Why do secularists get in such a tizzy when Christians display a cross at work? After all, to the secularist Christianity is the dying delusion of a handful of people stuck in the past. Why, instead of ignoring it and letting Christianity die out, as they believe it will, do they pick on what is to them a trifling matter, personal jewellery, and bring the full force of the law down on hapless Christians?
It is instructive to look at an extreme example from history. It is generally agreed that Antiochus IV Epiphanes, ruler of the Selucid Empire between 175 – 164 BC, was a nasty piece of work. Anyone whose name means “God manifest” and believes that he and Jupiter were identical is clearly a bit dodgy at best.
Today Antiochus is probably best known for his persecution of the Jews. He invaded Israel, captured Jerusalem and slaughtered those who opposed him and many who didn’t. He wanted to destroy the entire Jewish religion, banned the Sabbath, circumcision, confiscated sacred books and forced Jews to sacrifice to idols. It was under his rule that a statue of Zeus was erected in the Temple and a pig was sacrificed on the altar. Antiochus, however, misunderstood the Jewish people. The result of his persecution was not to bring the Jews to heel but to give rise to the Maccebean Revolt.
One passage in the Apocrypha tells of how Antiochus tried to force a Jewish woman and her seven sons to eat pork. The boys refused and one by one were tortured and killed. Finally the mother too was murdered. The interesting thing is that whilst the Jewish family were being obedient to what they saw as a divinely mandated dietary instruction Antiochus had no comparable injunction. Zeus had not whispered in his ear “You must force people everywhere to eat pigs.”For Antiochus the actual eating of pig meat was at most a trifling matter of personal taste.
Why would someone act as he did? There are a number of possible reasons:
- Such is his hatred for the people in question, or what they represent, that he wants to destroy them.
- He has an overinflated ego which cannot tolerate opposition.
- He thinks that those who hold ‘stupid’ beliefs deserve to be punished for being so ‘wrong’.
- He wants to break the unity of those who oppose him by breaking the beliefs which hold them together.
Whilst secularists in the UK are not persecuting Christians they are following the tactics of
Antiochus, and with the same motivations. In the UK today we see attempts to make Christians conform to the mores of a secular society, and so often it occurs over what secularists themselves see as trifling matters. If a nurse wears a small cross may be important to the nurse but personal jewellery is surely a trifling matter to the secularist. Displaying a Palm Sunday cross on the dashboard of a vehicle may be important to the van driver but in itself is a trifling matter to the non-believer. Yet we continually find believers facing suspension or the sack over such trifling matters.
Between our neighbour’s house and ours there is a tall hedge, it is on our property and our responsibility. We thought the hedge too high and proposed reducing it in height. When our neighbours learned of this they objected as they liked the hedge as it was. It would have been within our rights for us to lower the hedge, or even remove it completely. We didn’t. To us it was a trifling matter but to our neighbours it seemed important, they are in the midst of selling their house, so in the interests of good neighbourly relations we acceded to their request.
Why do secularists act less like good neighbours and more like Antiochus? If these matters are trivial why make a mountain out of a molehill? They do it because whilst you don’t go into battle over trivial matters, you might use a trivial matter as a convenient vehicle through which you can impose your will. And with respect to Christians the secularists are obviously winning. Our secularist establishment, in actual practice, have served notice on Christians that they will make no attempt to get along with us, in fact they will do whatever they can not to get along with us.
Secularists rightly point out that religious freedom is not an absolute. There are religious practices which are illegal. There are Muslims who see the abhorrent practice of the genital mutilation of little girls and young women as being part of their religious culture. Such a practice has rightly been against the law in the UK since 1985, and since 2003 has been liable to a maximum sentence of 14 years.
The House of Commons estimated in 2003 that there are 3,000 – 4,000 new cases each year in the UK and an academic study the following year claimed that 22,000 girls in Britain are at risk. According to a National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children report last month, 1,700 victims, the youngest being seven years old, have been referred to specialist clinics in the last two years. The NSPCC think that this number is likely to be a fraction of the total affected by the practice. Despite this there has never been a prosecution for FGM in the UK.
Secularists believe in religious freedom, as long as they are the ones to define its boundaries and when those boundaries are enforced.