Over the Easter weekend, persecuted Christians have been emerging from their hiding places. Some have been staging gruesome re-enactments of events on which their faith is based, reminding the world how cruel people who aren’t Christians can be. Our present Archbishop of Canterbury has recently expressed his willingness to die for his beliefs, like Beckett, while hoping he won’t have to. A former archbishop has been urging Christians to proclaim themselves by wearing a symbolic crucifix, in defiance of repressive dress codes.
Does any of this matter ? Christians are good people who love their neighbours, do good works and create a sense of community aren’t they? Shouldn’t we value their visible presence in public life and recognise the contribution that Christian values have made to our society ? Well yes, but there are less benign aspects to those claims to be acting on a higher authority which can be found in both the past and present: crusades, inquisitions, sectarian conflicts, and discrimination against minorities all come to mind. And there’s something chillingly familiar about sacrificing one’s life in order to enjoy a heavenly reward, isn’t there ?
As an agnostic I give to charity and do ‘good works’ without expectation of heaven. I do them because it makes me feel good, and in the hope that by contributing to a pool of goodwill in the world I may someday benefit in return. As for people wearing badges of faith I’d prefer they didn’t when providing professional services. I don’t know if my doctor’s a Christian, but my confidence in her judgement would be undermined if she were displaying a crucifix. As for nurses and others offering to pray for me, I’d like to be spared the discomfort of deciding how to respond. Let’s have less conspicuous holiness – I recommend a policy of ‘doing good by stealth and being found out by accident’ !