Christianity is over. Finished. Done for. Born in Bethlehem, died in Bideford. It seems strange that a belief system can survive the shocks of knowledge and philosophy over several centuries, only to choke at a small harbour town’s county council, but that is the awesome power of local government for you. Turns out, it’s not legal to formally summon councilors to prayer – and a faith that can’t be forced on someone else is no faith at all.
Sure, you might not think that way, cool-headed churchgoing reader of Paperhouse. You might think that the love of God should be offered as an open-armed embrace, not a borderline assault where you press someone into a corner and smirk, “Well, I suppose you’ll have to hug me if you want to get out!” before holding them much too tight and for much too long. Well, cool-headed churchgoing reader of Paperhouse, you would be wrong.
The Times says Christianity is “on the rack“. The entire faith is being tortured to death like some sort of dirty infidel by this minor legal development. It’s even inspired former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey – quiet, unassuming, book-promoting Lord Carey – to speak out against the “deep forces at work in Western society, hollowing out the values of Christianity and driving them to the margins”. “Christians have rights too” wails the headline over his Telegraph interview, deeply distressed that your right not to be told what to do by meddling theocratic authorities is interfering with the meddling theocratic authorities’ right to tell you what to do. (Got that? Yes, it does sound pretty contradictory, but Christian theologians are pros at this sort of thing – just remember all the practice they get resolving the Trinity into a monotheistic belief system.)
But Carey’s version of Christianity isn’t quite the frail-stemmed tree he’d have you believe. You can take away his tenuous legal ability to force you to bow your head and mumble “amen” before the discussion about fouling on the local byways begins, but by Christ, you will not take away his almighty sense of victimhood. Look into Carey’s face and see the sanguine expression of man with access to the deepest succour of self-pity. Wherever he goes, lo even among the highest when he takes his place as an unelected lawmaker in the House of Lords, Carey can always hear the still, small voice of bitterness whispering, “Those godless bastards are going to take away everything that makes you important!”
The Bideford ruling really doesn’t matter that much. It certainly isn’t “ringingly secular“, as the National Secular Society rather excitedly claimed. It doesn’t stop any elected representatives who want to from gathering to pray and reflect beforehand. The judge in the case decided that saying prayers was neither discriminatory nor a breach of human rights – it simply wasn’t the council’s business to force its members to say grace before eating all the shit of local politics. The only people who’ve got anything to gain from exaggerating its import is the cantankerous, disruptive element that looks at the US and thinks, “Wow, those culture wars look like the kind of fun thing we should have in the UK.”