Culture wars UK style

Having heard so much about the US culture wars, I thought it was time to discuss the semi-equivalent situation in the UK. There are two reasons it’s only partially equivalent. One is that unlike in the US, UK Christianity isn’t disproportionately right-wing (And yes, I know there are some liberal Christians in the USA, they’re just not very influential). There is a long tradition of social activism in most UK denominations and the Labour party was to a considerable extent a Nonconformist foundation. The other difference is that in our culture war (religious v secular), the majority of the fighting is done by the secular/anti-religious side.

This leads to an odd situation, if, like our family, you’re liberal Christians. Politically, the paper we normally read, The Guardian, is very congenial. However, almost every week it will include articles implying or stating outright that no-one rational can be religious and/or that Christians are dangerous bigots. It’s been very noticeable in the recent discussions of CS Lewis and the film of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. One of the Guardian’s main columnists, Polly Toynbee, decided that a column was not enough and had to have a whole special long article on how pernicious the film was. (http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/childrenandteens/story/0,,1657756,00.html) In this it was made clear that what she really hated was the whole concept of Christ suffering for her sins (i.e. the theological heart of Christianity). Similarly, in the middle of a short series discussing aspects of the book in ‘Guardian book club’ the author suddenly breaks off to give an unflattering personal anecdote on CS Lewis and then complain about his apologetic works. (http://books.guardian.co.uk/bookclub/story/0,,1675431,00.html) All this is irrelevant to the book in question and isn’t the way that other authors are treated.

My dislike of this tendency isn’t enough to make me stop reading the Guardian, but it does get me wondering why the militant atheists in Britain are so worked up. (By militant, I mean not just those who don’t personally believe in a God, but those who regard all religion as wrong and without redeeming features). The organised Christian influence in this country is now pretty minor and that’s not likely to change in the near future. The attempt by some Christian groups to get Jerry Springer: the Opera banned from the BBC was unsuccessful. There has been very little vocal opposition to the civil partnership act, which gives rights analogous to the married to gay couples. It is unlikely that there will be any major changes to the abortion law: the most that the pro-life movement might get would be a slight reduction in the time limit.

Yet a lot of secularists act as if the UK is just about to become a theocracy and see Tony Blair as an alarming religious maniac. His current proposals: the bill against religious hatred, the wish to encourage more state-funded faith schools and to get more religious groups involved in social work may or may not be the right decisions individually. But the idea that somehow these changes (if they happen) are going to unleash the forces of repression is just plain silly. Maybe the militants are just fighting the US culture war by proxy, but I do get fed-up with their caricature of Christians.

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One thought on “Culture wars UK style

  1. I noticed Polly Toynbee’s tirade, and wondered why she didn’t just get on and review the film. Maybe you have a point – journalists are fighting an enemy which doesn’t really exist in this country.

    It could be a bad habit fed partly by personal resentments. Writers in their thirties and forties are unlikely to have had parents with strong religious beliefs – but maybe this is what they they resent – they feel let down by having no firm moral guidance. There could also be,as you suggest, an American dimension. The many who were agaist the war with Iraq perhaps equated Bush with right wing Christianity (God is on our side) and haven’t forgiven Blair for dragging us into it – despite the fact that Rowan Williams was against it as much as he could be.

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