I wish to make an apology. I don't exactly know to whom, but there are a large number of people I've wronged and if you're one of them, I'm sorry.
I have always had a fairly tolerant attitude towards pretty much everything, part of being a liberal at heart, so I have generally felt that religion needed to be tolerated just as long as it didn't actually do anything inherently divisive. The example I always used was that of the Church of England. Anglicanism in the UK has always been the village-fête faith. The tombola faith. The bingo faith. The one that comes with bourbon creams and Typhoo tea. It's the religion of the elderly people seen wandering the aisles at Tesco on Saturday afternoon in the vain hunt for a new kind of food made entirely from prunes and spam. It's the religion for aunts and grandmothers. The one with doilies. It's harmless.
Not so Catholicism. The Roman Catholic church is the one with the globe-spanning secret empire that tries to stop people from using condoms even in countries where most of the young adults are HIV positive. Catholicism is the religion of Goodfellas and the Godfather, it's the religion of hanged bankers, Mussolini and the dark manoeuvrings of Opus Dei. Catholicism is sinister. Best-selling books describe planet-spanning conspiracy theories, which despite their laughable lack of research or evidence somehow feel right. It seems we're supposed to distrust the man from the Vatican. As you walk the streets of Rome you're surrounded by architecture and public art that showcases the power and wealth of an organization that includes a Propaganda Department in a lovely old building near the Spanish Steps.
Other faiths each have a natural feeling as well, a stereotypical way they appear to the outsider. Islam seems a faith of devotion beyond reason. Buddhism somehow ethereal and distant. Hinduism, colourful and vibrant. Judaism, sober and intellectual. All of these are undoubtedly stereotypes, bearing no relation to reality and we should try to step beyond them, hard though it is, because our minds are better than this, we owe it to ourselves to avoid cliché.
I recently had time to re-evaluate one of these stereotypes fully and it has helped me to step beyond my limitations. I have discovered that the Church of England is stunningly dangerous and I want to tell everyone about it so we won't ever again fall into the trap of thinking of it as the tombola faith.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has declared that he would like to see Islamic Sharia law included in the legal system of the UK. In fact he said it was inevitable and we should just go with the flow. He then pointed out that he didn't mean we should allow the excesses of punishment such as beheadings and amputations but just a few simple bits and pieces of Sharia in a luxury assortment of legal frameworks would be the way to go.
I don't agree with him and I'll tell you why.
In the UK we abide by something called the rule of law. Essentially this means that everybody, however rich or powerful, has exactly the same responsibilities and liabilities under the law. Just because you happen to be King it doesn't mean you're above the law. Remember the Magna Carta? It's in there somewhere. It is an absolutely fundamental principle of a free society, as important as freedom of speech, but the Archbishop of Canterbury would discard it cheerfully; inevitably, to use his term.
OK, so what? Well this person is the Archbishop of Canterbury. If he was the Archbandicoot of Cauliflower it wouldn't matter because the Archbibbldeboop of Clodhopper isn't part of the functional institutions of this country. I never really opposed the position of a religious leader in a secular government because I thought that people of faith would like their particular hobby to be properly looked after, the way fans of trainspotting are provided for by the Department of Transport and fans of unemployment are provided for by the Department for Education and Skills. Now I see how wrong I was. This dangerous extremist must be stopped. If we allow people to have a court made up of any non-evidential institution to pass judgement upon them then I want to be judged by the prefects' council of Hogwarts school, please.
I simply had not seen the institutional position of the Anglican faith for the danger that it really represents. It is allowing extremist and bizarre ritual cults into positions of great authority in an otherwise free nation. Ask yourself whether you'd like the head of the Freemasons to be a cabinet minister, the head of the Scientologists to be Prime Minister, or some lunatic fascist to be leader of the opposition. OK, I'll give you that last one.
If I ever argued for permitting people into powerful positions simply because of their faith in your presence then I apologise unreservedly. I was clearly wrong. I will ask the prefects' council what my punishment should be immediately. I suspect they'll be lenient.
Probably let me off with a simple beheading for a first offence.