Not everyone is aware that it was the Catholic Church that invented and gave birth to the university. The values that Christendom infused the university quest for knowledge with led to an explosion of scientific discovery that became the scientific revolution. However, slowly but surely, the strain on the mooring rope that tethered to the university project a search for universal philosophical and empirical truth has been stretched further and further towards breaking point.
At the University of Nottingham the breach may finally have occurred, albeit in what will appear to many to be a matter of small significance. To overlook the significance of this issue because it appears small at first sight, would be a mistake.
Any step that a university takes to restrict or denounce the Catholic faith has a particular historic resonance to it. It also marks a moment of Oedipal intensity that forewarns of tragedy in the offing.
The University of Nottingham has taken steps to delegitimize the chaplain that the Catholic Church appointed for the care of its students, staff and faculty.
The pathos is all the more profound since Fr David Palmer, the bishop's candidate, is an alumnus of Nottingham. They are rejecting one of their own. This is certainly a damaging step reminiscent of an anti-Catholicism that marred civic life in this country in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but it is more than that. That emerged from state and civic fear and prejudice from one Christian group towards another.
This time, the civic reflex has developed to the next stage from anti-Catholic to anti-Christian. But in so doing it has become anti-democratic, anti-tolerant and anti-inclusive in any real sense. We have the beginnings of totalitarian political exclusion from the public space.
The form this intolerance takes is that of woke culture and its capture of Higher Education.
For all that its campaign of progressive propaganda is perpetually spearheaded by its rallying cries of 'inclusion, equality and diversity', every so often there is a moment which exposes the deceit and dissembling of the secularist political propaganda.
It should be all too obvious that if wokery really intended to practise inclusion, equality and diversity, then members of the Catholic Church would be protected and included 'in', not excluded 'out'.
But because these words cloak a very different set of values, it's only at moments of crisis that the real agenda emerges through the mist of double-think and serpentine linguistics.
Perhaps aware that it was painting itself into a corner, the spokesperson for the University of Nottingham claimed that Fr Palmer was not being resisted simply because of his views on abortion, but because of the way in which he had expressed them.
There are different ways of assessing the viability and status of a foetus, but the moment one takes the Catholic position that the foetus is an en-souled human being from the moment of conception, it is difficult not to use words describing the destruction of the pre-born child that are graphic.
Indeed, the pro-abortion lobby goes out of its way to choose euphemisms that mask the horror of slicing a living being in pieces inside its mother's womb. It goes to great lengths to censor the photographs that demonstrate the destruction of the foetal child. It makes every effort to disguise the abuse of power towards the victim child by concentrating only on the rights of the mother over her own body. It should not be a surprise when opponents of abortion take the same care to use the kind of language to voice their opposition that is as graphic as those who defend abortion.
The state of Texas has decided to introduce legislation curtailing abortion up until the moment of birth. Setting aside arbitrary measurement by weeks, it has chosen the measurement of heartbeat to decide the point at which the child-foetus becomes safe. This is as scientific as it is emotive of course. The very name of the 'Texas Heartbeat Act' carries an emotional sub-text that is hard to ignore.
Why should the language used by Fr Palmer and other defenders of the pre-born children not be as carefully chosen and emotive as the language used to defend the rights, or more properly, the interests of the mother?
It should come as no surprise to supporters of abortion that opponents of culling the embryos growing in the womb, emphasize the fact and significance of the foetal heartbeat; and having identified the embryo as fully potentially human, speak of its destruction as the killing of a child. There are no scientific or empirical grounds for justifying the prevention of emotive language that describes an emotive situation.
Nottingham's objecting to the descriptive language Fr Palmer used is simply a disingenuous way of disguising the raw politicization of its own censorship.
However, nothing but the pressure of losing income or falling foul of public opinion is likely to make any difference to the University of Nottingham's decision.
In a coherent world where clarity of thought and spiritual discernment was valued and practised, the whole Christian world as well as the Catholic community might unite around the ethical priority of protecting the yet-to-be-born. In such a world, Christians would boycott the University of Nottingham for its assault on Catholicism as well as its repudiation of its own liberal values of inclusion. Overseas fees would count for more than domestic ones, but such a boycott might still make an impact.
The difficulty is that the Church in the West has become so befuddled by the pseudo-ethical values that progressive politics pretends to endorse, that it has become impossible for Christians to agree on the defence of core ethical values. It has become difficult to know what utopian-baited hook some Christians won't swallow in their need to seem morally up-to-date with and acceptable to their neighbours.
One sign of hope is that some secularists are also now beginning to speak out about the illiberalism of cancel culture. In support of Fr Palmer, Ann Furedi, the former CEO of BPAS, the largest abortion provider in the country wrote on Twitter: "So stupid to cancel this guy. FFS he's a Catholic priest - let Catholic students decide individually if they want his counsel."
Bari Weiss was previously a journalist working for the New York Times. She was a progressive lesbian formed by the Left. However she too found herself cancelled by the even woker warriors of Twitter, and lost her job.
She recently warned that the woker Left was dividing the world into binaries along dangerously tribal, often racial lines. In this worldview – becoming pervasive in Britain, too, she warned – people are either "victims, in which case you have moral authority", or "victimisers, in which case you're born into that position" and are stuck there.
She concluded in an interview in the Daily Telegraph that she sees only one solution to the cultural takeover by the identity-obsessed Left – "they have won, they have taken over all the elite institutions in America, full stop" – and that is to start again: new publishing houses, newspapers, film studios, think tanks, even schools and universities.
When someone like Weiss warns that the point of no return has been reached, we should sit up and take notice.
Rod Dreher, author of the Benedict Option, offered the Christian West the same analysis: the culture war has not only been lost, but lost so catastrophically that there is no means of making a return to the public square. Christians will need to make their own private arrangements as a Christian community for a variety of enterprises, including medicine, education and legal representation.
He was dismissed by many at the time as far too apocalyptic. But now that his analysis has been endorsed by thinkers like Weiss, some may think again.
Fr Palmer and the Catholic community are calling on the University of Nottingham to rescind their censorship of his appointment. To date there is no sign that they will. This moment may prove a tipping point as other universities around the country watch to see if there is any real opposition to their illiberal censorship of Christianity.
Speaking about a different totalitarian assault on freedom, a threat from the fascist Right, Martin Niemöller penned the famous lines: -
"First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me."
This time, as we face a threat from the totalitarian Left, the poem might begin, "First they came for the Catholics..."
Dr Gavin Ashenden is a former chaplain to the Queen. He blogs at Ashenden.org