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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.

  • Kevin

    “Free and open debate and consultation is virtually forbidden”

    It is not about getting to the truth, it is about getting results.

  • Bob Hayes

    Kevin, is that your analysis of the situation outlined by Francis or what you believe desirable?

  • Jonathan West

    Where is the battle of ideas in the Catholic church about such issues as same sex marriage? Until there is one, isn’t this a bit of a case of the pot calling the kettle black?

    On the one case (climate change) you have vociferous disagreement with alternative ideas, and on the other you institutional prohibition on even the expression of alternative ideas.

  • JByrne24

    When you write about climate change you are truly out of your depth. 

    So far as the woman in Brighton is concerned: she seems to simply wish to impose her religious opinions on an aspect of our secular state. That is out of order.

  • John Jackson


    To begin with,
    Francis did not write ‘about’ climate change.  She wrote about the problem encountered when one holds a
    dissenting opinion to what is considered, wrongly, to be only acceptable
    position on an issue.  And, in so
    much as she wrote about this, she was not out of her depth in any way.


    Secondly, this
    is not a ‘secular’ society as you seem to understand it.  It is, or is supposed to be, a
    democratic society and one that celebrates the existence of a wide variety of
    opinions and invites people of all persuasions to participate in the
    marketplace of ideas.  In such a
    society, reasoned argument can be based legitimately upon ideas that originate
    from a faith perspective as well as others.  Classical liberal ideas invite all perspectives to the table
    and thus, the Green counselor had every right to try and influence the counsel
    towards her view on marriage. 

  • Bob Hayes

    Sounds like you are projecting the ‘secular state’ as some sort of quasi-deity JB. Your tone suggests that you see those who speak against the Secular State (salute/genuflect as appropriate) as some sort of blasphemers – or, as you put it, are ‘out of order’. 

  • theroadmaster

    The liberal, politically correct brigade are in the ascendancy and patrol the public square rather like a Kafkaesque thought police, silencing and penalizing anyone who oversteps the bounds of their form of orthodoxy.  This is happening in GB, USA and across the Western World, as political parties and government affiliated bodies continue to implement agendas which threaten the very existence of our institutions and value systems.  They want to issue rights to cover all forms of ideology and behaviors which conform to their idea of freedom of expression.  There must be no room for dissent in their view , as a suffocating type of uniformity is enforced right across the different sectors of public life.  It looks like the only resort for People of Faith or even no particular belief who cannot in conscience agree with the latest ideological attempt to socially re-engineer marriage, is to engage in a campaign of civil protest to exhibit their opposition.

  • The Raven

    Our “secular state” currently makes no provision for marriage between persons of the same sex: a small group in society, which is representative of neither the heterosexual majority nor the homosexual minority, is attempting to change that, despite the absence of popular consent for the measure.

    Just exactly who is attempting to impose what on whom?

  • Julia

     “The liberal, politically correct brigade are in the ascendancy and
    patrol the public square rather like a Kafkaesque thought police,
    silencing and penalizing anyone who oversteps the bounds of their form
    of orthodoxy.”

    No, this is not the liberal, politically correct brigade.

    You quite accurately describe another set of lunatic, fundamentalist, wingnut, religious “believers” – called the Taliban.

  • JByrne24

      It is the LEADERS of our secular state who are doing this. It is their responsibility to lead. It is not imposition – it is leadership.

  • JByrne24

     Not at all. In a democracy, so long as the secular state behaves with reason it deserves the support of its citizens.

  • The Raven

    Our secular state is supposedly a represtative democracy, not an autocracy; it is not the job of our elected representatives to “lead” us anywhere.

  • The Raven

    You have inverted the concept of democracy: the secular state in a democracy is there to represent the interests and will of the populace; it is not the role of the populace to represent the will of the secular state.

  • JByrne24

     Her views – or opinions – about the scientific status of this matter will be clear to any reader of her article. She was going well beyond the envelope which you define.

    We DO live in a democracy – imperfect as it is. Don’t kick it. If a democracy tried to impose irrational ideas on its citizens then it would be proper to object.

