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January 30, 2007

Cardinals for Polygamy: Or why it is unreasonable to make exemptions from the law for any group on the basis of their strong convictions

Posted by Jeremy Black

If exemptions from the law were made for the Catholic Church on gay adoption then it would be possible for any group with a strong conviction to ask for a special case to be made for them too, argues Jeremy Black - Professor of History, University of Exeter and author of The Slave Trade.

Secular arrogance and bigotry are no more attractive than their religious counterparts, and secular infringements of freedom and freedoms are not inherently more worthwhile than religious ones. The state may enjoy more political and legal power, but that does not inherently make it more moral. St. Augustine's comparison, in his City of God, of Alexander the Great and a company of thieves -

in the absence of justice there is no difference between Alexander's empire and a band [societas] of thieves,
is as relevant today as it was in the fifth century. So, it is quite understandable, if in the face of the advance of public authority and what appears to be its pretensions to remake us in its image, Churches or both bodies, and the devout or other individuals, voice disquiet and express opposition.

What is troubling is the suggestion that a special privilege attaches to religious conscience and, moreover, that this is expressed through the power of prelates.

There is of course a separate, prudential argument that points out that demands on behalf of one religion will lead to those on behalf of another, that the definition of religions, and indeed churches, is far from fixed, and that claims from conscience can be made on behalf of religio-social or cultural practices that would strike most as unworthy, whether polygamy, or female circumcision, or so on.

In a Hobbesian sense, conscience, like religion, thus represents an anarchy. That was the reason for a state religion, which indeed had the authority and power to lay down clear injunctions. Such an authority is as one with the works of "Ozymandias, king of kings", and it is the state that has inherited or seized it. This is scarcely a welcome role, but it is a necessary one, because social policy and politics should involve more than the aspirations and negotiations of prelates, whether termed community leaders or not.

To press for exemption from the Sexual Orientation Regulations on the grounds of religious faith is perfectly logical if you have a religious world-view, but strong convictions, and indeed comprehensive world views are scarcely the monopoly of the religious. Here, there is a failure on the part of the senior clerics. In a society of complex interests, it is necessary to work for compromise, and indeed the Catholic adoption agencies show this in placing children with cohabiting heterosexual couples and with single gay people. To press publicly, therefore, for an exemption in the case of suitable gay couples is not only hypocritical, but also represents a preference of pressure over compromise. The children urgently need help, and many Catholics I suspect would understand the need for compromise whatever the Vatican guidelines. It is unworthy of the prelates to seek special consideration by suggesting that they should lead on conscience.

Jeremy Black is Professor of History, University of Exeter. He is the author, amongst much else, of The Slave Trade (Social Affairs Unit, 2007).

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This is not primarily a "religious" issue, but a moral one. (And English law and mores, like it or not, have, in any case, been shaped by centuries of Christian belief, so that putting "the law" over against "Christianity" is somewhat ahistorical.)

What this whole sorry incident shows is that the current government is prepared to put children at risk in order to cater to poltically-correct opinion. That is nothing short of scandalous. And what is more, I fear the current Conservative party would be no better. It's particularly telling that, in this case, the British political class has bent EU employment legislation intended to secure protection for employees to a very different purpose.

In any case, in the long term in Europe such matters _will_ be decided by quite directly by religious fiat, and the religion in question will not be Christianity, but another that recognizes no kind of distinction between the religious, the legal, the political, and even the personal. Even the famously mealy-mouthed Bernard Lewis has finally hinted as much:

Enjoy the liberal point of view while it lasts. It has prepared the ground for worse things than itself.

Posted by: Nick E at January 30, 2007 01:06 PM

A very sensible and logical article, but we are not dealing with sensible and logical people. If I may deal with a few points :–

That was the reason for a state religion

Did Ozymandias & Co sit down, and after sociological deliberation decide to proclaim “worship the king”? Perhaps the only bunch to blatantly do so were the Romans. And we can see what God Himself thinks of this in Revelation 13, where we have the “beast from the land” making the earth and its inhabitants worship the “beast from the sea”. And it didn’t do any good for the gods of Rome either. If any old Caesar can make himself a god, that certainly downgrades the traditional inhabitants of Mount Olympus. To myself, of Huguenot descent, any hint of state religion is an abomination. And I’m not just getting at French Catholicism (Écrasez l’Infame!, as Voltaire said) but places today where a national religion or anti-religion is enshrined in law.

But see how the government are standing on principle over “discrimination”! Such a principled lot, aren’t they? Anyway, the force behind this issue comes not, in the main, from people who happen to have homosexual orientation, but from enemies of Christianity. How else could people such as Ken Livingstone delight in militant Muslims and gay rights at the same time? Remember when Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate:

And the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves. (Luke 23:12)

It seems with this present lot we have Herod and Pilate merged into a chimaera-like dual organism.

And if Voltaire happens to be listening, On peut écraser l’Infame, mais l’infamie dure encore – look at the EU!

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at January 30, 2007 11:56 PM
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