The Guardian became outraged when Iain Duncan Smith suggested that it was a "sin" that society had negligently abandonned 4.5 million people to live permanently on out-of work benefits instead of find ways to get them re-integrated into working life. His "mask" was said to have slipped, though he had "almost succeeded" in pretending there was a proper basis for his policies, more acceptable to our "secular society".
The absurdity of suggesting that Iain Duncan Smith's Christian motivations were any kind of secret and of criticising the use of moral categories to justify his policy approaches - only lefties are allowed to have morals, after all; to be Right Wing is, by definition, to be evil, seeking to impose final solutions on the poor, force them to eat rotting horse-flesh, and cleansing them from beyond the sight of nice middle class folk; any right-winger employing a moral term such as "wrong" or "sin" must have some sinister ulterior motivation - has been covered already by the Editor and by Cranmer.
What I want to add, though, is a challenge to this idea, underlying the Guardian's criticisms, that our society is "secular", by which the Guardian clearly means some combination of atheist materialist and agnostic. The reality is that no free society has even been secular, though a number of state structures have been. Our Establishment cannot, any longer, find inspiration in Christianity, so it must look elsewhere. I shall argue that the best alternative is Islam.
Leftist atheists (there are plenty of right-wing atheists, also, but they suffer from this particular error somewhat less) have a touching belief that because, as they see it, reason and evidence favour atheist materialism, society is destined eventually to become atheist materialist. Now obviously I dispute vigorously that reason or evidence favour atheist materialism - reason strongly favours philosophical monotheism and the belief in just desert for action (Islam is probably the religion most purely favoured by reason alone); whilst evidence runs contrary to reason in favouring Trinitarianism, and love and mercy as opposed to just desert (this clash between reason and evidence having been acknowledged and explored since the letters of St Paul). But that is not what I want to explore here. I want to challenge the notion that society could conceivably come to believe in atheist materialism even if it were recommended by reason and evidence. Recognising that that simply isn't an option has profound consequences for how a society's politics and constitution should be organised.
It requires a great deal of emotional and intellectual robustness to be a materialist atheist, because atheist materialism responds to the deepest questions of the human heart - "what's it all about?"; "what is truly meaningful and worthy?"; "there must be something more - what is it?"; "we cannot simply end, so what happens after we die?"; and others - it responds to these deep questions by the intellectual equivalent of sticking its fingers in its ears and crying "La, la, la, la! I'm not listening!", namely to intone "These are the wrong questions." Since that is so transparently unsatisfying a response, only very confident people can defy logic by proclaiming themselves satisfied by it. That is why the Dawkins, Atkins, and Hitchens of this world are so strident - they must yell loudly to drown out the discontented voices within.
Atheist materialism has no prospect of replacing orthodox religions (at least in anything remotely like its current forms). Its only contribution to the discussion can be that of the vandal - to destroy what it despises or does not understand leaving nothing of value in its place. The illusion of cleverness generated by atheist materialism has merely broken the confidence of the Establishment in its ability to sell orthodox religion to The Folk. Atheist materialism itself is obviously unsellable. So, without the credible and respectable critique of animism that orthodox religion provides, and only the fundamentally empty and implausible criticisms of animism that atheist materialism offers, The Folk feel no constraints upon the overt expression of what was always, in truth, their underlying superstition.
It is unclear how many in the Establishment were ever really convicted of the truths of orthodox religion, even in its pomp, but they certainly understood and respected its value as a guide and moral focus for policy-making, a discipline upon The Folk, and a key social binding force. The Somme and Passchendaele broke the British Establishment's confidence in itself and in its moral project, but Nihilism isn't any kind of long-term project. Self-pity, self-hatred and self-indulgence are understandable in the light of such terrible events, but at some point we must get over it.
I make no apologies about being a Christian, but I am pragmatic enough to recognise that the British Establishment finds it impossible, any longer, to accept any Christian inspiration for its projects. On the contrary, precisely because it retains certain of the forms of Christianity, the Establishment's self-hatred often takes the form of hating Christians. Individual Christians are oppressed, in our country, precisely because the Establishment still formally takes Christian inspiration but doesn't want it.
It's time to move on. We need to abandon the last vestiges of Christian role in our constitution, and regard Christians as the minority we are, entitled to proper protection in a liberal society of the sort we automatically extend to Muslims and Hindus. But we cannot hope to abandon religious inspiration in our constitution. All that does is create a disconnect between an irreligious polity and our ineliminably religious Folk, and will make our Establishment despised rather than perceived as the rulers and leaders it should be. So we must have something. As I have said above, Christians accept the dictats of evidence over intuitive reason, but Islam is the most straightforwardly intuitive religion of all. Its core doctrines make perfect sense: there is one God over all the earth; He is our creator; He commands obedience from us; He will judge us at the end of our lives sending the virtuous to paradise and the wicked to hell. How could it be any more obvious? Islam is also clearly tempting to our Establishment - they admire its disciplines, certainty, self-confidence and clear hierarchies of authority. If Muslim politicians express matters in moral categories or talk about their prayers, they are not condemned in the way that Christian politicians are. If our Establishment adopted Islam as its religion of inspiration, and we chose Islamic religious leaders to listen to as our society's moral guides, The Folk could be diverted from their superstitions and decadence into more morally purposeful and energetic projects. Our lethargic, morbid Establishment could be quickened into life by clear moral goals provided by those they could respect and listen to. Sunni Islam has also (and crucially), historically been the second most successful structure for promoting tolerant multi-cultural societies (behind Protestantism and ahead of Catholicism).
Our society is not the atheist materialist place that Guardian writers fondly imagine it, and it cannot and will not ever be so. Atheist materialism is simply not well-designed to provide a moral inspiration to societies, for the simple reason that it offers no answers to the big questions. Christianity cannot serve that role any longer in Britain, and the notion that it does has become a threat to individual devout Christians - the Establishment's self-hatred becomes manifest in oppression of Christians. The next best alternative is Islam. That would be the best way to go from here.