Saturday 30 March 2013

Am I persecuted? Am I heck.

George Carey, ex-archbishop for somewhere in outer space, has been at  it again. He claims that Christians are being and feel persecuted. Speaking as an Anglican, I would like to reassure all of my friends, religious and non-religious, that I do not feel persecuted in any way. Occasionally, I have to mind my manners. Gosh, what a burden that is.

Carey speaks from a position of enormous privilege. He is a member of the House of Lords, and speaks there on behalf of all those Christians who he says feel persecuted - no other religion has that privilege. If he wants to think about persecution, he might reflect on the fact that he, as a man, gets to wear a dress without being insulted or assaulted for it.

He speaks from the delusion that this country is a majority Christian country. The BBC,  reporting David Cameron's Easter message, has a statistic that 72% of the country self-identify as Christian. The BBC, as well as the ex-archbishop, really need to learn that using Christian as a cultural label is a very different thing from being a Christian. Tomorrow is Easter Day, the biggest feast in the Christian year. That means that around 4% of the population will go to church, instead of the usual 3%. For the rest of the 72%, Easter means a roast dinner, time with the family, and chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. Easter, for the 68 or 69% who aren't in church, is a retail festival, a festival of consumption, precisely the opposite of what the Bible is about. Don't get me wrong, real Christians are not going round with long faces looking for the sackcloth and ashes on Easter Day. We are celebrating good and proper. But we do it without adding to the waistline, and without adding to the mountain of refuse left over after all the eggs have been opened.

Perhaps church going as such is a bad descriptor of real Christianity.many people practise the Christian virtues without going to church regularly or at all. But to be a Christian does mean to have some kind of relationship with Jesus. There are many good people about who do not have that relationship. They are no less good for it. They are probably better than me. But they do not count as Christians. Jesus calls us to do something. I can't help thinking that if Carey were being a proper Christian, he would stop trying to retain privilege for the privileged, and would start doing something about these people, or these people, or  this man, or this man, or these people. Plenty to choose from, as you can see. And I think Jesus might actually approve.

There is a curious issue about Carey's evidence. He cites a Comres poll carried out apparently for the Coalition for Marriage, which purports to show that two thirds of Christians think they are part of a persecuted minority. There is no trace of this poll on either the Comres site, or Coalition for Marriage. If it appears, I shall update. In the meantime, I wonder if he is slightly confused and has mistaken it for a survey, also carried out by Comres, which suggested that two thirds of Christians think the church needs a new image. We could do without Carey's  unique brand of publicising for a start.

As Paul Walter has pointed out, the survey is available on the Comres site. Having had a look through it, it strikes me as one of the less convincing and rigorous surveys I have ever read. The sample of 535 people is heavily weighted towards older people and towards Conservative voters. The questions are also the kind that effectively tell the respondent what to think. Most of them are about Christianity as such, not about religions in general. One of the questions, for instance, is to agree or disagree with the statement "I feel the Government gives sufficient protection to the rights of Christians to exercise their freedom of religious expression". There is an implicit invitation to compare the position of Christians with other religions, rather than asking the question "I feel the Government gives sufficient protection to the rights of religious people to exercise their freedom of religious expression".

And there is a question about feeling like a persecuted minority. It is this - to agree or disagree with the statement "I sometimes or often feel a member of a persecuted minority because of the constraints on religious expression in this country". It is inviting the answer yes. if this was a level one student's attempt at writing a survey, it would fail. I have no doubt that there are 359 people who feel like that. I doubt that you can safely extrapolate that figure to the entire country. I also pray to God to open their eyes to the real truth of their power vis a vis other religions.


Rob said...

A very thoughtful post, Rob, following up our exchange on Facebook. I agree, as a non-Christian, with every word. Can i also, pedantically, take you up on your profile. The quotation you allude to is, I think, Alexander Pope's "a little learning is a dangerous thing." It's from his Essay on Criticism, and the other half of the couplet is "drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring." His point, as I take it, is that you should either delve deeply into knowledge, or not bother at all. It's dangerous to know just a bit. So I think he'd agree with you.

Rob Parsons said...

Thank you, Rob. I did not know that about Pope - I shall follow it up (some time, when I've got through this pile of things to do...)

Paul Walter said...

ComRes now have the poll on their site: