I’ve never figured Nick Clegg for a religious fundamentalist

Dave’s whip isn’t going to see the light of day when Parliament votes on homomarriage. Under pressure from the party he leads but doesn’t really belong to, Dave has decided to give Tory MPs a free vote on the issue. That will please many of his parliamentary colleagues, including some of the front-bench variety, notably Philip Hammond and Owen Patterson.

But, predictably, Nick will have none of that. He’s demanding a whipped vote that would guarantee the easy passage of the measure. No big surprise there: name any Western tradition of long standing, and you can confidently predict Nick will be against it. He can also be counted upon to support any counterintuitive idea, provided it’s subversive enough.

What’s good about Nick though is that he doesn’t beat about the bush concerning his reasons, no matter how asinine. For example, he explained in no uncertain terms that our universities should stop being educational institutions and instead become battlegrounds of class war. To that end, said Nick, they should reject qualified candidates from private schools in favour of manifestly unqualified ones from comprehensives. It doesn’t matter that this kind of social engineering would deliver a coup de grâce to the already moribund British education system, making the country even less competitive and even more of a laughingstock. Such trivialities won’t be allowed to stand between Nick and what passes for his conscience.

And speaking of conscience, Nick’s principal argument against a free Tory vote takes this word in vain. ‘We are not asking people to make a decision of conscience,’ he said. ‘We are not asking any person with religious convictions to sacrifice anything,’ he added, meaning that no priest will be forced to marry homosexuals if he doesn’t want to.

That’s simply nonsense, and even Nick, living proof that expensive education doesn’t always work, must realise it. Surely he knows that our established Church has been like a weathervane, turning every which way depending on where the secular winds are blowing. Without repeating what I wrote on women’s ordination just a couple of days ago, suffice it to say that the Church has evidently surrendered to every secular fad to come round the block. Those who think it’ll stand fast against this particular one are simply deluding themselves. And if a hopelessly traditional vicar demurs, then that’s what we have the European Court of Human Rights for.

Let’s remark parenthetically that laws don’t just prescribe or proscribe certain acts. Often they are on the books simply to express the prevalent attitude in society. Such laws have an important role to play even if they are seldom enforced. The period between 1533, when An Acte for the punysshement of the vice of Buggerie was passed, and 1967, when The Sexual Offences Act decriminalised homosexual acts consenting adults commit in private, saw a steadily decreasing rate of convictions. Some of the more celebrated cases in modern times seldom involved a punishment more severe than a slap on the wrist.

Oscar Wilde, it has to be remembered, was convicted not for homosexuality but for corrupting the morals of a minor – an offence punishable even had the minor in question been a girl. Sir Alec Guinness, though charged with a homosexual offence in 1946, was never convicted. MPs Ian Harvey and Tom Driberg lost their jobs as a result of homosexual scandals, but that was it. In short, even until 1967 the anti-homosexuality laws had largely had merely a symbolic function, there only to communicate society’s feelings on some types of behaviour.

When society’s feelings changed, so did the laws. And so did the attitude of both the Anglican and Catholic Churches to openly homosexual priests and vicars. Nowadays, unless they cause a scandal by public indiscretions, they’re hardly ever censured or even reprimanded. There’s no reason whatsoever to believe that when the homomarriage law goes into effect, the Churches will suddenly become less pliable – especially when threatened with lawsuits for the abridgement of human rights.

That apart, I find Nick’s argument truly fascinating – and would find it even more so if I thought for a second that he understands the meaning of the words he utters. In effect, he is saying that no conscience outside of religion exists, which is a fundamentalist Christian argument if I’ve ever heard one. Judge for yourself: according to Nick, this issue isn’t a matter of conscience because no religious convictions will have to be sacrificed. Ergo, conscience equals religious convictions.

Much as I’d like to jump up and applaud, I still have to observe begrudgingly that, though this simple equation agrees with my religious faith, it doesn’t quite tally with empirical observation. We’ve all met atheists not totally devoid of conscience, and even a few who are guided by it in their daily lives. An argument can be made, and some of my clerical friends will make it, that our conscience has religious antecedents whether we are aware of it or not. Is that what Nick means?

No, he doesn’t – he wants to continue to lead his party after all. What he means is that political expediency demands that all those who oppose homosexual marriage be pigeonholed as religious fanatics. Rather than declaring himself to be an orthodox believer, he is claiming that no opposition to homomarriage is possible this side of Scripture, literally interpreted.

It would be both tiresome and useless trying to explain to Nick that perfectly valid secular objections exist to the debacle that’ll soon be perpetrated on society’s most fundamental institution. If he doesn’t realise that certain conventions that have existed for thousands of years are worth keeping simply because they’ve existed for thousands of years, nothing I say will have any effect.

I’ll simply venture a guess that our politicians see any tradition as a direct threat to their position. In a society organised along traditional lines, the likes of Nick Clegg wouldn’t be elected  proverbial dog catcher. Consciously or unconsciously they see destruction as an essential part of their self-perpetuation.

Never mind that everything around their ministerial chairs lies in ruins. As long as their backsides are firmly attached to the chairs, Nick and his jolly friends will be happy. One wonders though if logic was on the curriculum of St Paul’s school for boys.

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