THE Garygate saga is over, with Mr Lineker emerging victorious and the BBC’s reputation even more soiled and tattered than before, something I hadn’t thought possible. But the dust kicked up by the controversy screened some interesting reaction to the Illegal Migration Bill from other public figures.
With sad predictability, several Church leaders came out against the plan, including the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, who told the Observer that it amounts to ‘cruelty without purpose’ and urged the Government to consider alternatives ‘that do not unfairly penalise some of the world’s most vulnerable and which better reflect the UK’s history of compassion and moral leadership’.
Let’s delve into that history, shall we? Starting at the beginning: In around 880, when Alfred the Great signed a truce with Guthrum, one of the warlords of the invading Viking horde known both to contemporaries and historians as ‘The Great Heathen Army’, a key condition was that Guthrum agreed to renounce his pagan gods and be baptised in the Christian faith.
Somewhat surprisingly this conversion appears to have been sincere; at least Guthrum seems to have lived outwardly as a Christian for the remainder of his life as King of East Anglia. Whether this was genuine spiritual transformation or political expediency after becoming ruler of thousands of Christian subjects, we shall never know.
Nor does it matter, as I’m sure King Alfred knew well. What mattered was that as King, Guthrum set the example for many of his pagan settler-soldiers to follow, and within a generation or two the vast majority of Danes in Britain had stopped offering sacrifices to Wotan or praying to Thor, and instead worshipped one God alone, that of Christianity. This had happened to the Anglo-Saxons themselves a few centuries before, when Pope Gregory I dispatched priests to convert the heathens now residing in the former Roman province.
The story goes that Pope Gregory was walking through a slave market in Rome when he saw some children for sale with striking blue eyes and blond hair. What people, he asked, did they come from? They are Angles, he was told – to which the pontiff replied, ‘They are not Angles, but angels! (Non Angli sed angeli) And, like angels, they should sing praises to God.’
It was a process replicated across the ruins of the Roman Empire: Germanic Kings were converted by Latin missionaries in the West, whilst Slavic chieftains were converted by Greek ones in the East, laying the groundwork for the great schism between Catholic and Orthodox Christianity half a millennium later, but in the meantime it seemed as though all the disparate peoples of the world had become one.
And that’s the whole point: once incorporated into Christendom, these ‘barbarians’ were no longer considered either prey or predator. One of the great benefits of monotheistic religions, whether you believe in their supernatural claims or not, is that they unite their respective followers into a single tribe, and are brought into the sphere of moral empathy usually reserved for one’s kinship group. There is a reason that early Christians referred to each other as ‘Brother’ and ‘Sister’, much as Muslims do in the present day.
Speaking of Muslims, what demographic data we have of those immigrating illegally to this country, be it via plane or lorry or dinghy, is that the overwhelming majority are members of that faith. One would expect in any normal country that the leaders of its nominal state religion would be at least mildly concerned about the arrival of multitudes who worship a rival God, and who revere a rival prophet to their own.
But apparently not. On the contrary, Cottrell’s comments merely reinforce those of his boss, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who last year proclaimed that the government’s Rwanda plan was the ‘opposite of the nature of God’. Which God would that be, Mr Welby? These newcomers reject your own almost to a man, indeed see your belief in Him as deeply wicked and evil, a one-way ticket to eternal hellfire.
One wonders how Welby would react if Sunak took a leaf out of King Alfred’s book, and insisted that the new arrivals renounce their previous religions and be baptised in Christ as a mandatory condition for their settlement here. In fact, there’s no need to wonder: doubtless he would be extravagantly outraged and appalled. Even the idea of prioritising Christian refugees, the most persecuted religious minority on Earth, over those of other faiths seems to be beyond the pale for supposedly one of Christianity’s great world leaders, his having pompously rejected such calls in the past.
Even as an atheist I acknowledge that Christian philosophy, along with Greek, has formed the foundation stone of Western civilisation, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it’s easier to integrate people from similar cultures than very different ones. In Northern Ireland the distinction between Protestants and Catholics is minuscule in the grand scheme of things; nevertheless that small disparity has led to untold misery and destruction over the past half century and more. For whenever there is an in-group, there is an out-group.
Yet the Archbishops of York and Canterbury seem to think that despite all historical precedent, shipping in legions of young men from an alien, and in many cases openly antagonistic, civilisation will lead to nothing but harmony and peace; if any conflict does arise from this demographic transformation, the fault lies solely with us and not with the uninvited guests.
You might think that as an atheist I don’t have a dog in this fight, but you’d be wrong. What we used to call Christendom is one of the few places on earth where atheists are allowed to flourish. Unlike Bangladesh and other parts of the Islamic world, where we are routinely run down in the street and hacked to pieces with machetes for our religious beliefs (or lack thereof). Atheists very much do have a dog in this fight . . . indeed it is the fight of our lives.
I just wish the Christian leaders would fight for their own survival alongside us.