The thought police are on the prowl once again, this time criticising the Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard for giving Elaine Smith the portfolio for the eradication of poverty and inequality. Mr Leonard was challenged publicly on his choice and criticism has inevitably followed.
Elaine Smith, an MSP for Central Region, voted against the redefinition of marriage and this, it seems, is unforgivable. Like Tim Farron, Mrs Smith must now prepare herself for the very real possibility of a distasteful, humiliating and painful public inquisition until she is dethroned from her shadow cabinet post and perhaps even forced out of political office altogether. Her crime was to break from the stifling political orthodoxy by which we are all bound.
Even some politicians have taken to social media to join the throng of critics anxious to question Mr Leonard’s judgement and to attack Mrs Smith. Social media, by its very nature, painlessly facilitates the mob culture, giving it a soapbox to spew forth intolerant attitudes with the sole intention of damaging anyone who strays from the orthodoxy. It is, in many respects, a secular progressive religion; its doctrine is fundamentalist, imposing on everyone ridicule and abuse if they do not adhere. This new religion also unashamedly clambers for a favoured place in officialdom, seeking favourable legislation and government policy. But unlike other religions, there is little room for forgiveness. It is a zealous faith and it brooks no dissent.
Pope Francis recently spoke of a “polite persecution” of traditional religion. There is indeed a persecution, but it is not necessarily polite. In fact, it is quite the opposite. For dissenters like Mrs Smith the persecution takes the form of bullying and abuse, some of which is obvious and some of which is a little more insidious. But it is bullying nonetheless.
The new orthodoxy simply wants to silence those who might hold a view contrary to its doctrine. For example, Mrs Smith has in the past spoken of her own concerns about redefining marriage, preferring to believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, in line with the teaching of the Catholic Church. In 2014 Mrs Smith voted against same-sex marriage and was immediately on the receiving end of vile abuse at the hands of those who were in favour. Another target of abuse is Maria Caulfield, newly appointed Conservative vice-chair for women; a supposedly incomprehensible appointment given Ms Caulfield’s desire to protect unborn babies.
And then there is the case of student Frida Gustafsson, who has received abuse and calls for her to be sacked from her role as Student Union President at the University of Sussex. Her crime? An opportunist photo with Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg. Is it right that this young lady should be held accountable and demonised for the views of someone she is photographed with? There is no freedom of thought or action when the secular progressive religion takes hold. Total submission alone is accepted.
Yet one of the successes of this new religion is to convince people, especially the young, that it is the only belief system that guarantees freedom; that its tolerance knows no bounds. The truth is that it guarantees neither.
The abusive criticism aimed at people like Elaine Smith and Tim Farron might be enough to put a Christian off political office for good. Yet civic office requires Christian belief and principles like never before. We cannot allow the new religion to ride roughshod over our country, implementing so-called progressive laws and policies which promote the new religion’s doctrine whilst silencing the fundamental freedoms of those who disagree. There is a fundamental need for our nation to return to basics: recognition of the inherent dignity of the human person and the common good. The new religion only has the interests of the few at its heart. The common good is of no importance. And it is certainly not concerned with the dignity of those who disagree with its doctrine. Just ask Elaine Smith or Tim Farron.
We should always bear in mind the difficult conditions Christian politicians now work under; especially those who hold firm to the teaching of the Church. It is not an easy job and they sacrifice a much easier life to work for human dignity and for the common good.
We are lucky to have many hardworking Christians across all parties in Holyrood and Westminster. If we are to resist the advances of the new religious intolerance we need to make sure we encourage our young people to get involved in civic life and continue to support Christian politicians rather than demonise them.
Anthony Horan, Director, Scottish Catholic Parliamentary Office