treatment of women, because after all isn't that part of their religion...and culture...or something.
Anyways, I got a kick out of this. I think Mr. David Osler is on to something here.
But don't tell the Pope or those who defend him (seen here on horseback), okay.
In defence of cliterodectomophobia: the left, secularism and religion
OVER 90% of women in some African countries have undergone female genital mutilation, with religion the primary justification advanced by the perpetrators. Do you object to this? What are you, some sort of cliterodectomophobe or something? Beware, comrade. You are on the slippery slope to ritual child sacrificeophobia, that reductio ad absurdum of the arrogant eurocentric liberalism you clearly espouse.
We live in a climate in which the religious are increasingly strident in their insistence that they should be allowed to do anything and everything, including actions prohibited to others, solely because their interpretation of their faith enjoins it. It is time for the rest of us to take a stand, and tell them as gently as necessary that this is not so.
There was a time when the left, at least in its majority, would have come to the defence of rationalism and secularism. Not any more; Britain's most widely-read socialist blog has just reprinted without criticism a polemic written by an Opus Dei supporter in defence of Pope Benedict XVI's role in the Catholicism's growing child abuse scandal. When it comes to religion, someone is very obviously losing the plot; please God, let it be Andy Newman rather than me.
Secularism has been part of the left's DNA since the time that the word 'left' first took on a political connotation in eighteenth century France. Often this has entailed out-and-out atheism. The Bolsheviks, for instance, formed The League of the Militant Godless in 1925, and the clue is very much in the name.
Perhaps it was this outfit that blogger Liam MacUaid – a man with strong affinities to the Leninist tradition – subconsciously had in mind when he recently berated prominent liberals (as well as yours truly) for our apparent 'militant godlessness'. Sorry mate, but I don't know where to start here.
The irony is that I nowhere advocate godlessness of even the tamest stripe, and unconditionally support freedom of religion as being among the most basic of all human rights. I use the designation 'secularism' strictly in the dictionary sense of 'the attitude that religion should have no place in civil affairs'. This position is entirely consistent with theism in most manifestations, and one which many believers embrace in recognition both that faith is a private matter, and that a multifaith society cannot work if one doctrine enjoys a legally privileged position.
OK, my opening paragraph was deliberately provocative. I can already anticipate the objections that prominent Islamic clerics and leaders of the Coptic church in Egypt have ruled that the practice finds no sanction in either the Qu'ran or the Bible.
But that misses the point. Given the fragmentary nature of Islam and Christianity, no single authority is entitled to rule on what is and what is not admissible. There is no biblical basis for the bodily assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, for instance. But it is not the place of anybody outside Catholicism to decide what Catholics should properly believe on this score. Religion is whatever floats your numinosity.
Given the inherently subjective nature of religious belief, if a practitioner says that a practice is religiously motivated, than religiously motivated that practice undeniably is. Whether any given baby girl is about to be christened down the local branch of the CoE or undergo the total removal of her external genitalia is beside the point.
Accordingly, it would be ridiculous to claim that nurses who wish to wear crucifixes at work are not religiously motivated because the wearing of crucifixes at work is not commonly regarded as a core requirement of Christianity.
It is entirely reasonable that the medical authorities make a determination on whether necklaces of any type constitute a health and safety hazard in hospital wards, and enforce prohibition if appropriate. That I leave to them. Outside of work, individuals should be allowed to dress as they please.
And more than that. From a pedagogical point of view, it is patently undesirable that teaching assistants be clad in full face covering when in charge of young children. The niqab should be out of the question in these circumstances, again with precisely the same stipulations when people are off duty. Appeal to religious motivation is not some variety of divinely-backed all-purpose Get Out of Jail Free card, despite the attempts of some to play it as such.
And more than that still. I have for decades prevaricated on the question of faith schools. While I have never thought they were a good idea, my underlying leftwing libertarianism has made me open to argument that parental choice should be factored into the equation. Moreover, sheer pragmatism suggests that abolition is not politically do-able.
But on further reflection, I fear that the way in which they have served to cement Protestant-Catholic sectarianism in the North of Ireland, Scotland and even some English cities will be much multiplied as Islamic and evangelical schools become more common. There is a ratchet effect at work. If that were not enough, it is increasingly obvious that they act as conduits for the miseducation of children in backward and anti-scientific notions.
The left in any case opposes educational apartheid based on class; it should equally oppose educational apartheid based on religion. The only consistent secular position is that faith schools should be scrapped along with Eton and Harrow, and that all education should be both in the public sector and resolutely non-religious. There. Said it.
And finally, we urgently need to get over the argument from 'X-o-phobia', which is rapidly descending into meaninglessness. Since the notion of Islamophobia first entered common parlance, this stupid word game has been taken over by the right to institute something called Christianopobia. This, in a country where bishops get reserved places in the legislature.
Now the even uglier neologism Catholophobia is in the process of being erected as an absolute defence against the critique of this particular variant of Christianity. Can Scientologophobia be all that far away? For that matter, can I patent the term 'secularismophobia', and instantly find Andy and Liam guilty on this count?
Those that guard the right to proselytise implicitly grant consent to both counter-proselysis and secular critique. It was Karl Marx himself who insisted that 'the criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo'. It should be stressed does not entail advocacy of gratuitously offensive attacks on religious congregations, which serve no purpose. That much is plain good manners.
But it does mean relentless and sustained ideological assault on the religious representatives of the ruling class, from the Pope through to Pat Robertson and onwards to the repulsive theocracy in power in Tehran. On that, we should be irreconcilable. If the left cannot shortly rediscover such a very basic truth, it could soon be finished altogether.