    The point is that it is more than her (Brighton woman’s) view. It is a traditional religious Catholic view. She has no more right to try to do this than an Islamic has to try to impose his or her own traditional religious view.

  • theroadmaster

    I think that my description was right the first time.  It is the obsessive, oppressive and insidious ideology of the liberal PC brigade which is threatening the basis of classical true liberal democracy and the free exercise of religious speech and action by people of Faith.

  • RomanEnvoy

    Please, let’s no more hear of this fantasy about a British ‘secular’ state.

    We haven’t had a ‘secular state’ since the mid-1600s, and the form that that took would make many a modern-day liberal quake in their boots.
    The British monarch, and head of state, is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, a church historically Catholic, and whose head is the Fidei Defensor, a title first bestowed upon that chair by Pope Leo X in 1521.

    I find it amazing that current trends would seek to undermine our Christian identity and heritage, rather than uphold and nurture it. I know what the alternative is, and when it comes, the vast majority of right thinking citizens won’t like it…..

  • The Raven

    You are making the a priori assumption that the proposition that two persons of the same sex can “marry” is, in some manner, rational.

    If I see nothing rational in the attempt to contort the word “marriage” to accommodate such relationships then, by extension of your argument, I have no reason to comply with the attempts of a minority within the government to impose this change on our society.

    Neither you nor any other advocate for changing the law on marriage has presented any argument that is germaine to the rationality of this change in the law.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

     You forgot that the Church is a doctrinal and VOLUNTARY organization.
    If you are not a Catholic, then simply leave the Church; in fact, leaving is much easier than staying.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

     She was participating in democracy and, contrary to what Richard Dawkins and other anti-Christians say, we have full human rights – and that includes the right to political participation.

    We are not second-class citizens.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

     Absolutely. They are supposed to FOLLOW us, not to “lead” us.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

     And WHO ARE YOU to decide whose ideas are “irrational”?

    I recognize Marxism to be irrational, yet I don’t campaign against the human rights of Marxists.

    Everyone has a right to political participation. It is a human right.

  • Jason Clifford

    In the Catholic Church we have had those debates. We have had them however in the light of real Truth revealed in Sacred Scripture and Tradition hence we have stayed within the truth and not fallen to the fallacies of the homosexual propaganda.

    It’s true that there is a growing institutional prohibition on even the expression of ideas – that prohibition however is not coming from the Church but rather from those societies which have been deceived into believing the lies of the homosexual propaganda.

  • Guest

    1984 is becoming a reality. Hunker down.

  • Jonathan West

    And we have the right to ignore you if we think you aren’t making any sense.

    This is the problem with many religious contributors to the public debate, they are under the mistaken impression that their views, merely by virtue of being religiously based, are worthy of an automatic respect not granted to other people’s views.

    Well, it isn’t so, and until you get used to that idea, I’m sure everyone’s ears are going to be greatly wearied with complaints about attempts to suppress religious views.

    There is a world of difference between suppressing religious views and ignoring them. It’s about time you all noticed it.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    > “This is the problem with many religious contributors to the public
    debate, they are under the mistaken impression that their views, merely
    by virtue of being religiously based, are worthy of an automatic respect
    not granted to other people’s views.”

    Straw man. NO one said that. You made it up out of thin air.

    > “There is a world of difference between suppressing religious views and ignoring them. It’s about time you all noticed it.”

    Tell that to people who get jailed for saying that homosexualism is a sin.

  • Philothea

    Is this the pot calling the kettle black? God wants us to enjoy the glorious freedom of his children, but in the Catholic Church today if you dare to question the ruling orthodoxy in any way you will be pilloried as a dissenter or heretic and silenced or removed from office by the Vatican thought police.

  • Bob Hayes

    And who determines what amounts to ‘reason’? If the state defines ‘reason’ that would amount to dictatorship. If the definition resides with the citizens then ‘reason’ becomes an ever-changing, purely abstract concept – in other words ‘reason’ becomes random.

  • Bob Hayes

    Benito Mussolini wrote some interesting papers on the role and necessity of ‘leadership’.

