Have faith, but on which side?

Force for good: Cathedral Archer Project
Force for good: Cathedral Archer Project
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IT surprised me this week to hear that war had broken out in the UK.

To start with I presumed this meant the whole Scottish independence nonsense had got out of hand and Cameron had sent a bunch of marauding Old Etonians – on horseback, of course – to the border to put those Mars Bar bothering subordinates back in their place.

But as I listened on – thoughts of William Wallace, Robert Burns and Ally McCoist being subject to some English boot – it became clear this wasn’t about devolution.

This war was religious, and the battlefields were the meeting chambers of town halls and the guest rooms of Christian B&Bs. Which, as battlefields go, certainly sounds more appealing than, for example, Helmand Province.

But there it was: Christianity versus secularism.

There’d been a legal scuffle about whether Bideford Town Council could say a prayer before getting on with its weekly business (that is to say, getting on with recommending Mrs Brown be refused planning permission for a new extension), and then there’d been another about a supposedly Christian couple who denied two gay men a double room at their guest house.

And so there it was: pick your side and fight on.

Except it was all a little ambiguous.

See, I reckon if people are going to insist on starting wars they should at least be considerate enough to make it clear who the goodies and baddies are. Like with World War Two. Or Star Wars. No nuances there.

But this was a bit more Crimean.

Because while some people I respect were saying faith is a fundamental tenet of society, giving us a sense of identity and moral responsibility; other people I equally respect were philosophising that ‘Dude, half those guys don’t even believe in dinosaurs – the only thing they’re fundamental about is being misguided’.

And – at the risk of offending anyone upstairs – it’s kind of the latter I’m down with.

For when I think of religion, I can’t help but think how, for 1,500 years, it’s been an undeniable force for bad.

Burning people at the stake, advocating imperial conquests, tithing the poor, and causing a civil war. These are all things on my personal list headed Bad Stuff – unless that imperial conquest is Scotland and then...well, why not? It’s just a neighbourly giggle.

And so when I heard Baroness Warsi, going all fundamental about the dangers of a secularised society, I wondered why she had not considered that without hundreds of years of such secularisation, she – a Muslim – would not be sitting in the House Of Lords today.

Except here’s the nuance: for when I think of religion I also believe it’s been an incredible force for good.

Just look at Sheffield’s own Cathedral Archer Project for proof. Or just listen to any Christian hymn. Amazing Grace? Amazing bloody tune more like.

Which means – I think I’m coming to a conclusion here – faith can be both a good and bad thing, right?

Which means it self-evidently shouldn’t be a contributory factor in decisions of state, society or council.

Or bed and breakfasts.

Because faith, for all the great things it can do, can also promote views that are utterly repugnant.

It is unreasoned and totalitarian. It brooks no criticism.

Faith in itself does not guarantee virtue. It does not necessarily even promote it.

Would not any Christian of moral worth understand that?