One of this blog's faithful readers sent in a news item from The Telegraph for comment ("Composer James MacMillan warns of liberal elite's 'ignorance-fuelled hostility to religion'," Martin Beckford, Religious Affairs Correspondent, 10/01/08). MacMillan, one of the conductors of the BBC Philharmonic, is considered Scotland's premier composer. In an article published last week, he took the atheistic liberal establishment to task for its "increasingly aggressive" efforts to drive religion out of the public sphere.
Predictably, most of the comments posted in response to the article avoided the main issue, which is that every human being has a civil right to practice his or her faith so long as it does not harm him- or herself, other people, or the social order. Few if any people posting discussed the merits of MacMillan's position, but got immediately into attacking believers or non-believers, depending on one's own position. The "pro" commentators insisting on citing the Bible as an absolute rule of life, while the "anti" side kept demanding empirical proof of God's existence. Both teams of contestants seemed oblivious to the main point that, whether or not God exists, does the liberal atheistic elite have a right to force its morality on everyone else?
The issue is basic civil rights. For years the liberal elite has demanded that they not be constrained by someone else's morality, while at the same time making strenuous efforts to impose theirs on others. MacMillan is to be lauded for taking a stand on this issue, even more so as he is operating within a milieu in which traditional moral standards — regardless of their source — are attacked with increasing vehemence.
Admittedly it is safer for someone in public position to take an unpopular stand, but it still requires a great deal of courage. Further, MacMillan is a Catholic, a member of a religion still viewed with deep suspicion in Great Britain, where "papist" and "Jesuit" are considered pejoratives, and have extremely sinister connotations. Every November 5th the country celebrates Guy Fawkes' Day, although most people have by now forgotten the rabid anti-Catholicism that inspired the holiday. Nevertheless, Catholicism is considered something "not quite British," and thus tinged with suspected disloyalty to God, Queen, and Country. Several commentators (predictably) dragged in the Inquisition, Hitler, Darwin, Marx, Mary Tudor . . . all the usual suspects who have nothing to do with the objective truth or falsity of religion, per se.
It may be no accident that, as was recently reported, attendance at Catholic services in Great Britain is greater than at those of the Anglican Communion for the first time since the Reformation. Rather than join forces with those of militant atheism, however (which MacMillan carefully distinguishes from the ethical, "live and let live" type of atheism), believers of all faiths, but especially in this day and age, Catholics, Jews, and Muslims (three religions often viewed as suspect), need to come together in support of a restoration of the natural law — an effort which should include concerned atheists as well.
Yes, how or if an individual accepts revelation is a personal matter, and should be kept within religious society. The natural law that provides the foundation for moral and ethical teachings, however, while taught by organized religion, is the basis of civil society. Organized religion's role in the world with respect to civil society is to provide a moral guide. Without this, and without a "sense of the sacred," however one defines it, society will dissolve in chaos.
This is why, in large measure, the practice of religion is a civil right, and must not be limited or infringed except where it can be shown that actual harm results to individuals, groups, or the common good as a whole — and religious belief, however distasteful it may be to some, does not constitute harm.
If James MacMillan reads this (or, subtle hint, if someone forwards this posting to him), I would urge him to read Father William Ferree's Introduction to Social Justice, available as a free download from the web site of the Center for Economic and Social Justice.
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