  • Bob Hayes

    ‘We DO live in a democracy – imperfect as it is. Don’t kick it. If a democracy tried to impose irrational ideas on its citizens then it would be proper to object.’

    So, democracy must comply with concepts of ‘reason’ and ‘rationality’. Who decides what amounts to ‘reason’ and ‘rationality’? The citizens? A panel of ‘experts’ – appointed? Elected? Self-appointed? You are very effectively articulating the intolerance highlighted in Francis’ article.

  • Bob Hayes

    That’s nonsense – and you know it is.

  • John Jackson

    First, let me say, I appreciate your
    concern.  I would be alarmed if one
    wrested power from those elected and tried to impose something dangerous.  But that is not anything like what is
    happening in Brighton.  I am not
    kicking democracy I am trying to uphold it.  But what is happening in Brighton is very undemocratic.  I am arguing that for this counselor to
    have a dissenting opinion is to applauded not silenced.  Democracy needs to work and isn’t, at
    lest in the way the Brighton Greens, this government and the one in Scotland
    have gone about imposing (your word) this issue on a society that, outside of a
    small minority of people, does not want it.  I having taken your statement of a ‘rational’ idea to mean
    that you think that gay marriage is a rational idea. If I am wrong, correct
    me.  But if not. your assumption
    that gay marriage is a rational idea and thus not something being imposed upon
    this society is simply wrong at worst, and something that should be debated at
    best. The problem is not counselors like this one in Brighton but the others
    who do not want to have a debate. 
    The British government does not want to have a debate.  The Scottish government is not really
    having a debate. The marketplace of ideas has been shut down for all practical
    purposes.  The whole process of
    consultation was a sham here and in Scotland.  When a government refuses to listen to nearly 600,000
    people, that can hardly be called democratic.  It is nothing but a case of imposing their view, and in this
    case, a minority view.  So, the
    idea that this Green counselor is trying to impose something is wrong.  If someone from Islam held this view
    and wanted to state it, it is not imposing.  Do not assume that ‘secular’ thinkers and politicians are
    beneath imposing views and that only those who are Catholic or traditional or
    religious impose things.  The way
    things are unfolding in this society and in the U.S. for that matter, it is
    clear there is a move to ignore and marginalize anyone who comes from a
    position of faith or who does not, but who disagrees with the view of an issue
    being put forth as the only ‘rational’ view out there.  The issue is here is not one of
    equality – equality is a political and ideological construct that is being
    offered as the only real concern. 
    Life as we know offers very little in the way of equality.  That is neither bad nor good. It is
    just what is. This is why what is needed is fairness, not equality. The main
    issue is one of fairness in a democratic society and the existence of civil
    partnerships and all of the legal protections offered is certainly more than
    fair and ensures that the rights are protected.  I highly support civil partnerships as did the Brighton
    counselor.  It is not rational I
    argue, to go further. To do so is unnecessary and is imposing a idea that is
    not universally accepted nor one that can be said to arise out of natural
    law.  To go further and to insist
    that we all consider a homosexual relationship to be somehow equal to marriage,
    which is an institution born of nature and natural law as well as centuries of
    tradition (which is something that does matter and that must be considered) is
    to impose a view on a society.  The
    Brighton Greens, this government and Scotland’s as well, have shown they are
    not interested in democracy but are interested in social engineering.  This Green counselor is trying to have
    a voice, not trying to impose anything other than some sense into the

  • Uidhessan

    Everything in this article is sadly so true.

    The only opinion that matters today is that of the  Dogma of core Theology of today society. Any other person not like-minded in this thinking are labeled, intolerant, and bigoted.

    I   remember reading Bishop Sheen words- “A wrong is not a right even if everyone says it is. Wise words”…

  • Jonathan West

    I mostly have no time for Andrew Brown of the Guardian, but occasionally he does get something right, and he did so in his article on the CiF Belief website today 

    “Catholic bishops, too, suffer a terrible disconnect from the ordinary moral sense of the world outside. When Philip Tartaglia’s claim that a Scots MP (and former Catholic priest) who died of pancreatitis at the age of 44 did so as a result of being gay surfaced to general outrage last week, few people noticed that he was speaking at a conference on religious freedom.

