When I began writing the first ‘Endless Assault‘ entry on this blog, I had not anticipated writing more than three. However, the more I look around news outlets, magazines, newspapers, websites and blogs, the more I come to realise that for some reason, the English have given tacit acceptance to constant, vicious attacks on the fundamental tenets of their culture. I have not done sufficient research to know whether this is through blind ignorance of their own past or through a treacherous desire for wanton self-destruction.
The article that will provide an insight into one of the most damaging aspects of such destruction falls squarely into the ‘treacherous desire for wanton self-destruction’ camp.
Most readers of this blog will be very much aware of precisely who Johann Hari is, and will be aware of the fact that he is ‘anti’ so many things that is almost impossible to decipher what good he actually sees in life. As a dedicated atheist, in a recent article for – of all publications, GQ Magazine – he rejoices (without a hint of irony) at the ‘Slow, Whiny Death of British Christianity‘. Whilst such a thing is to be expected, the kinds of observations and ‘interrogations’ of ‘fact’ in the aforementioned article are ludicrous, unfounded, flagrantly inaccurate and deeply disrespectful even to your average man on the street.
He begins with this ‘statement of fact’:
“This island has shed superstition faster and more completely than anywhere else. Some 63 percent of us are non-believers, according to an ICM study, while 82 percent say religion is a cause of harmful division. Now, let us stand and sing our new national hymn: Jerusalem was dismantled here/ in England’s green and pleasant land.”
More astute readers will note how trendy it has become for anti-English lefties to use Blake’s poem to discredit essential aspects of Englishness: compare with David James Smith’s article, for example.
Even in this short paragraph, Hari is twisting the facts he is using to prove his point. The ICM study he alludes to is one that first appeared in the Guardian newspaper on (what is probably a deliberately inflammatory date) Saturday 23rd December 2006. Primarily, quite why it has taken Hari 3 years, 7 months and 19 days to trumpet these results is a mystery. Secondly, the aforementioned study only took 1,006 adults into account. In a nation of between 60 million and, if the Independent’s suggestion is to be believed, 80 million, this number is absolutely unrepresentative of the country as a whole. Whilst it is -predictably enough for the Guardian- mindful of social class, the study fails to take into account differences in region and age. These two factors are of fundamental importance in and of themselves. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly- Hari has detailed the figures in the most manipulative manner. It may well be the case that 82% perceive ‘religion’ to be a cause of harmful division, but what is to say that they are not mindful of the worldwide consequences of the Israel-Palestine conflict? Is it implausible that they view the ‘religion’ of Islam – and by proxy, the ‘War on Terror’ – to be a cause of harmful division? Where is the explicit reference to Christianity?
“How did it happen? For centuries, religion was insulated from criticism in Britain. First its opponents were burned, then jailed, then shunned. But once there was a free marketplace of ideas, once people could finally hear both the religious arguments and the rationalist criticisms of them, the religious lost the British people.”
Of course, Hari is confusing ‘England’ and ‘Britain’ in much the same way as the majority of his fellow commentators. But more importantly than that, he is ignoring historical fact. For example, his casual reference to how ‘it’s’ opponents were burned appears to ignore the fundamental distinction between Catholics and Protestants, who took turns burning each other depending on the monarch or the political climate of the time. Indeed, when one considers these incidents, it is entirely more plausible to suggest that the majority of the barbarity in the history of this country has been inflicted on believers by believers of a slightly different ideological framework. This aside, Hari appears not to know that actually, England was a bastion of tolerance for those of different religious beliefs, starting in the supposedly Puritanical Victorian era. During the reign of the Empress of India, England was the first country in Europe to provide an unconsecrated burial ground specifically for non-conformists and others at Abney Park in London, and became the site of the first ever Mosque in Northern Europe.
However, it is Hari’s cynical use of the odd term ‘free marketplace of ideas’ that is the greatest inaccuracy. He is appearing here to conflate capitalism with public discourse, and thus making an embarrassing error. Furthermore, while he is happy that the ‘religious arguments’ have ‘rationalist criticisms’, he predictably cedes no ground to the ‘religious criticisms’ of contemporary lifestyles, which, separate from dogma, appear to hold up. Some of them, such as the two-parent family, have even been endorsed by Labour politicians. Curious, that…
Hari witters on:
“Let’s list some of the ways in which Christians, and other religious groups, are given special privileges every day. Start with the educational system. Every school in Britain is required by law to make its pupils engage every day in “an act of collective worship of a wholly or mainly Christian nature”. Yes: Britain is still a nation with enforced prayer. The religious are then handed total control of 36 percent of our state-funded schools, in which to indoctrinate children into their faith alone.”
I must have missed the first point… I know of no secondary school in my local area in which children engage in ‘an act of collective worship of a wholly or mainly Christian nature’ once a term, let alone every day. But then, why not blithely use schools to make a political point, eh? Oldham‘s education authorities are doing so, after all. The fact that Hari has to incorporate ‘other religious groups’ into his points about Christianity mean that his fundamental point does not stand up. If he wanted to attack all religious influence in public life, it would.
Aside from Hari’s cod-child psychology, he claims that
“… in Britain today … mixing is happening less and less. Increasingly, the children of Christians are sent to one side, Jews to another, Muslims to another still, and they never see each other except from the window of their parents’ cars. After the race riots in Bradford, Oldham and Burnley in 2001, the official investigations found that faith schools were a major cause.”
Before making such sweeping statements, it would be interesting to return to Oldham and ask those whom BBC Newsnight interviewed as to whether their religion (or indeed, lack of it) was a fundamental cause of the divide between the communities, or whether larger socio-economic and cultural factors were at play. Or if things had changed in the last nine years. Just a thought.
As the pièce de résistance, Hari slams those Christians who are anxious of a tide of public ridicule and ostracism:
“As their dusty Churches crumble because nobody wants to go there, the few remaining Christians in Britain will only become more angry and uncomprehending. Let them. We can’t stop this hysterical toy-tossing stop us from turning our country into a secular democracy where everyone has the same rights, and nobody is grantedspecial rights just because they claim their ideas come from an invisible supernatural being.”
One wonders if Hari truly appreciates the magnitude of Christianity’s impact on our history, our built environment, our communities, our culture and most importantly, our sense of ourselves. The sheer volume of ideas that still inform our lives and our sense of self have been inspired by ‘an invisible supernatural being’ is patently beyond his comprehension. I needn’t go into detail on the matter, because I am certain that the readers of this blog are well acquainted with the fact that Christianity has been intimately connected with Englishness from Beowulf onwards.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Holy Lamb of God to carve into kebabs – it’s our new national dish.”
Hmm. Aside from the smarmy and flippant blasphemy that is disrespectful to millions of Christians in this country, is Hari covertly welcoming Islamic custom in place of Christianity, or even English ones? Rather undermines his argument, methinks.