Blasphemy and The Modern Scene in England
Modern society and its tools for reasserting control in the face of provocation and railing against the one eternal God.
1. The Background
In England blasphemy ceased to be a crime under our common law in 2008 by Gordon Brown’s statute: the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act. It will never be restored and as Denning J. said in 1949 blasphemy was a dead letter even before the 2008 Act. What is the way forward?
Essentially we have summary offences of causing alarm and distress, and using insulting words or behaviour under the Public Order Act 1986. (Usually dealt with by a fixed penalty through the police station.) These offences used to be capable of prosecution in the Magistrates Courts and still are I believe. They provide protection at police station and lower court level from these persistent offenders, but still properly within the ambit of this legislation.
Incitement to racial hatred or religious hatred: These offences reflect the modern fashion to condemn those who ferment hatred as opposed to uttering mere heretically anti-Christian words and publication. Those accused of these relatively new crimes will be indicted in the Crown Court before Judge and Jury if pleading not guilty. The Islamic preacher Abu Hamza would have been so indicted if he had remained in England. Our society places a high premium on the prosecution of these offences and rightly so.
4. Modern England
We have significant groups of Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus, yet the core of our society does not practice any religion, such is the prevalence of technology designed to occupy the attention of the individual. The defence of Christian belief is relegated to a poor second for Christians to their economic success, careers and gadgetry. The concept of personal sacrifice for Christianity is an anathema. No one wishes to rock the boat and apathy reigns.
One Catholic Bishop came to the fore recently for announcing his intent to pray outside a London abortion clinic. He was denounced as:
“Bishop Hopes you bully!”
outside Westminster Cathedral on the piazza. Such express and humbling adherence to Christianity is rare these days in a Bishop. Monsignor Bruce Kent, campaigner for nuclear disarmament, attracted attention for more dubious reasons, as have other anti-military Catholics. Christianity will recover I am sure, but the Roman Catholic Church for one has lost its cutting edge, subject to the example of Bishop Alan Hopes. To accuse him of being “a bully” was virtual blasphemy. The police on duty stood by ensuring these protestors were not disturbed by any law abiding Roman Catholic. What a comment on modern society!
What can I say about future policy? No one desires an unnecessary rumpus. I do believe, however, the churches of Christianity, Islam and Judaism should come together to defend belief in the one God as the Prince of Wales has so properly urged. His Royal Highness is a very good example of the true meaning of Christian living and leadership. He cannot be in the wrong with his clarity and good judgement. When His time comes may He long reign over us. Prince Charles must be supported by Islam, the Jews and Christianity.
Those out in front do the hard work nevertheless. I do not propose slavish obedience to the theistic religions. I do argue however those who mock these religions should be noted down for their distasteful conduct, but no more. A complaint to the editor of any publication which includes such ridicule in its pages should be put through and supported by all three theistic religions and their representatives. Clearly to do nothing is not a good policy and will leave the ordinary believer in God with resentment and vulnerability.
In Nazi Germany the might of the militarist state was pitted against the Jewish people. We defeated Nazi Germany, but too late to save the Jews of Continental Europe from a brutal campaign to vilify and destroy their religion, race and culture in the 1930’s and 40’s. What a terrible indictment of International Justice and Anglo-American preparedness to fight even before September 1939. I would argue the Anschluss in 1938 was the green light to our nation and its allies to go to war. Our hesitation was weak and unforgiveable. It lead directly to the extermination in the Camps.
In the world we live in the issues are less clearly defined. Totalitarianism has almost evaporated. Religious and racial dissensions remain live issues in the forum of terrorism and terrorist preparation and street life. A lot of conduct goes unreported to the authorities and the editors, both criminal and religiously deprecating. We should strive to support each other to strengthen respect for religious thinking and practice in our places of worship. Of course toleration between religions should be matched by tolerance of the non-believer, however vacillating he may be in his demeanour. The bottom line is to hold the front for God by ordinary worship and external lawful demonstrations of support for our kith, kin and fellow believers: Jewish, Christian and Islamic. There can be no substitute for renouncing ourselves, picking up our cross, and following Christ. Whether we be Christian or non-Christian in the best sense of Christ’s words – known only to Him.