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Free speech is only permitted if you agree with the core dogma

From climate change to same-sex marriage, fall out with the new moral guardians at your peril

By on Thursday, 2 August 2012

Same-sex marriage rally

There was a rather thought-provoking article in Spiked the other day. Written by journalist Alexander Cockburn who has died at the age of 71, it is a re-issue of his Spiked piece of 2008 on “what happens to leftists who challenge climate-change alarmism.”

Cockburn begins by stating, “While the world’s climate is on a warming trend, there is zero evidence that the rise in CO2 levels has anthropogenic origins. For daring to say this I have been treated as if I have committed intellectual blasphemy.” He goes on to point out the suspiciously close links between the climate-change alarmists, Left-wing politics and corporate interests. The scientific community is also heavily implicated. Cockburn remarks, “In today’s political climate, it has become fairly dangerous for a young scientist or professor to step up and say: “This is all nonsense.” It is increasingly difficult to challenge the global-warming consensus on either a scientific or a political level.”

Indeed, he admits that “since I started writing essays challenging the glob-warming consensus, and seeking to put forward critical alternative arguments, I have felt almost witch-hunted. There has been an hysterical reaction…There was a shocking intensity to their self-righteous fury, as if I had transgressed a moral as well as an intellectual boundary and committed blasphemy.” Interestingly, he sees a link between this form of hysteria and the old Malthusian one about over-population: “Alarmism about a population explosion is being revisited through the climate issue.”

Cockburn concludes his punchy piece with the obviously sensible remark that “Climate catastrophism, the impact it is having on people’s lives and on debate, can only really be challenged through rigorous open discussion and through a battle of ideas.”

Why do I draw attention to his article? Because when I read it I instantly saw its parallels with the official default position over same-sex marriage. Just as Cockburn discovered when he attempted to make reasonable arguments against man-made climate change, it is impossible in the public forum to have a reasonable debate about the nature and meaning of marriage or why same-sex marriage might not be such a good thing as David Cameron fervently believes. At the very least you are labelled as a bigot. Free and open debate and consultation is virtually forbidden – as the cancellation in May this year by the Law Society of a colloquium on the subject “One Man, One Woman; making the case for marriage for the good of society” at its headquarters, makes abundantly clear.

In Brighton and Hove City Council – Britain’s only Green council – council member Christina Summers, who represents Hollingdean and Stanmer, will probably have to face an official enquiry simply because she, as a Christian, voted against the Council’s motion in support of government plans to bring in same-sex marriage. According to a report in the Telegraph, Miss Summers said that she supported gay rights and civil partnerships but argued that equality did not require changing the traditional definition of marriage; she told her colleagues “it was a matter of conscience and free speech for her.”

She explained to The Brighton Argus: “The problem here is the understanding of equality. I do not agree that disagreeing with same-sex marriage is disagreeing with equality at all. I feel that marriage is about a relationship between a man and a woman… and about procreation and family.”

Although members of the Green Party are meant to have a free vote on issues of conscience, other councillors believe Summers’ stance is inconsistent with the Party’s long-term support for same-sex marriage. Deputy Council Leader Phelim MacCafferty stated, “Greens believe [she] is entitled to hold her view but this does not reflect the position, spirit and track record of the Green Party in extending human and civil rights for all social groups irrespective of sexual orientation or on other grounds.”

As Alexander Cockburn discovered to his cost, free speech and entitlement to your views is only permitted if you agree with the core dogma. Christina Summers discovered this too; when in the past she has objected to abortion on similar grounds of conscience, she “brought to the surface a very violent prejudice” against her as a Christian: “The response to the way I debated and voted has been very vicious, but it doesn’t surprise me. Whenever I or any Christian touches on issues of life or identity it does elicit a very very violent response with very strong accusatory language.”

So a freethinker and a Christian have both experienced a clamp-down when they had the courage to think outside the canons of received (Green-orientated) wisdom. The surprise is that Cockburn did not realise that anthropogenic climate change has become a kind of religion – and that Summers thought she could ever be welcome in the Green Party as a practising Christian.

  • Acleron

    With plenty of energy from solar, wind, 4th-generation nuclear, fusion, geothermal, and who-knows-what, I’m not worried.’

    And while you carry on living in dreamland, the world decays.

