Leading article: Bloodshed and toleration

Share

The revelation that Britain now has more practising Roman Catholics than Anglicans will be met with concern, perhaps even alarm, in some quarters. There is a historic reflex at work here. The modern British state was founded on Protestantism. Centuries of civil bloodshed, martyrdom and regime change over religion have shaped the British national consciousness. To this day the head of state cannot be a Catholic. It is telling, too, that Tony Blair felt the need to wait until leaving office before converting, despite the fact that there is no constitutional barrier to the Prime Minister being Catholic. It seems Mr Blair understood that there is a lingering sensitivity in Britain about Catholics holding high political office.

But not all the concerns are of a conservative nature. Liberals have long been nervous of the notoriously emotive and uncompromising Catholic activism on abortion. In May this year, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, compared abortion to the massacre of schoolchildren in Dunblane and urged Catholic MPs to attempt to reform the law. This has stoked concern that the resurgence of UK Catholicism will mean the importing of an illiberal religiosity into British political life.

However, we would argue that Britain can afford to be more relaxed. There is another historic tradition in this country (albeit one that is younger than anti-Catholicism): toleration. The discriminatory laws against Catholics began to be repealed in the late 18th century, culminating in the 1829 Catholic Emancipation Act. Since then, freedom of conscience has been one of the pillars of our society.

Incidentally, another virtue of our society is the openness of our economy. One of the reasons why Catholics are now in a majority is the number of predominantly Catholic Poles who have come to work in the UK in recent years. It would be hard for even the most staunchly anti-Catholic zealot to portray this as some kind of spiritual invasion. The reality is that the force which governs most of our lives is no longer religion, but economics. And these tens of thousands of industrious Poles have been a considerable economic blessing.

Concern over the reactionary tendencies of hard-line Catholic activists is more well-founded. But Britain is still, mercifully, very far from being like the US, where issues such as abortion and stem-cell research are a staple of political debate. For all the brimstone sermons of the Catholic Church, Britain remains a country resistant to dogmatism.

The way to respond to any assaults religious or otherwise on medical or scientific freedom is through cool and reasoned debate, not panic.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

1st line call logger/ User access administrator

£9 Per Hour: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Warrington a...

Shine Night Walk 2014 - 'On the night' volunteer roles

Unpaid Voluntary Work : Cancer Research UK: We need motivational volunteers to...

Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable & Accounts Receivable)

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable...

Senior IT Trainer - Buckinghamshire - £250 - £350 p/d

£200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Liberia immigration officers wearing protective gloves inspect the travel documents at a border post with Sierra Leone, 30 July (EPA)  

The Ebola outbreak teaches us an important lesson about aid

Natalie Bennett
Passengers sit and enjoy a quiet train journey in a bygone age  

Why I'm shouting about the tragic demise of the quiet carriage

Simon Kelner
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star