If you haven’t heard that St. Martins-in-the-Fields stopped Cristina Odone from using their pulpit to rant about how religious people are persecuted last week, you simply haven’t been paying attention. She was banging on about it on the Today programme and now has a column in the Observer saying the same thing:
When a Christian cannot speak out in church for fear of censure, alarm bells ring. The citadel that threatens to emerge from this new world order is like Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials in reverse: the dogmatic oppressor is no longer the omnipotent church, but the omnipotent secularist clique that demands total conformity.
What a very silly person. I have no idea what the capacity of St. Martins-in-the-Fields is but doubt it has a capacity of more than 1,000. By contrast, in going on about this via every media outlet available to her, she has had contact with millions. It was a church that banned her, not the high priesthood of Richard Dawkins. In what way is she subject to “omnipotent secularist clique that demands total conformity”?
In New Humanist this month, Richard Norman writes an important corrective to the recent outpourings of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. I endorse it. But one thing I am in constant awe of is the ability of religious commentators to whip themselves into a frenzy that they are being persecuted. In the Guardian last year, at least one religious commentator compared Dawkins’ views to that of the actions of a suicide bomber, without a hint of irony. As Christmas is approaching, we can but wonder if the fever pitch will exceed last year’s nonsense about secularists plotting to ban Christmas, a throng which was joined by none other than the Archbishop of York (a diocese which knows more than a thing or two about blood libel and thus you would hope would go to rather more pains not to spout unfounded nonsense). I’m not optimistic.
Going back to Odone’s rehearsed charges, Shabina Begum wasn’t banned from wearing a veil, but an ankle-length jilbab; if she’d settled for a headscarf and long trousers she’d have been fine. Nadia Eweida wasn’t banned from wearing a cross by BA, but from wearing one on top of her uniform in a contrived way. The Portree Primay School scandal was resolved two weeks ago.
But these are all froth. Meanwhile a woman is imprisoned in the Sudan, with demands for a death sentance to be put on her head, for giving a teddy bear the wrong name. And we’re supposed to believe it is secularists that are having it all their own way?
So yes, I do happen to think that Dawkins and Hitchens rather over-egg their respective puddings, but compared with the people they are arguing with they are paragons of restraint.