    Without the action of of people who saw a problem, none of the advances you mention would have come about. The free market was quite happy making its profits from fossil fuels.

    But  ‘Goliaths battling it out’? complete nonsense. Despite many spurious and quite criminal investigations into the scientists who have discovered this problem, not one significant accusation has stuck. That they have convinced any politicians at all is quite amazing in the face of blind ignorant intransigence. But the fossil fuel companies have been found backing journalists to lie about the situation, have been found to back an institute that has drawn up plans to attempt to degrade the teaching of science. Occam’s razor shows, reducing the pluralities involved, having to say that anybody is making up scare stories is far less likely than there is an orchestrated campaign against scientists and their predictions.

    BTW Occam was one of yours, wasn’t he, another one excommunicated for being too rational, I suppose.

  • Acleron

    I would want to see unevidenced belief systems excluded from the curriculum. 

    I suppose by militant anti-theists you mean anyone who points out that religion is irrational and a system of power. If they can prove their point with evidence, why exclude it?

  • Acleron

    ‘The culture of death makes people hate children’

    Well, you have no problems, do you. ‘The culture of death’ (sorry for the scare quotes but I’m still laughing at the pompous language) will die out and the catholics will inherit the world.

    And less resources to teach these budding geniuses, feed them, clothe them, house them and already less to water them.

  • JabbaPapa

    There is no such thing as an “evidenced belief system”.

    ALL belief systems must necessarily be founded on various undemonstrable axioms.

    Each different sect of atheism is of course a separate belief system in its own right.

  • Bellarmine

     Roma locuta est; causa finita est. Not Jesus, not the Church, not the Bible, not the Holy Spirit, but Rome, ie the Pope through the previously named Holy Office. No wonder they favour autocratic, right-wing regimes! It takes one dictatorship to know another!

  • The Raven


    What he means is that he would like to see the state pay for the things that *he* believes in and not the things that *we* believe in.

  • The Raven

    What unreconstructed nonsense. Every constitutional body has a point of ultimate appeal, beyond which a case can go no further. In English law or US law that is the Supreme Court of the respective jurisdictions; in Catholicism it is Rome. If I took your line of reasoning, I would claim that every system that has a place of final appeal was a dictatorship.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    > “No wonder they favour autocratic, right-wing regimes!”
        Cheap baseless attack.

    > “It takes one dictatorship to know another!”
        Except that the Church is voluntary…

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    > ”The culture of death’ (sorry for
    the scare quotes but I’m still laughing at the pompous language)

    Laugh as you will; the culture of death is real.
    90% of babies with Down Syndrome are aborted. People want perfect babies, and if there is a defect, they simply trash the baby and try another.

    > “And less resources to teach these budding geniuses, feed them, clothe them, house them and already less to water them.”

    Our economy is mostly based on services and information.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    > “And while you carry on living in dreamland”

    By “dreamland”, you mean “pointing out existing technological advance”. That is a very funny concept of “dreamland”.

    > “Without the action of of people who saw a problem”

    Which is part of the free market.

    > “But  ‘Goliaths battling it out’? complete nonsense.”

    You completely ignore the oodles of money coming from environmentalist-minded governments, institution and bilionaire individuals.

    As I said: fossil companies are powerful, but environmentalists have oodles of money too.

    > “BTW Occam was one of yours, wasn’t he, another one excommunicated for being too rational, I suppose.”

    Cheap, baseless attack. He was excomunnicated for writing that the king had the right to oppress the Church; he was writing against human rights.

  • Acleron

    You are the one with beliefs, not me.

  • The Raven

    I respect your right to believe that.

  • Acleron

    ‘Our economy is mostly based on services and information.’
    Lol, the telephone cleaners will take over the world.

  • Acleron

    You are in dreamland by thinking that existing technology is in any way adequate to deal with the problem. In fact technology won’t necessarily be a factor. Politics and the lack of knowledge portrayed by people like yourself will be enough to scupper us.

    Point of fact. The church has no human rights. It’s just a power centre. 

    Occam didn’t rail against the papacy until after he was in trouble with his dictator over guess what? Yeah, the age old reason d’etre of the ccs, property and money.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

     I replied above.

