CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Who’s a Totalitarian Now?

Jan 24, 2007

The twentieth century witnessed the onslaught of several totalitarian regimes, all of them atheistic or secular in nature. While things are a bit more quiet in the West at the moment, a creeping totalitarianism is still apparent. This totalitarianism comes from the new secular thought police, who scour every nook and cranny of the public square, seeking out any vestige of religious faith.

The secular revolutionary guard grudgingly will allow for religious folk, provided that they keep their mouths shut and stay well and truly out of the public square. A purely privatised faith may still be delusional and ugly, according to the secular jihadists, but at least it is not rearing its head in public. But let believers for a moment dare to suggest that they have as much right as anyone else to maintain a public faith, and they are immediately shouted down as enemies of society.

Indeed, as Tobias Jones suggests in the January 6, 2007 Guardian, the new totalitarians are the secular fundamentalists. He argues that militant secularists like Richard Dawkins are taking their revenge on us believers for refusing to stay in the closet.

Says Jones, “There’s an aspiring totalitarianism in Britain which is brilliantly disguised. It’s disguised because the would-be dictators – and there are many of them – all pretend to be more tolerant than thou. . . . In recent years these unpleasant people have had a strategy of exploiting Britain’s innate politeness. They realised that for a decade overly sensitive souls (normally called the PC brigade) had bent over backwards to avoid giving offence. Trying not to give offence was, despite the excesses, a noble courtesy.”

“But the fundamentalists saw an opening. Because we live in a multiconfessional society, they fostered the falsehood that wearing a crucifix or a veil or a turban was deeply offensive to other faiths. They pretended to be protecting religious sensibilities as a pretext to strip us of all religious expressions. In 2006 Jack Straw and British Airways fell into the fundamentalists’ trap. But Britons are actually laissez-faire about such things. And so the fundamentalists deployed an opposite tactic. Instead of pretending to protect religious sensibilities, they went on the offensive and sought to give offence. The subsequent reactions to the play Behzti in Birmingham, to Jerry Springer the Opera and to the Danish cartoons were wheeled out as examples of why religious groups are unable to live with our cherished freedom and tolerance.”

Britain is not alone in this of course. This plague has been affecting all of the Western world: “In recent years the nastier side of this totalitarianism has become blatantly apparent. It emerged with the hijab issue in France. With the hijab ban in French schools, a state was banishing religion not only from its corridors, but also from its citizens. It was an assertion that after centuries of the naked public square (denuded of religion referents) the public now too had to go naked. The former had been true tolerance, something exceptional and laudable. It allowed everyone to bring their own cosmic testimony to the square. But this new form of ‘tolerance’ changed things. From everyone being welcome, it had become everyone but.”

Europe’s recent intellectual history has in part set the stage: “Since 2001, lazy intellectuals have been allowed to get away with repeating the nonsense that terrorism and war are the consequences of belief in God. Believers are ridiculed for being, in contrast to the stupendously brainy atheists, very dim. Listen to Richard Dawkins’ comment on Nadia Eweida (the BA employee who refused to take off her cross): ‘she had one of the most stupid faces I’ve ever seen.’ Nice.”

“There’s also the fact that we live in a cultural milieu dominated by postmodernism. Broadly speaking, it attempts to deconstruct power and its narratives. It tries to rescue the marginalised. A noble intent, but because it doesn’t believe in truth, anything goes. The tyranny of orthodoxy has been replaced by the tyranny of relativism. You’re supposed to believe in nothing, and hence nihilists and atheists are suddenly rather chic. Postmodernism has taken tolerance to the extremes, where extremists thrive. It’s a dangerous form of appeasement.”

The really worrying part however is the fact that many believers have allowed themselves to become victims of the secularist agenda. Says Jones, “The greatest appeasers, however, have been the believers. Until recently many hid their religion in the closet. They conceded that it was something private. Until a few years ago religion was similar to soft drugs: a blind eye was turned to private use but woe betide you if you were caught dealing. Only recently have believers realised that religion is certainly personal, but it can never be private.”

He concludes, “Christians feel particularly aggrieved because we believe that Jesus invented secularism. Jesus’s teachings desacralised the state: no authority, not even Caesar’s, was comparable to God’s. As Nick Spencer writes in Doing God, ‘the secular was Christianity’s gift to the world, denoting a public space in which authorities should be respected, but could be legitimately challenged and could never accord to themselves absolute or ultimate significance’. Christianity, far from creating an absolutist state, initiated dissent from state absolutism.”

“And so for centuries a combination of British agnosticism and pragmatism meant that believers were judged not by the causes of their belief, but by its consequences. Everyone could taste the fruits, even those who couldn’t believe in a sustaining, invisible root. These new militants, however, believe themselves to be the only arbiters of taste; they want to eradicate the root and cause. They will dictate what you can wear and what you can say. That, after all, is what totalitarians do.”

Of course the new totalitarians are especially upset when believers do not lie down and accept their dhimmitude, but in fact stand up to the secularists and argue their case in the public arena. That certainly gets the secularist juices flowing. But standing up to the new totalitarians is clearly the need of the hour.

www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1983820,00.html

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