    “I can say with a concerned and fearful realism that the loss of religious freedom is now arguably the most serious threat that the Catholic church and all people of faith in this country are facing,” he had said. “Will the Catholic church – and other religious bodies and groups – have the space to adhere to, express and teach their beliefs in the public square? Or will these basic elements of religious freedom be denied, driving the Church and other religious bodies to the margins of society, if not actually underground?”

    What’s crazy about this “concerned and fearful realism” is that he gives every appearance of believing his own propaganda. He confuses losing an argument with losing the right to argue. There are actually genuine issues of religious freedom and toleration raised by some recent administrative decisions against opponents of gay marriage. But they have arisen because the argument about equality is already lost.

    The argument about civil partnerships and fairness can’t convincingly be put by people who have been unfair whenever they thought they could get away with it.”

  • Jonathan West

    Who has that happened to?

  • C_monsta

     “A fallacy is not the truth even if everyone says it is” Wise words

  • rjt1

    You are ignoring them so much, you find it necessary to come onto this site to point out they can be ignored.

  • Philothea

    I wish I did. If you think it is nonsense you should try telling that to Bishop Morris, religious sisters in the USA and a long list of theologians who have been banned by the Vatican. To take just one example, Roger Haight who wrote ‘Jesus Symbol of God’ was forbidden to teach or publish, and even forbidden to teach at a non-Catholic seminary! At parish level too the new breed of totally convinced traditionalist Catholics are very intolerant of any disagreement and will make life unpleasant for those they disapprove of. I know this from my own experience. I wish it were not so, but it is, and it is getting worse

  • JabbaPapa

    one Catholic Bishop says X is NOT the same thing as “Catholic Bishops think X” — this suggestion of the Guardian is as deeply flawed in nature as the Cardinal’s own gaffe.

    Besides, his only real mistake was that he chose a SPECTACULARLY poor example (and a personally indelicate and insulting one to boot) to highlight the real health risks that are directly associated with the practice of sodomy, “protected” or otherwise.

    (I looked into the allegation BTW, and it actually *is* technically possible for pancreatitis to be the result of regular passive sodomy, either via transmission of HIV into the system, or via the fact that gallstones are more common in homosexual than heterosexual men, and they can in turn cause pancreatitis. But I was OTOH unable to discover any actual scientifically acceptable evidence, apart from this mere theory, that the disease has been found as observably more occurrent among gays, so that the Cardinal was on very shaky ground empirically)

  • Bellarmine

    Isn’t that the state of play at the moment in Roman Catholic theology? You have freedom of conscience as long as you agree with the Pope, (and it has to be this Pope, not John XXIII)!

  • Bob Hayes

    I was referring to your use of hyperbole e.g. ‘you will be pilloried as a dissenter or heretic and silenced or removed from office by the Vatican thought police’. Yes, a tiny number of blatant dissenters have been instructed to desist, but should we be surprised? Do you think a corporation or a State would allow individuals who challenged the core ethos of the organisation, who broke its rules, to retain their positions? Of course not. If anything, the Catholic Church has been astonishingly tolerant of those seeking to undermine it. Roger Haight seeks to position Jesus Christ within a post-modernist narrative – i.e. Our Saviour must conform to a (recent) man-made philosophical theory of society. As I am not a theologian, I will leave to others to say whether Haight’s hypothesis amounts to heresy, apostasy or ‘just’ blasphemy.

  • Fides_et_Ratio
  • JabbaPapa

    You’re wrong — in this sort of case, the CDF will reject and suppress any teachings that seek to prevent the expression of licit dissent or discussion regarding those questions that the Church has defined as being outside of human knowledge.

    Any statements boiling down to “this is the truth, and anyone disagreeing with it is wrong”, wherever they are either incompatible with the infallible Substance of the Revelation (which may never be denied) or are destructive and intolerant of the vitality of any ongoing theological quaestiones, are fundamentally uncatholic.

