"You can't say that".
The BBC producer was adamant. "Why not?" I asked. "Because it could offend some people". And so the irresistible force met the unmoveable object. An impasse was reached which we could not get beyond and my invitation to give a thought for the day on BBC Radio Scotland was withdrawn. What did I want to say that was so offensive that the BBC could not broadcast? In the course of a 90 second talk I had used the words "Britain's Christian traditions". It was enough to get me excluded by that particular member of the BBC's thought police. One wonders if our Prime Minister, David Cameron will be allowed to say his latest remarks on the British Broadcasting Corporation.
They have certainly caused a furore which has resulted in a letter to The Telegraph signed by 55 of the great and good, who warn of dire consequences in the Prime Minister voicing the unthinkable. Saying Britain is a Christian country has "negative consequences" and encourages sectarianism.
"In his call for more evangelism, Mr Cameron is exclusively tying himself to one faith group, inevitably to the exclusion of others," opined Elizabeth O'Casey, Policy and Research Office at the National Secular Society. She also warned us that we are moving away from the concept of all of us being "rights-bearing citizens first and foremost, with democratic autonomy and equality, regardless of which faith they happen to have, or not have".
Britain is apparently in danger of turning from this nice, tolerant secular country into some kind of European Syria, torn apart by sectarian strife. Beware of the Christian Jihad, the Tartan Taleban and the Charismatic suicide bombers!
The signatories of this letter, including Philip Pullman, Anthony Grayling, Peter Tatchell, Steve Jones, Richard Herring, Peter Cave, Polly Toynbee and headed by Prof Al Khalili, President of the British Humanist Association, are certainly sincere in their apocalyptic warnings. But the trouble is, so are all fundamentalists. Sincerity does not guarantee truth, reality or reasonableness.
The problem is that the 55 see themselves as the moral priests and thought police of our culture. They think that their views are self-evident and they believe that they have the right to impose them on everyone else because every right-thinking person will accept them, and if you don't, by definition, you cannot be right thinking. They cannot see that such circular reasoning is the seedbed of intolerance and hatred. It is beyond caricature and irony that they warn about a sectarian and divisive society when they head up one of the most divisive and sectarian fundamentalist movements in the world today, Secular Humanism.
Their primary mistake is they do not regard themselves as a 'faith' group and they helpfully lump everyone else into that category. And yet their position is full of faith. They have great faith in human goodness in general and their own in particular. They have great faith in their own abilities to figure out what is right and wrong. Their religion is themselves and their nirvana is the inevitable progress of humanity – of which they are of course at the peak. Anyone else is reactionary, regressive and right wing (even if they are left wing).
And they really are very divisive. Although they talk about freedom of religion – it is only on their terms. They don't mind you being religious in your own private thoughts and clubs, as long as it does not impact on public life. They want the church to be the equivalent of a knitting circle, a line dancing club or a Trekkie society. It's all right if you are into that sort of thing – just don't do it in the public square and frighten the horses.
They are for 'freedom of speech' providing you don't say the wrong thing – at least in public. Why else do you think I was banned from saying that Britain was a Christian country on thought for the day?
I was told by two officials from the Humanist Association that up until recently they did not allow people to join who were not atheists. They can hardly claim to be 'neutral' – except in the post-modern newspeak way that they use the English language. And they need to stop pretending that they are speaking up for other religions – they are seeking to exclude all religions. That is why the Muslim and Hindu spokespersons actually welcomed David Cameron's statement. They would prefer to live in a Christian country – than a secular humanist one, precisely because it is less divisive and does offer more freedom.
One interesting footnote to the letter is that Richard Dawkins is missing as a signatory. Is this because the humanist association are all too aware of Dawkins' reputation as a religion basher and want to put forward the image of secular humanist neutrality? It won't work. I have heard several of these signatories mock, deride and abuse Christianity and Christians – and yet they have the nerve to claim that they are neutral. They are about as neutral as the Trojan horse!
The humanist society says that it stands for democratic equality and autonomy with all citizens having equal rights. Try telling that to the nursery worker who lost her job because she was asked about her views on homosexuality and gave the wrong answer (in a private conversation) to a lesbian colleague and was then reported. In interview she was asked would she be prepared to read a pro-homosexual children's book to the children and when she said no, she was fired. This is the Orwellian world of our new secular elites, where equality means that 'some pigs are more equal than others'.
David Cameron was spot on when he pointed out that: "People who advocate some sort of secular neutrality fail to grasp the consequences of that neutrality." It is of course not neutrality at all. However the new moral guardians of our society are surely correct in pointing out that the majority of British people are not card carrying, Bible believing Christians. But that does not mean we are not a Christian country in some sense. We have 1,500 years of Christian tradition on which our culture, laws and morals are based, 59 per cent of the population still profess to be Christian, and without committed active Christians much of the youth work, food banks, health care and education in this country would collapse. Even our secularism is largely Christian secularism!
If the secular humanists want to be taken seriously then they have to show the rest of us what our Christian traditions are going to be replaced with, and they have to demonstrate these in deeds as well as words, so we can see if these replacements will actually work. At the moment they are just a bunch of nice middle class liberals, telling us 'trust us, it will work...we just want equality, diversity and tolerance'. We admit these are nice words - largely borrowed from Christian teaching about humanity. We want to know that they really mean in practice in this Brave New World, before we jettison our Christian culture, traditions and morals.
None of the above means that I can endorse all of David Cameron's remarks. He strikes me as someone who wants the fruit of Christianity without the roots. Christianity is much more than just a moral code. Therapeutic deistic moralism is the default religion of much that claims to be Christian – but it is sadly, a religion without Christ, and cannot seriously lay claim to being 'Christian'.
I will not comment on Mr Cameron's politics but I seriously hope they are much better than his theology. He states: "I am not one for doctrinal purity, and I don't believe it is essential for evangelism about the church's role in our society or its importance." But Jesus is for doctrinal purity. It really does matter that he is the Son of God, that he was born of a virgin, that he did miracles, that he rose from the dead, that he is coming back as judge and saviour – all good theological statements.
The moral good works are the fruit of the person and work of Christ. You cannot discard the roots without ultimately also losing the fruits. No one, not David Cameron, Alex Salmond, the Queen, President Obama or even our 55 letter writing moral guardians will ever inspire, change or motivate people the way that Jesus can and does.
Tolstoy once said "everyone thinks of changing society, no-one thinks of changing themselves". Real Christianity changes society by changing people. A Christian Britain will only be revived if more people become Christians – which is why evangelism is the crying need of the hour – as it always has been.
For further reading on this subject in the secular press have a look at these two excellent articles: