That sanctimonious pro-lifers will not stop at killing should surprise no one

The minute you proclaim yourself to be an ist in pursuit of an ism, you are declaring a faith
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The Independent Online

Just a question, but isn't anti-religiousness, like religiousness, a phase we are meant to grow out of? Fifteen or 16 is when we start sneaking the cleric-hating poems of William Blake under our bedclothes. "And priests in black gowns are walking their rounds,/ And binding with briars my joys and desires." Lovely. Friars, liars, briars, desires - these are irresistible rhymes when we're still at school: in the assonance we hear the link between our frustrations and those we think frustrate us. But by 20 we should have stopped blaming priests and rabbis for whatever's going on between our hormones and society. Joys and desires! Joys and desires when I've got gonorrhoea, syphilis, genital herpes and warts over every inch of my body, and my underage girlfriend's pregnant - give me a break!

Just a question, but isn't anti-religiousness, like religiousness, a phase we are meant to grow out of? Fifteen or 16 is when we start sneaking the cleric-hating poems of William Blake under our bedclothes. "And priests in black gowns are walking their rounds,/ And binding with briars my joys and desires." Lovely. Friars, liars, briars, desires - these are irresistible rhymes when we're still at school: in the assonance we hear the link between our frustrations and those we think frustrate us. But by 20 we should have stopped blaming priests and rabbis for whatever's going on between our hormones and society. Joys and desires! Joys and desires when I've got gonorrhoea, syphilis, genital herpes and warts over every inch of my body, and my underage girlfriend's pregnant - give me a break!

Don't mistake me. I fear the spread of religion as much as I fear the spread of sexually transmitted disease. I would even ascribe them to the same causes. Lack of strong parental guidance, unfettered masturbation, inane television, children's literature, the disappointments of technology and turkey twizzlers. As for the separation of church and state, I value it as highly as Jefferson did. God save us from the Godly, I say.

But just because we don't want priests, rabbis and mullahs enacting civil laws doesn't mean they must take a vow of silence on civil matters. A prelate lets it be known that he will recommend his congregation to vote for a party because of its views on abortion and we throw up our hands in outrage. Would we feel the same if the president of the British Anti-Thought for the Day Society urged his or her members to vote where religion has no sway? Did CND not have a party political agenda, and was not CND a quasi-Christian movement? Ah, but bombs are not babies, you tell me. Wrong. Bombs might not be babies, but babies are most certainly bombs.

If there were ever a subject which confounded all disjunctions between the worldly and the sacred, the secular and the religious, the political and the apolitical, a baby being born into the world, or a baby not being born into the world, is that subject.

For a second time I must ask you not to mistake me. I am not on the side of the pro-lifers. Pro-lifers terrify me. Whoever takes to the streets with a banner and a box of matches terrifies me. That pro-lifers will not stop at killing is a paradox that should surprise no one who is wary of the sanctimonious. Peace marchers chant violence in the streets and pro-lifers will kill if they have to. That's the way of it with activists.

We will be safe only when no one believes in anything.

In the meantime, we diminish ourselves as secularists if we cannot allow anyone to express views which contradict our liberal-minded assumptions in matters of life and death, as though morality, when it is not the morality we share, is an evil we must blame on the religious and religion is something we must blame on right-wingers. When we doubt the advisability of airing this or that issue of morality in the run-up to a general election, warning the churches and their leaders to back off, we are as good as conceding that morality is more their preserve than it is ours. Which in fact is not what we believe anyway.

I will say it again: the separation of church and state is the summum bonum of our system of government. But I doubt the religious and the secular ever achieve in actuality the separation on which the secular in particular pride themselves. Etymologically, they are scions of the same tree - "secular" being the denomination by which we once knew those members of the clergy who refused monastic seclusion. In the 16th and 17th centuries at least there was no contradiction in talking of a "secular clergy". Thus you could be secular and still believe devoutly in God and his church.

That some of the earnestness of the believer should continue to be found in the secularist movement founded by G J Holyoake in the 19th century was therefore only to be expected. Ditto in the humanism of our own times. The minute you proclaim yourself to be an ist in pursuit of an ism, you are declaring a faith. And the minute you declare your faith in one thing, you declare your disbelief in something else. As one door in the mind opens, another closes. It's a law of being human. Secular clergy, anyway, seems a good description of the humanists I know. Brave Christian soldiers in the cause of refuting Christianity.

Leave out the small matter of atheism and there was no telling Marxist-Leninism apart from Christianity. The same intolerance of free thinking, the same fear of heresy, the same splintering into abstruse schism. There seems to be no other model we can follow. Those who would govern human behaviour are priestly to the bone. Even opposition to the religious orthodoxy of government is religious, as witness any demo. If we don't want morality impinging on politics, what are we doing marching to the hymn of "Bliar, Bliar"? (Binding with bliars my joys and desires.) Blying can be a political offence only if truth, that is to say morality, is considered a political good. So fired with a conviction of truth were demonstrators against the war in Iraq, that the presence in their midst of church leaders and other notable God-fearers was taken to be the supreme validation of their cause.

A simple rule of thumb applies where the intercession of the church in politics is concerned. When churchmen intercede on your side they are doing what they're there to do. When they intercede on behalf of your enemies, they are posing a dangerous threat to democracy.

I will not say that secularism is hypocrisy. But in pursuit of their ends, few secularists stay secular for long.

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