    But you should NOT make the mistake of confusing the great majority of properly orthodox traditional Catholics with the tiny minority of ultra-traditionalist extremists.

    Oh — and it’s not “getting worse” — in fact there is a tidal wave of neo-orthodoxy rising up to wash away the trendy politically correct socialist-conscious cafés that the Modernists have raised up as “churches”.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    First: there is much more diversity of opinion in the Church than you paint it to be.

    Second: the Church is a doctrinal, VOLUNTARY organization. If you are not a Catholic, then simply LEAVE the Church. In fact, leaving is far easier than staying – once you leave, you no longer need to go to Mass, confess, do penance, mortification, fasting, etc.

    Complaining that you can’t militate for abortion inside the Catholic Church is like complaining that you can’t militate for deforestation while inside Greenpeace. It is simply nonsense. If you are not an environmentalist, LEAVE Greenpeace. If you are not a Catholic, LEAVE the Church. Simple as that.

  • JabbaPapa
  • Fides_et_Ratio

    You missed the point. The point is that a state is an involuntary organization (you were born in it, you MUST follow the rules or go to jail). Therefore, a state must respect people’s freedom of conscience, religion and expression. If the state mandates you to support (for example) homosexualism, and you were born in that state, and you know homosexualism to be wrong, then your human rights have been violated.

    The Church, on the other hand, is a doctrinal and VOLUNTARY organization. If you think abortion is awesome, then you should simply leave the Church. The Church does not violate any human rights by telling its VOLUNTARY members to respect Her teaching.

  • Bob Hayes

    Point taken. However, I was referring to the State (and corporations) as employers. In GB we have examples of employees being dismissed by State bodies because they dissent from State policy on, say, abortion. Likewise an employee of McDonalds will not survive long if they were to publicly campaign against multi-national corporations and junk food. 

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    McDonalds should be free to fire its spokesperson it that spokesperson starts campaigning against sandwiches. It makes no sense to campaign against sandwiches while working at McDonalds. The right thing to do is to seek work elsewhere.

    But the government should me much more tolerant. Take the NHS for example. The NHS is funded by tax money, that is, money CONFISCATED from the taxpayers. Also, the NHS holds a near monopoly on health care in Britain. So if you were born in Britain, and your talent (your vocation) is to be a nurse, and the government fires you because you are against abortion, then the government is authoritarian. This should not happen.

  • Philothea

    “Tiny’ is being very optimistic. ‘Blatant dissenters’ is hyperbole, so is the notion that theologians, bishops and religious sisters are seeking to ‘undermine’ the Church. What they are doing is seeking to be true to God, and since the Church is not a corporation or a state but people   called to be faithful to God who is mystery, how can there be rules to circumscribe exploration of the mystery? Since you are not a theologian, why would you entertain the idea that Roger Haight could be guilty of heresy, apostasy or just blasphemy’ (more hyperbole)? I don’t know if you have read his book, but you certainly misrepresent it if you think he is replacing Christian faith with recent man-made philosophy. Perhaps you are just repeating the Vatican’s condemnation? He is clearly a serious scholarly theologian and a man of deep faith. I would not say I agree with everything he say, but I find the idea of suppressing his work and preventing him from thinking and teaching just infantile. And for what? The only reason the Pope has advanced for his censorship is that the faith of simple believers needs to be protected – a deeply condescending notion. If there are people whose faith is so fragile it needs to be cosseted and guarded against real questions it is not worth having anyway. 

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    Do you guys even think before posting?

    The Church is a doctrinal and VOLUNTARY organization.
    If you are not a Catholic, then simply leave the Church; in fact, leaving is much easier than staying.

    Also, blessed Pope John XXIII is as orthodox as Pope Benedict XVI.

  • Philothea

    If I understand you correctly it seems that the impulse to censor anything alleged to be incompatible with ‘orthodoxy’ or ‘neo-orthodoxy’ is growing stronger in the Catholic Church. In that sense I think things are getting worse.