My postbag and email inbox can testify that Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General is right, Britain is a Christian country founded upon over 1,500 years of heritage which have shaped this country’s ethics and values and Christians are increasingly reluctant to express their religious views.
Prior to the Question Time brouhaha, I regularly received correspondence in which people thanked me for speaking up in the public square, for expressing what they believed to be a solid Christian viewpoint and for articulating or standing up for certain values, which they were prohibited from doing for a number of reasons. One of the nicest letters was one received from an Anglican, who while he didn’t agree with certain Catholic points of doctrine said how refreshing it was to actually hear someone confidently state the basic Christian Trinitarian belief on live TV.
Following on from Question Time, this is the type of thing which has featured in my mail. That I know that by publishing it I am taking a risk of being reported for hate crime, is very telling:
I’ve also received several other comments from people stating that I ought to get off TV for the sake of my career, that I’ll never work again, I am pigeon-holing myself into some sort of hardline ‘right-wing’ niche and that I will struggle to ever get mainstream work.
It seems fantastical to believe that speaking out can make one an ‘untouchable’, the stuff of a dystopian or totalitarian society, but this increasingly seems to be the case. I first discovered this a few years ago cutting my apologetics teeth on the mummy forums of doom. I was such a naif, it hadn’t occurred to me that calmly and rationally setting out a mainstream orthodox Catholic point of view would be perceived as an act of subversive radicalism or would cause such anger. Neither did I realise quite how theologically illiterate we as a nation have become, or that many self-proclaimed liberal progressives have the most closed-minded and totalitarian mindset that I’ve ever witnessed. The cries of ‘bigotry’ are all projection. It was the atheists wishing to close down discussion or promulgation of a Christian viewpoint, crying out that it shouldn’t be allowed, especially not in schools. The prevailing view was that anyone who took a non relativist position, while they were entitled to do so, should be disbarred from ever expressing it in case it caused offence or upset.
As I migrated from what I believed was a non-representative microcosm niche forum, I was dismayed to discover that this is indeed the prevailing view in society, this is what most people seem to think and are prepared to violently expound. If you have a Christian point of view which encompasses a belief that marriage consists of a man and a woman or that life should be protected from the moment of conception to the point of natural death, then you are ripe for derision, a bigot or a homophobe . You should not be working in any profession with any import or influence, especially not near children or vulnerable people, and should keep your big trap firmly shut as you scan the next item of groceries through the till.
This time last year I witnessed a pro-life Catholic GP be bullied off Twitter after hardline feminists reported him to the GMC and his NHS employers for having the temerity to express that he did not agree with abortion. He is not alone. A few weeks ago, feminists in conversation with Clare Mulvany, a colleague and friend of mine, spotted that she was a qualified midwife and made a point of tagging the nursing and midwifery council into the tweets, in an attempt to threaten and intimidate her. It was, once again thought inappropriate that someone within the health care system should offer a point of view which defended the right to life of the unborn child. Then, a few days ago, another NHS employee has informed me that they too have been reported to their board after expressing a pro-life point of view, despite the fact their sphere of work does not involve direct patient contact.
It makes the mind boggle that doctors can break the law and put women at risk by recommending abortion without ever seeing or examining a patient and thus not being able to form an opinion in good faith and escape prosecution or professional consequences; and yet anyone who wishes to protect women and their unborn children is deemed ‘judgemental’ and unsuitable to be able to offer a satisfactory standard of care, even if they have an impeccable previous professional record. It should not be assumed that having a pro-life point of view makes one hostile towards others who have had abortions – most pro-lifers understand that abortion is a difficult moral choice for many; they simply wish to exercise and defend their right not to participate in the procedures as well as offer alternatives. My doctor will not routinely offer antibiotics. I understand why and feel defensive every time it is explained to me why this is a last resort. Being judgemental is part of a doctor or nurse’s remit, no-one likes being made to feel ignorant or uninformed but it is perfectly possible to politely state that you are against abortion or euthanasia on conscience grounds and still provide great care. We shouldn’t pander to narcissism or insecurity complexes by removing rights to freedom of expression. It is nonsense to assume that a medical professional’s clinical judgement will not include an element of their own personal ethics. By offering abortion on demand, the NHS can hardly be claiming to be taking an impartial view on the matter.
In terms of attitudes to Christian views same-sex marriage, we need only to look at the case of Adrian Smith, the housing officer from Trafford who was eventually vindicated but financially ruined after being demoted from his job for expressing his point of view about marriage on his Facebook page. A friend of mine attended a work course last week in which she was informed that expressing any sort of religious or social views on the internet which could cause offence would amount to gross misconduct. Employers are in effect codifying and prescribing what people can say even outside working hours. You can think what you like, but woe betide should you dare to advertise it.
Like it or not, Christians with a certain viewpoint are already feeling uncomfortable and socially constrained and are constantly being informed that their views have no place in politics or the workplace. Yet even Tony Benn, the non-Christian arch-socialist said the following in an interview with Mary Kenny:
“How can you separate yourself From the world you live in? I can’t imagine a world where people have their religion in a water-tight compartment. Religion can’t just be a private matter.”
