Azara Blog: Christians as the downtrodden citizens of the world

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Date published: 2007/11/29

The Telegraph says:

The Royal Commonwealth Society is at the centre of an embarrassing row after it barred a well-known Roman Catholic commentator from attacking intolerance towards Christians at its annual carol service.

Cristina Odone, the former deputy editor of the New Statesman, was to be one of the "celebrity readers" at the service in St Martin in the Fields church in central London next month, which is attended by diplomats and politicians.

But she has pulled out of the event, accusing the society of demonstrating exactly the kind of intolerance she had planned to criticise.

"I am incandescent," she said. "I was told that the words I had written were not appropriate because the congregation would include people of little or no faith who presumably would be upset. Even more insultingly, I was asked instead to read a passage from Bertrand Russell, a militant atheist."

Ms Odone was invited three months ago to take part in the service alongside George Alagiah, the broadcaster, Gareth Thomas, the Government minister, and Don McKinnon, the Commonwealth Secretary General.

As an experienced writer and broadcaster on religion, she was asked to write a short piece on the theme of "opportunities for all" that could be "political and controversial".

She developed the theme of secular intolerance towards believers of all faiths, from the British Airways worker suspended for wearing a cross to the Muslim schoolgirl banned from wearing the veil.

"When it comes to expressing their faith, this country's believers have found that opportunities are blocked," Ms Odone wrote.

"Whether it is the boss at work or the head at school, the local authority or the chattering classes, people of faith know that their worldview is under siege, and their allegiances under suspicion.

"To parade this allegiance by wearing a cross, a cap or a veil is red rag to the secularist bull. What little opportunity believers have to bear witness to their faith is being quashed. If you are black or gay or female, your plea for equal opportunity is met with respect, and your campaign is applauded by supporters. But not if you are a believer. In a culture increasingly hostile to God and his followers, expressions of faith have become taboo. The only opportunity we have is for silence."

Stuart Mole, the director-general of the society, an educational charity that promotes the Commonwealth and whose patron is the Queen, told her the script was not acceptable.

He said it did not fit in with the overall theme of the readings, adding: "We also need to be mindful of the congregation, which will probably include quite a few drawn by the occasion and by the carols but who do not hold a deep (or even a shallow) faith."

Yesterday Ms Odone said: "I think there is a tremendous move to down play this country's Christian heritage, to silence, ridicule and marginalise religious belief.

"They have shown precisely the kind of intolerance and disapproval of Christianity that I am talking about."

Mr Mole said he was "deeply sorry" Ms Odone felt unable to participate in the service but the tone of her script was too polemical for a "multi-faith" carol service.

The poor little Christians. They only run most of the richest countries in the world. Yet here we go again with faux anger about how they are the downtrodden citizens of the world. It's a good comedy routine, but not very plausible.

It is amazing how much airtime Odone managed to get over this speech. She was on Today on Radio 4 this morning, and Channel 4 News let her read out the entire speech on its show tonight. And it's pretty clear why the Royal Commonwealth Society might not have wanted her to give this speech at its carol service. The carol service is supposed to be uplifting, not a nasty third-rate political rant, which is what her speech was.

And if Odone was insulted to be asked to read something written by Bertrand Russell, then perhaps she should reflect on what Russell has written. Indeed, if the word "Christian" has any positive meaning (and when it comes to Catholicism this is a dubious proposition), then the pacifist Russell was far more Christian than Odone. And if Odone doesn't recognise how much damage religion has done, and continues to do, to the world then she needs to read the newspaper a bit more.

Obnoxious overt religiosity (as distinct from faith) of the sort preached by Odone has helped ruin a large chunk of the American political system, and we don't need it wrecking the British one as well.

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