Christians in contemporary Britain are being dismissed with a combination of condescension and suspicion, a senior Conservative minister has said.
Michael Gove, the Government Chief Whip, said that for many people Christians were viewed as “homophobic bigots”, “accessories to child abuse” and “pointless hand-wringing conscience-hawkers”.
Writing in The Spectator magazine, Mr Gove said that the popular image of Christianity was increasingly at odds with the reality of churches across the country which daily offered “thousands of quiet kindnesses” to those most in need.
“To call yourself a Christian in contemporary Britain is to invite pity, condescension or cool dismissal. In a culture that prizes sophistication, non-judgmentalism, irony and detachment, it is to declare yourself intolerant, naive, superstitious and backward,” he wrote.
“If we’re Roman Catholic we’re accessories to child abuse, if we’re Anglo-Catholics we’re homophobic bigots curiously attached to velvet and lace, if we’re liberal Anglicans we’re pointless hand-wringing conscience-hawkers, and if we’re evangelicals we’re creepy obsessives who are uncomfortable with anyone enjoying anything more louche than a slice of Battenberg.”
Mr Gove’s article represents a rare foray by a senior political figure into an arena generally regarded at Westminster as a matter of personal conscience.
He said that where once Christianity might have provided politicians facing life and death decisions with a “frame for ethical reflection”, now it simply meant “the banal morality of the fairy tale and genuflection before a sky pixie’s simplicities”.
He said that Christian charity, far from being applauded, was often seen as “somehow suspect” and that many people believed Christians helped others out of self interest because they wanted to “earn the religious equivalent of clubcard points securing entry to heaven”.
He said “one of the saddest moments” of his time as education secretary was when “a wonderfully generous philanthropist” told him that he was ending his work helping to educate disadvantaged children because his evangelical Christianity meant his efforts were under constant attack.
“This prejudice that Christian belief demeans the integrity of an action is remarkably pervasive. And on occasion singularly vehement,” he said.
In an era when “relativism is the orthodoxy of our age”, he said that any assertion that one set of beliefs was more deserving of respect than any other was regarded as “a sin against the holy spirit of non-judgmentalism”.
“Proclaiming your adherence to the faith which generations of dead white males used to cow and coerce others is particularly problematic,” he said.
“You stand in the tradition of the Inquisition, the Counter-Reformation, the Jesuits who made South America safe for colonisation, the missionaries who accompanied the imperial exploiters into Africa, the Christian Brothers who presided over forced adoption and the televangelists who keep America safe for capitalism.”
But while Christians in public life incited “suspicion and antipathy” because people believed they considered their acts were “somehow sanctified and superior compared with others”, he said that genuine Christian faith “makes us realise just how flawed and fallible we all are”.
“I am selfish, lazy, greedy, hypocritical, confused, self-deceiving, impatient and weak. And that’s just on a good day,” he said.
He drew attention to a Newsnight interview in 2003 in which Jeremy Paxman asked the then Prime Minister Tony Blair whether he and George W Bush had prayed together before invading Iraq.
“The question was asked in a tone of Old Malvernian hauteur which implied that spending time in religious contemplation was clearly deviant behaviour of the most disgusting kind,” he said.
“Jeremy seemed to be suggesting that it would probably be less scandalous if we discovered the two men had sought relief from the pressures of high office by smoking crack together.”
Mr Gove suggested that rather than criticise Christians in public life, people should draw inspiration from the examples of the past.
“It was deep, radical Christian faith which inspired many of our greatest political heroes – Wilberforce, Shaftesbury, Lincoln, Gladstone, Pope John Paul II and Martin Luther King,” he said.
“There should be nothing to be ashamed of in finding their example inspirational, the words and beliefs that moved them beautiful and true.”
Source Credits: Press Association, The Telegraph UK