But that is exactly is what is being expected of Christians unless we hold ‘acceptable’ views, which is where Dominic Grieve’s remarks grate. Christians are afraid to speak up, but not because of the fear of being tarred as religious fundamentalists but because they are afraid of the consequences for their jobs and families. Instead of being helpful, the Attorney General has increased the divide between liberal and conservative Christians, by using the broad-brush term ‘fundamentalist’ Christians which can be used as a weapon to attack anyone who doesn’t conform to the consensus.
There’s a whole other essay or blogpost in terms of comparing Catholicism to Christian fundamentalism, but it doesn’t stop people from waving it around as some kind of pejorative label. I was both amused and horrified to find myself the subject of someone’s recent Facebook status update in which they said “Caroline Farrow is not a religious nutjob, while her point of view may be homophobic, she is in fact only speaking what the Roman Catholic Church teaches” and went onto to quote Cardinal Nichols and other members of the episcopate to prove his point.
This goes some way to explain the huge amount of personal vitriol which has come my way – it’s far easier to paint me as some kind of oddball bigot, or indeed try and claim that Catholic Voices is a creepy Opus Dei led sect (despite the fact that most of us including the leaders and myself are not Opus Dei members, nor is Opus Dei the organisation portrayed by the likes of Dan Brown) because that makes it easier to dismiss what is actually being said.
By isolating and attempting to portray individuals or organisations as being in any way less than perfect (not that any public Catholic I know claims to be) it’s a great way of deflecting accusations of anti-Catholic or Christian prejudice. “You aren’t like the nice normal ones and thanks to you, you are making life very difficult for them. I don’t want to be a member of a Church which espouses the likes of you”. The point that the church is a field hospital, open to all sinners, not just an exclusive club of nice socially acceptable people with the ‘right views’ seems to have escaped them. Far easier to scream bigot, despite the fact that myself and many others have gone on record defending the rights of homosexuals to make their own private moral decisions without facing criminalisation or fear or reprisals.
But by attempting to point the finger or wave the blame at ‘fundamentalism’ without specifically identifying what he means by this term, Dominic Grieve has just pushed those of us already feeling alienated further onto the margins.
And of course any post like this, draws the inevitable ‘playing victim’ or ‘making a mockery of those who face real persecution like in Syria’ meme. Which is like telling someone who is suffering in any way to cheer up because there are always those who are worse off and whose plight is worse than yours. While this is often true, it is not always helpful, nor does it go any way to alleviate the cause of the original suffering by denying that it is not happening and is not serious.
When people believe that they cannot express a certain point of view for fear of losing their jobs or facing some sort of sanction, then we are in scary territory, even if the threat is not as real as the perception.
I received the above email, prior to going on to Sky News outside Brighton town hall on the weekend that same-sex weddings were legalised. I didn’t actually want to be there, I was shaking with nerves and in tears, it would have been much easier to stay in the garden enjoying the sunshine with my children rather than turn up like Hove’s Fred Phelps brandishing a ‘down with this kind of thing’ banner on people’s big day. It was my husband who told me to keep going, saying ‘look you’ve put your head above the parapet now, you have to continue to speak out for those people who can’t’.
I’m no great martyr for doing so, the worst thing I’ve faced, aside from the horrible person spitting at me and an unprecedented online smear and hate campaign was an aggressive man in Waitrose telling me “look you may have been on the telly but that doesn’t mean that you can block the aisle with your pram. Yes, I saw you – QUITE UNFORGETTABLE”.
But nonetheless at times I am scared and overwhelmed by threats that my children should be removed, attempts to interfere in my husband’s vocations process, malicious green ink letters sent to professional associates (fortunately always by the same set of people and known names) and I am also disappointed that the career which I had hoped to pursue either in teaching or midwifery (my dream vocation) when I set up this blog a few years ago, will no longer be open to me and neither will normal mainstream employment, once people google my name.
It is massively disappointing not to mention frightening to learn that a future career is not going to possible in a few years once my children have started school, because I have been stupid enough to open my mouth on the internet and on the media. Certainly it wasn’t my intention to build a ‘Catholic profile’ when I began blogging, I just wanted to present the vision of a happy well-adjusted woman who loved life, loved her family and above all loved God and the Church. I’ve not always managed to succeed thanks to being bogged down by trolling and smear campaigns which I should have realised were inevitable. Sometimes I wish that I had not been quite so forthcoming.
But if I feel like this as a so-called ‘professional’ Catholic, being a relatively well-known name, then goodness knows how someone else without the confidence, protection or supportive spouse that I have, must feel. We are called to live and proclaim our faith, to stand up for Gospel values which often include truths that are unpalatable to society, but this is getting increasingly more difficult for the laity, who do risk consequences. When you look at Catholic comments boxes the overwhelming majority of posters choose to remain anonymous for a reason.
This is the way of the cross, we should remember that Christ warned us that it would not be easy when analysing at Dominic Grieve’s remarks, regardless of whether or not he categorises us as fundamentalists. I suspect that is what keeps most of us going.