Thursday, 10 April 2008

Why Franklin Graham rallies should worry us

We do not need any great reminder of the influence of fundamentalist evangelical Christianity in Northern Ireland. After all our largest political party is rotten with those who believe they are being guided by God. In fact our outgoing First Minister, who is accustomed to preaching the most virulent form of Christianity, will shortly be replaced by Peter Robinson, who attends with his wife the revivalist evangelical Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle, one of the largest church congregations in Europe. It is quite an indictment of the nature of the party when Robinson is considered to be on the godless secular wing of the DUP.

In case we needed another reminder of the influence of fundamentalist Christianity, 30,000 people (that is thirty thousand people) from our little province of 1,500,000, attended rallies featuring the evangelist Franklin Graham in Belfast’s Odyssey Arena over the weekend.

Of course, in the United Kingdom, people are entitled to freedom of conscience and freedom of belief. No-one would seriously suggest that such meetings should be prohibited, but it is worth paying attention to some of the insidious doctrines which Graham and other fundamentalists of his ilk preach. Because whilst we may believe it is a good thing to respect a wide range of beliefs, the point is that, through their participation in politics, fundamentalist Christians effect very directly the freedom of choice exercised by other people in Northern Ireland. If huge numbers of people adhere to fundamentalist Christianity in Northern Ireland, we have a right to be worried. In fact I would argue that we have a duty to be worried.

Graham of course is particularly influential in providing the theological basis to George Bush’s neo-Conservatism. He is aggressive in his attitudes towards Islam and homosexuality and hawkish in his foreign policy. When Graham’s sympathisers here raise the argument that it is disrespectful to people’s sincere religious beliefs to criticise events such as those in the Odyssey at the weekend, consider the preacher’s declaration “I believe Islam is a very evil and a very wicked religion" and ponder just how much respect to others’ sincerely held religious beliefs that statement entails. In the wake of 9/11, when religious leaders may have been expected to exercise a calming influence Graham urged “let's use the weapons we have, the weapons of mass destruction if need be and destroy the enemy”. He has also expressed the widely held evangelical opinion that Aids is God’s punishment for immoral behaviour and homosexuality.

I believe that Graham is entitled to such opinions of course and I would defend his right to express them. I do however find his views particularly unpleasant and it makes me worry when 30,000 people flock to events bearing his name over an April weekend. Already we have a body of politicians in powerful positions who would like to compromise science and education by forcing children to be taught creationism in schools, we have a lobby who would deny abortion to women on religious grounds which they do not share, we have in power a party whose members have protested outside theatres when something as innocuous as Jesus Christ Superstar played. Fundamentalist Christianity fosters a degree of intolerance which we cannot afford to accept in our society, it also wishes to impose itself politically and curtail freedoms. It is a menace to us all.


Makarios said...

If evangelicals are such awful politicians, why do you keep electing them? Is it a case that most people simply aren't as smart as you? Perhaps you could run for office and then things would be so much better.

Chekov said...

To answer the first question, in Northern Ireland we are unfortunate enough to have a society where religious affiliation has a very close connection with a political division. Unfortunately that has resulted in a situation where religious conviction gets conflated with political conviction and a combination of both tends to confer some hardline credibility. We also have a profoundly conservative society.

As for the second point, would you care to address any of the issues raised or do you want to stick to the snide insinuations? And I am involved in a political party attempting to change things/