Time for a return to true liberal values, which tolerate views with which we strongly disagree, writes David Robertson
‘FOR too long we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens, ‘as long as you obey the law we will leave you alone’.”
These words by the Prime Minister are a real sign of one of the greatest dangers facing our liberal democracy and its values. In a supreme twist of irony David Cameron indicates that he wants to defend “British values” of “freedom, democracy, tolerance and free speech” by restricting the expression of those values. Since when did it become the business of the government to interfere in the lives of citizens who abide by the laws of the country?
This new danger of statist totalitarianism is not something that comes from the fascist right or the communist left – it is now something far more dangerous, it comes from the liberal elites – the “nice’”people who run the country.
The problem is that, in a society that has largely rejected its Christian roots, we cannot expect the Christian fruits, including tolerance and equality, to continue. We try. We speak of British values, but seem unable to define them. And we find that they are re-interpreted and re-enforced by those who wield power as they please. In a world where there is no absolute morality, by definition all morality is subjective and is done largely on the basis of power, money and emotion, rather than reason, evidence and revelation.
With the increasing dumbing down of public discourse, the growing gap between rich and poor, the decline of traditional media and the rise of social media and the internet, the field is wide open for a return to an intolerant and undemocratic society. Let me explain. The rich are able to purchase newspapers, fund politicians and ensure that mainstream media such as TV and radio, stay “on message”. The individual super wealthy, the large corporations, or just the civil servants on massive salaries, are able to buy policies and moralities as they wish. The left has largely given up on any real idea of economic equality and instead has seen “equality” in terms of social and sexual liberalism. The right knows that all they have to do is claim the same social and sexual liberalism and no-one has any real reason, other than personality, to vote for others. Ironically both right and left in politics rely on corporate capitalism, a society built on debt and the promises of a materialist nirvana, to keep their power.
This social liberalism is enforced through a compliant media, an establishment arts culture and mob rule through the internet. It’s become quite easy to see what the “next big thing” is in liberal social causes. First of all a couple of articles are written, or documentaries produced, which question what was previously taboo; then the prophets of our age, the stand up comics, take on the “new radical cause”, the soap operas introduce the subject favourably, the opinion polls tell us “what the people think”, social media kicks in and finally the politicians and judges catch up. Anyone who dares question the new establishment morality is sidelined, abused and mocked.The Marxist writer Brendan O’Neil, writing in the Irish Times about the Irish Same Sex Marriage referendum. summed up one example well: “There’s a profound irony here: Ireland’s political class calls for a Yes vote to prove that Ireland has moved on from its intolerant religious past, and yet some of that old intolerance is being rehabilitated by the very people backing gay marriage. They shush dissent and demonise their opponents as effectively as any priest used to do, only in the name of Gays rather than God.” He went on to point out that the sacralisation of the Yes vote and the demonisation of the No vote prevented debate and especially on social media, where those who expressed doubt about gay marriage were driven offline. Anyone who has experienced the self-righteous fury of the new fundamentalists on the twittersphere will understand.
In the past week I have met a public servant who has been threatened with the sack by their employer because they were too open about their faith in the public arena (even though this was outwith their work), talked to a politician who is scared to talk about their faith because of the abuse and questions that follow on social media, and had a leading Scottish actor tell me that “there is no debate” on the latest shibboleth issue, who then went on to furiously inform his “diverse” group of friends (who all think the same thing) that anyone who disagreed with him was a bigot. Dave Thompson, the retiring Highland MSP, spoke at a Solas meeting last month of the intimidation that Christians in politics face. In a pluralistic, democratic society this should not be. But as long as we make idols of money, power and fame and rely on the immediate, the emotional and the selfish, what else can we expect?
My concern is that we have a government that passively tolerates poverty, whilst actively seeking to socially engineer. We have a media that is too reliant on corporate advertising and a politics too cowed by fear. I would love to see a return to good old-fashioned liberalism, to the kind of tolerance that actually tolerates people with whom one does not disagree. Sometimes we don’t know what we have until we lose it. Unless we speak out now in defence of traditional Christian liberal values, we will find ourselves living in a state where it will be soon be impossible to do so.
• David Robertson, Solas CPC