Saturday, May 30, 2009

Tolerance not persecution

Living in New Zealand one is never quite sure when the latest craze from North America or Europe is going to become embedded in our culture and politics. So we keep an eye on the wider world since to be forewarned is to be forearmed.

In the United Kingdom a fairly draconian piece of legislation is being worked on which will more or less restrain Christian churches and organizations from refusing to employ gay or lesbian people in front-line ministry roles and from speaking up for what the Bible teaches about human sexuality. (Technically it is legislation which will affect all religious groups, mosques and Islamic youth organizations included. Yeah, right!)

Melanie Philips gets the issue about right in this column: the legislation moves a liberal Western society in which tolerance is a significant virtue (tolerance of homosexuality mingling with tolerance of religion) to a totalitarian state in which dissent is not only morally intolerable but will be persecuted through the application of the law. Here's her introduction, but please read the whole.

"The Equality Bill currently going through Parliament is the latest and potentially most oppressive attempt to impose politically acceptable attitudes and drive out any that fall foul of these criteria. Since the attitudes being imposed constitute an ideological agenda to destroy Britain’s foundational ethical principles and replace them by a nihilistic values and lifestyle free-for-all, they represent a direct onslaught on the Judeo-Christian morality underpinning British society.

The most neuralgic of these issues is gay rights. This is because the tolerance of homosexuality that a liberal society should properly show has long been hijacked by an agenda which aims at destroying the very idea of normative sexuality altogether – and does so by smearing it as prejudice. The true liberal position, that it is right and just to tolerate behaviour that deviates from the norm as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, is deemed to be rank prejudice on the grounds that homosexuality is not ‘deviancy’ but normal. ‘Normality’ is thus rendered incoherent and absurd and accordingly destroyed altogether. The agenda is therefore not liberal tolerance but illiberal coercion against mainstream moral values, on the basis that the very idea of having normative moral principles at all is an expression of bigotry. So anyone who speaks out against gay rights is immediately vilified as a ‘homophobe’ and treated as a social and professional pariah.

Most people have been intimidated into silence under this onslaught. ‘Society has changed – get over it’ is the uncompromising message which few now dare gainsay. It is certainly the motto of the Tory Cameroons. But the people who find themselves in acute difficulty with this are religious groups whose faith prevents them from accepting these new sexual and moral anti-norms.

There has been growing concern that Christians in particular are being unfairly targeted by discrimination laws, following a number of high-profile cases of Christians finding themselves in difficulties – members of adoption panels having to step down because they oppose gay adoption, for example, or the nurse who was suspended (although subsequently reinstated, after protests) for offering to pray for a patient -- by standing up for their faith."

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