  • Fides_et_Ratio


    > “You
    are in dreamland by thinking that existing technology is in any way
    adequate to deal with the problem. In fact technology won’t necessarily
    be a factor.”

    In particular,

    > “The church has no human rights. It’s just a power centre.”

    Cheap baseless attack.
    > “Occam didn’t rail against the papacy until after he was in trouble
    with his dictator over guess what? Yeah, the age old reason d’etre of
    the ccs, property and money.”

    Cheap, baseless attack. Does not even address the issue.

  • Acleron

    Try reading those references yourself. Reaching grid parity for one technology in one part of the world doesn’t cut any ice. And that instance of photovoltaics is going to be useful in  the UK, not.

    Your church is a political institution with monetary aims. You go on about the free market so surely you can recognise a business when it stares you in the face? What do you think built all those fine buildings? 

    Cheap because the facts are easy to determine, just look at the years and so by definition it cannot be baseless. William was summoned to the old men because of his writings in general as a rationalist. While there the Franciscans had a row over property with the same lot and he had to run for it. After he had run, he wrote about the limits of power of kings and popes. In fact down the ages, the popes have had lots of arguments over power and  money and quite a few shady deals to accumulate both.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    I have already wasted far too much time with this. In the last two days I have made perhaps 50 posts.
    I have other things to do. I have books to read.
    Have a nice day.

  • Philothea

    Despite saying I would not write any more, because of the increasing difficulty of reading comments, I must say it is nothing to do with Arius nor do I see anything perverse in recognising that human understanding does develop. How we express our faith must surely take account of this (but not determined by it!) if we are serious and honest, otherwise we will be wedded to obsolete modes of understanding and ways of expressing what we believe which will make it more and more  The divinity of Christ is one thing, how we understand and express it is something else. That’s all.

  • Philothea

    I don’t imagine of course that you do think the Catholic Church to be uncatholic, but what you said is: ‘ANY positive declarations supporting only one understanding of those Mysteries whilst denying any other interpretation of them must be understood as unorthodox and therefore uncatholic.’ This does not seem that hard to understand. The point I am trying to make is that what people call ‘orthodoxy’ usually means one particular interpretation of the mysteries dating from long ago and couched in terms questionable today, so that it we are serious about the faith we need to ask how we can interpret and express the essential truth we believe in an acceptable form. I wonder why some find this so hard to understand. 

  • JessicaHof

    Tolerance of what one approves of is all too common; real tolerance is rare.

  • theroadmaster

    Not all people of Faith want to impose themselves on people or run a theocracy, rather they want to be heard in the public square. In short, they want to be allowed to exercise freedom of speech, worship and action without being gagged or penalized with fines or even jail. I’m not talking about religious extremists here, who are a threat to public order and democracy, but rather about people who feel strongly about their Faith, but are being silenced by the misapplication and misuse of equality and human rights legislation.

  • michaelushka1

    What does global warming have to do with your faith? And the question of whether or not the intimacy between two individuals of the same sex (which, if you would only look past the surface enough to realize they are human beings just like you, is indistinguishable from that shared between two people of the opposite sex) is worthy of being recognized as a legal institution? Tell me, what does that have to do with your faith? Perhaps the real problem is that you are expecting human reality to conform to your religious ideals.

  • michaelushka1

    It is, after all, “your Faith.” You can capitalize the F, but you can’t just call it “Faith” unless you want to ignore the innumerable other Faiths that have come and gone in the millennia since humans started using symbols. The funny thing about faith is that it’s entirely subjective. That’s basically the point of the word. After all, if we want to convince others of the validity of our propositions, we don’t say “this is based on my Fact,” we say “this is based on fact,” ie. a universally accessible and demonstrable truth.

  • theroadmaster

    What do you mean by “what does global warming have do with your faith? Where did I bring global warming up in the context of Faith?
    When we talk about sex and reproduction, we are talking about the Natural Order, which people of Faith view as being pre-ordained by our Creator. The primary function of sexual reproduction is to procreate and this is only possibly between two members of the opposite sex. Sex also promotes unity and mutual love between the two couples. So when this criteria is seriously undermined by other forms of “sexual” activity, there is a moral issue at stake. Your version of human “reality” may not conform to this, but living up to this ideal requires moral fortitude and strong discipline. Geraldo