Those of us who oppose the intervention of faith in matters of public significance have been dismissed as “militant” for years. It has never been a great concern. On the contrary, it has often amused me. In this context, “militant” is a word which neatly expresses a unique blend of ignorance, denial and paucity of critical facility - each of which are basic requirements if you wish to associate secularism with hostility and violence. I’ve always taken the accusation of “militancy” as a sign of victory in debate.
Conservative chairman Sayeeda Warsi’s comments from the Vatican this week, though, raise a disheartening prospect.
In short, a dour, clichéd, self-evident untruth is being elevated to propaganda. Warsi wishes to level the field. It appears that in the absence of a secularist equivalent to whichever flurry of faith-based death threats, justifications of death threats, murders and acts of terror you care to mention, she deploys a word which – presumably - asserts some form of moral equivalence, by amplifying the marginalisation of faith. Oppose the ejection of a gay couple from a B&B, and the intolerance is yours. Oppose the introduction of Christian prayer to a public meeting, and the disrespect to those with other beliefs is your own.
Entertainingly, Telegraph columnist Cristina Odone appears to believe that Warsi’s words will “embarrass liberals into taking religion seriously”. As the Coalition seeks to demean a very serious term in the name of a flimsy, hypocritical slur, I am determined to maintain my sense of humour about it. Having reached the top tier of government, the fun in being labelled “militant” may be dissipating now, but I do have the consolation of respecting Sayeeda Warsi, her allies and their faiths a little less than I did before. Disingenuous insults will not do.