First of all, it was Saturday and the Today programme offering two balanced views on the feeling that Christians are being excluded from political and social life - one of them Rocco Buttiglione and the other the Archbishop of Westminster. Yes, that's right, two voices, both of them Catholic and both getting a degree of slavish respect from John Humphreys that was slightly vomit- inducing. Sometimes you let people go on and on because they are condemning themselves out of their own mouths, and sometimes it is because you are too chickenshit to call them on the nonsense they are talking.
To take two points Buttiglione made - he wasn't turned down for the EU commissioner's job just for his views on homosexuality. Part of the reason was that he is closely associated with Berlusconi and there are those who feel that to be political pitch which automatically defines. The main reason was that the job he was specifically up for was one which involved overseeing anti- discrimination law. Since he not only believes homosexuality to be a sin, but believes that all single parents are bad parents and all non-European immigrants to be far more likely to commit crime, there is actually quite a good case for not trusting him with that job. Especially since, as I have said before, his Christianity takes the form of telling other people that they are sinners rather than acknowledging his own human weaknesses at the same time.
And yes, I don't think it all inconsistent to expect that, if people bring their Christianity into public life, they get judged by a fairly stern standard on values like humility and incorruptibility that we could all do with learning from the sayings of Jesus.
His other argument was that secularism is at its high tide in Europe - that the USA has shown that the pendulum swings. What is weird about this is the mistaken perception that the USA was not always a god-obsessed culture; a particular sort of Christian has seized power through electoral malpractice and mass organization. It will be a lot harder for the sort of Christian party Buttiglione and his allies in the Vatican desire to seize power of that sort - Europe is not especially non-Christian, but it is deeply anti-clerical. The anti-clericalism is particularly dominant in societies like Ireland and Spain where a clerical alliance with fascism gave the priesthood real power for fifty years, and the oppurtunity for abuses of which the sexual and physical abuse of children was only one manifestation.
I also find it odd that a Catholic like Buttiglione is quite so sanguine about the power of a particular breed of Protestant who believes in imminent Apocalypse, the Rapture, the universal power of Satan and a whole bunch of other stuff which, last time I looked, was heresy.
Cormac Murphy-O'Connor was clearly embarrassed to be in this company, but not so much so as to disavow it. And was very much taking the line that Christians are being persecuted by not automatically having the political power to impose their views on everyone.
This is very much the position of the Evangelical woman who wrote the report arguing that Christians faced persecution in a secular society and was talking on the Sunday Programme this morning. Apparently the occasional mockery of people who have faith is economic discrimination because there are jobs they feel unable to apply for. Part of the point here is that, given the way Christian groups exclude others from employment whenever they have the power to do so, and have managed to keep that right enshrined in law, this is pretty rich. The other is that, frankly, those of us who grew up queer, and live as queer in a society that her sort of Christian still has some power in, know a lot more about the experience of persecution than she can begin to imagine.
What she was offering is a softer version of the standard US Christian claim that Christians are being persecuted if they are not allowed to preach their message. Oddly, this tends to be about other people's sex lives, not about economic justice, a subject on which the Jesus of the Gospels had a lot to say.
Having said all of this, I want, paradoxically, to say something that is almost on the other side. There do seem to have been some instances where local councils have decided to de-emphasize the specifically Christian nature of Christmas by calling it Winter Festival and stopping cribs and carol services. (And you just know that much of this is tabloid hype and straightforward lies, but some of it seems not to be - though I will take correction on this point.) This decision comes partly out of secularism and mostly from a half-baked belief that multi-culturalism implies respecting every minority but not the majority. Which may be restorative justice in a way, but is still dumb. While most people in the UK don't go to Church, most of them still have some attachment to the Christian faith in the loosest of all possible ways, which should be respected.
As an agnostic, who grew up in the Church, I can see very good reasons for continuing to celebrate Christmas. The Christians who created it knew from other cults just how pregnant with meaning a festival in the dead of winter that celebrates a newborn infant as the symbol of renewal is. The child in the manger is Mithras as much as Christ, but he is Hope above all. Ditching the right of priests and ministers to make us all miserable in the name of doctrines made up in his name should not lead us to throw that child out with the bathwater.
Meanwhile, I saw 'Blade Trinity' which was a train-wreck, but had Parker Posey as a boss vampire, who should have had a film of her own, and a Dracula who looked uncannily like China Mieville and a vampire Pomeranian. Which raises the question of whether those it bites rise as ordinary vampires or as undead lapdogs, which is a really nasty thought in so many ways. The film also had implied slash between Jessica Biel's character and Nathasha Lyonne's blind scientist, and more fetishization of hardware than I have seen since Kathryn Bigelow's 'Blue Steel', which I must watch again.
Plus 'Napoleon Dynamite' which I loved, in spite of the feeling that parts of the plot had been removed. I have a whole suspicion about the elder brother's girl-friend and her knowledge of cool disco moves which I'd love someone to confirm.