith is ultimately a choice; sexuality is not. Whether she likes it or not, being gay is most certainly “unassailable” and our civil rights must surely reflect that.
Cristina Odone relates the situation of liberal intolerance to faith very well. It is an honest and timely piece reminding us that, sadly, there is no one as bigoted as a liberal. She mapped out the territory very well but in rehearsing the reasons for the rise of the secular opposition, she did not spend enough time defending a sense of faith more accurate than the miserable caricatures used by secularists. They think: “If it is empirically demonstrable, then fine.” However, to declare that the empirical is “all there is” is a belief, a conviction. There is a side to life that can’t be measured under a microscope.
Father Kevin O’Donnell
Peacehaven, East Sussex
Your front cover’s claim that Christians are being “pushed out of public life” is hardly borne out by Cristina Odone’s “research” and “findings”. It turns out that all she has done is talk to a few other religious people and found they don’t much like the idea of a secular society.
Reading Cristina Odone’s article, I was reminded of Lance Corporal Jones’s celebrated comment. He was referring to the German army’s fear of the Home Guard’s cold steel but his words apply perfectly to many religious believers’ response to criticism: “They don’t like it up ’em.”
Birstwith, North Yorkshire
As a practising Christian, I do not recognise my calling in Cristina Odone’s words. Do I enjoy secularists talking down to me? No. So why would I inflict my morality on other people? And another thing: the encyclical letter Humanae Vitae was written not by John XXIII but by Paul VI.
What an ironic title for a piece of writing! Humanity is not divided into believers and rationalists – we are much more complex than that. Tolerance under the law should be the default position for all people.
Cristina Odone’s article left me wondering how a former deputy editor of the New Statesman could be so lacking in self-awareness. Her discursive tactic appears to be one of accusing those you dislike of bigotry and intolerance while doing your best to embody those very characteristics.
Cristina Odone suggested in her article that the position of hoteliers and civil registrars seeking exemptions from anti-discrimination laws on the basis of their religious beliefs is analogous to that of pacifists being allowed conscientious objector status during war.
It must be pointed out that both hoteliers and registrars have some choice in what career they choose, in contrast to involuntarily drafted men. I am reminded of the adage, “If you’re Amish, don’t become a bus driver.”
As a Muslim, I am in some agreement with Cristina Odone, particularly with regard to the culture of censorship on the political scene. It has become a standard tactic, when a conference is announced in which the speakers threaten to go against the liberal consensus that Odone describes, to make a co-ordinated effort to get the venue to cancel it.
In both 2012 and 2013, two groups (of transgender activists and so-called men’s rights activists) succeeded in getting a radical feminist conference moved, the first year on the grounds that it excluded transgender women and the second because of threats of violence from the men’s activists. While one is entitled to disagree with the RadFem conference organisers’ views, this tactic was until recently reserved for racists and fascists and the RadFems are neither, nor did they threaten violence.
Matthew J Smith
New Malden, Surrey
In her worthy polemic, Cristina Odone selects an impressive array of putative targets. I’m instinctively on her side but the targets are too random to be taken on en masse. For instance, she conflates freedom of expression – and the bizarre refusal of premises to host her meeting on marriage – with freedom of action, such as a Catholic adoption agency’s heterosexual-couples-only policy. Even more to the point, Odone risks losing me with her statement: “Today, liberals abhor any alternative to their credo.” This is a contradiction in terms. By definition, someone who does not espouse diversity of belief and pluralism of expression is not a liberal.
It is outrageous that, during a consultation period on proposed changes in the marriage laws, the Law Society prevented a debate on its premises because it would have been led by defenders of the current laws.
More disturbing, however, is the totalitarian mindset that seems to be behind the action: the view that it is impossible to tolerate people with peculiar habits without pretending that there is nothing peculiar about them. Why is it apparently necessary to pretend that homosexuality is not peculiar before practising homosexuals can be seen as entitled to normal human rights, provided with tax and next-of-kin privileges where appropriate, and otherwise left to get on with their lives? The whole point about tolerance is that peculiarity does not matter.
Kingston, Greater London
I’m a committed, practising Catholic and I don’t feel persecuted. I can attend Mass in complete safety. My daughter can attend a Catholic school funded by taxpayers. The Equality Act, in my view, enshrines in law the fundamental Christian principle of equal respect for all persons and Catholics should rejoice at it.
Twickenham, Greater London
As a parish priest and canon theologian, let me assure Cristina Odone that there is nothing in the Christian tradition that condemns equality, nor justifies any form of discrimination.
Canon theologian, Leicester Cathedral
In her discussion of “situation ethics”, Cristina Odone appears to confuse the idea that moral judgements involve consideration of a situation as a whole with moral relativism, in which truth is seen as relative to the believer. For instance, an act of lying could be cowardly (blaming another person for a mistake to avoid responsibility) or brave (misleading the authorities in a Nazi-occupied country about who is in the house, while hiding a Jewish family). It does not follow from this that any judgement of such situations is subjective.
Faith no more
Yet another “God” article (10 January) . . . Good God, can’t you think of any other philosophical basis for discussion?
The first New Statesman of 2014 and here you go again, putting God on the front cover. I thought I was subscribing to a political journal, not a religious one.
Just not cricket
Ed Smith’s analysis of the travails of the England cricket team is right (Left Field, 10 January). It is not about the abilities of most of the players but how they are being told to play and the context in which they do so.
Just as performance management is the obsession of the neoliberal workplace, so it is in cricket, which has become more of a business than a sport.
The worst possible start to the New Year: reading Nicholas Lezard doing self-pity (Down and Out, 10 January). The Bluvved is off to Sverige. Like Shirley Valentine’s husband, he is wondering what will happen to his lifestyle and how he will fill his column. I suppose he could write more about books and ideas, which I presume is what you pay him for.
The young ones
It was sad to see Peter Wilby (First Thoughts, 10 January) lazily blaming schools for the low number of under-25s who vote. The reasons cited by young people include corrupt and/or incompetent politicians, growing inequality, the abject failure of politicians to even understand climate change, fireproof bankers, obscenely unaffordable housing, and so on.
Bromley, Greater London
There has been much talk recently about the lack of democracy in our electoral system and the low level of participation among younger people. I wonder why parliamentary constituencies have to be defined purely by geography: within each of a dozen regions, they could be defined by gender and, perhaps, six age bands. This could increase the participation of younger people and parliament would be more representative.