I WAS reading the other day an interesting piece by a 19th-century Conservative politician worried about the consequences of Catholic emancipation. “Significant numbers [of Roman Catholics] do see a faith-run, faith-defined state as the ultimate goal in this life. They therefore do not believe in secular law, freedom, pluralism, or, except in limited form, the rights of unbelievers.
“It would obviously be wrong, both morally and factually, to say that Roman Catholics are worse than anyone else. It would be wrong not to acknowledge the contribution most of them make to our society.
“But it would also be wrong to deny that, in current conditions, a large Roman Catholic community in a non-Catholic country produces more political disturbance, more communal tension, more intolerance of other faiths (and of non-faiths) and more terrorism.
“Few non-Catholics want to live near a Roman Catholic church, see women veiling their faces or have Roman Catholic practices introduced into state schools. Few non-Catholics want lots more Roman Catholic immigrants. . .”
Astute readers will have guessed by now that this was, in fact, written by a 21st-century not a 19th-century, Conservative politician (and a Roman Catholic): Charles Moore. I simply substituted the words “Muslim” and “mosque” as appropriate.
By the standards of 19th-century anti-Catholicism, Moore’s views on Muslims, expressed in The Daily Telegraph last Saturday, are pretty moderate. He doesn’t like them. He wishes they weren’t here. But he doesn’t want them driven out, and he concedes that, with time, they may move away from the view of politics and pluralism encapsulated in, well, the 150-year-old Syllabus of Errors.
Yet, by the standards of 21st-century metropolitan discourse, Moore is saying the unspeakable. This is not going to stop him saying it, especially now that the Labour Party has become unelectable.
As the example of the Syllabus of Errors suggests, it may not be doctrine that is the important factor here. What matters is visible difference, and class. You can see in some British cities the ways in which Muslim machine politics are taking over the role once played by Roman Catholic machine politics in the very same places.
Conversely, we now see recruits to Roman Catholicism like Moore entirely internalising the traditional ruling-class view of alien communities forming among the lower orders. I find this continuity rather reassuring.
AFTER the defeat of the Assisted Dying Bill, the comedian David Baddiel tweeted: “The arguments against #AssistedDying are all religious, however much the proponents pretend (or fail to realise) otherwise.”
A variant of this line came in a signed column from Philip Collins, the chief leader-writer at The Times, whose complaint against Justin Welby was that he wasn’t making the religious arguments Collins believes he can meet: “Archbishop Welby’s objections are presented as merely pastoral, as if religious leaders were just social workers in frocks. He presses no theological or religious point at all, which is odd.
“Surely if we want an established church to participate in questions of public ethics, it is precisely the religious dimension he and his ecumenical cohort have to offer.”
This really is absurd. It amounts to a demand that anyone who disagrees with Collins should do so only from obviously invalid premises.
Perhaps there is some deeper, spiritual meaning to Baddiel’s assertion that all his opponents are secretly religious (as against Collins’s complaint that they won’t argue religiously). Perhaps it’s not just frantic smearing of opponents by suggesting that, since they are wrong about God, nothing they say on any other subject can be taken in good faith.
Baddiel went on to clarify his views: “If assisted dying is humane for animals, why not for humans? Only because of a misplaced notion of the sacred.” This is, at least, consistent. But if it is all right to treat humans exactly as we would treat animals, why do we waste time fantasising about human rights?
The trouble with the advocates of rationality is that they so often confuse it with common sense. It’s rhetoric like Baddiel’s which makes me believe that there really is an unavoidably slippery slope. Of course; the treatment of animals that Baddiel presumably has in mind is the beloved family cat being taken to the vet by a heartbroken owner; the treatment I am thinking of is that of the chicken nuggets while they are still feathered.
The other salient difference is that few people stand to inherit from their family cat.
The question to ask, then, is whether we believe that the NHS presently treats dying patients more like family pets, or like battery chickens. I don’t think that’s a religious question at all.