David Cameron’s speech yesterday on Extremism must have been difficult to write. The extremism issue is at the forefront today because of the self styled Islamic State, and Boko Haram. Criticising these terrorist organisations risks reprisals from them and causing offence to peaceful Moslems, especially as few of us have much grasp of what Islam is, and for example how central it is to establish a world-dominating Islamic Caliphate and what that would mean for non-Moslems.
Commendably, Cameron shows signs of moving from repeating that we must challenge extremism to proposing that we challenge ideas with which we disagree, and promote ideas with which we agree. This is important. Gandhi was an extremist; so was Margaret Thatcher; so was William Wilberforce. And much of what is mainstream today was extreme yesterday. So to target extremism per se is a bad idea. The issue is what are you extreme about? But the Prime Minister is not consistent on this, and the speech is still full of measures against simple extremism, which will close down debate and limit free speech, especially in sensitive ethical areas where, of course, there are religious views. For example, Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education has suggested that if a school pupil believes that ‘homosexuality is wrong’, this could raise extremism concerns. Really?
But the part of the speech which is unfortunately very misguided comes in its central section, where in an encouraging call to stand up for good things, such as Parliamentary democracy and the rule of law which benefit us all, whether we support Islamic State, the Church of England or Manchester United, David Cameron said: “We believe in respecting different faiths but also expecting those faiths to support the British way of life”.
This is to make God in man’s image. It puts the content of a faith beneath mankind. It means that a faith is only acceptable so far as it supports and does not undermine the British way of life. But faith does not work like that. I believe in God who predates mankind, who predates the Big Bang. God who gave mankind free will and is appalled at the mess we have made of the world. I believe in God who gave us good rules by which to live – the Ten Commandments. I believe in God who loves us, and who sent a rescuer, the Lord Jesus Christ, to bring back those who repent and accept Jesus. God inspires and challenges us and shapes our beliefs, lives and habits.
Why is this important? Because if that is the test, all religions, including and perhaps especially Christianity, are going to be in for a very difficult time. Believers of any faith who can be said not to support British values or the British way of life can expect to be criticised and taken to task by Government and its agencies. As I wrote the last paragraph I wondered how many people’s hackles would be rising. “You shall not commit adultery.” Does that hold good today? I heard Rachel Johnson (Boris’s sister) exclaim with indignation the other day that Lady Ottoline Morrell’s probable three affairs was “a tiny number”. “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” – George Osborne practically said in his budget a fortnight ago that to do that would imperil part of his economic recovery plan. The British way of life changes, as do British values.
God on the other hand most emphatically does not change as the British (or any other) way of life changes. He will always challenge us and our way of life. It is not for us to challenge God and to ask him to reflect our values. He is constant, faithful, loving and just. Throughout eternity.
Here is a link to the Prime Minister’s speech. I am interested in knowing how many people actually read this column. If you have, please send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org , just to say you have; feel free to make comments too if you wish.