I remember seeing my first Sikh as a child in south London. I thought the turban exotic and rather wonderful. But as a motor bike enthusiast, I particularly loved the fact that they were exempted from having to wear a crash helmet. I know crash helmets are sensible, but I hated the idea of being forced to wear one and loved the exemption that Sikhs enjoyed.
In fact I dislike the idea of being forced to do anything. I expect that my dislike of force, psychological or legal, may lie behind my visceral objection to the liberal bullying culture that has crept upon us in the last few years. I liked too some of the colour that Sikhs brought to our culture.
I admired the way they shared with Christians a way of looking at the world which recognised you had to really struggle to hold evil at bay in human affairs.
There are ways of valuing difference on the occasions we see some of the things we have in common.
Sadly the same thing can’t be said of present ‘liberal’ European culture.
In Italy this last week the liberal bullies are trying to get a bright and competent TV presenter called Marina Nalesso to stop wearing a rosary she wears round her neck, or get her sacked. She presents on the state TV channel TG1.
Rosaries, in case you don’t use one, look a bit like a necklace of beads with a cross in the middle that Christians use as a discipline in prayer.
Mind you not everyone knows what they are. David Beckham, God knows how, suddenly developed a liking for the rosary, and began to wear several at a time as necklaces. There wasn’t any evidence he knew they were actually prayer aids to get some ‘grade A’ help from heaven for the moral struggle on earth. And no one told him he should keep his religious views out of the public space. Instead he started a weird fashion fad for wearing them round the neck as jewelry. A whole load of other people, including Britney Spears imitated him. The only people who were fussed were a few faithful Catholics who pointed out they were for saying your prayers, rather than looking cool.
But the critics don’t think that Marina Nalesso looks cool. They think that she looks threatening, and offensive and arrogant; or so they say in the blogsphere. One rule for a popular footballer and another for an Italian TV presenter? Maybe- or maybe they just think they can intimidate the woman presenter.
One of the keys to what working out what is going on is that the liberal bullying language means the opposite of what it says. Inclusion means exclusion of things we disapprove of .
Diversity means valuing everything except the stuff we hate. And accusing people of hate crimes, means accusing other people of hating, to avoid anyone noticing you hate them.
If you took them at at face value, you might have expected the liberal secular critics to rejoice and relish this example of either spiritual or fashion diversity and inclusion, much as I relished the Sikh turban, but you would be wrong.
Their demand is made time and time again that Christian symbols in Italy be locked away into private space.
Quite how ridiculous this is becomes obvious when we look at how Christian art permeates Italian architecture, music and painting.
The end of this argument is that the Monteverdi Vespers must only be played by consenting adults in private; that Leonardo’s Last Supper must be removed by the public museum to be locked away and only viewed by people who believe that God really did send his Son to die for the sins of the whole world.
And perhaps the Italian Government should knock down some of the most beautiful building in the world because they sit in public spaces teasing and provoking people to think about how wonderful beauty is, and what it comes from and what it’s for, and to wonder for a moment, if it has anything to do with God?
Of course the people who are bullying Marina Nalesso don’t want to destroy art, music and culture. They just want to shut up people who believe that the art and music and culture tells the truth about the human condition where such people have a platform in public.
Better to frighten and bully rather than to run the risk that others might actually be stimulated to ask questions about why some of the people they admire in the public space are Christians and have ‘come out’ for the love of God.
No one seems to mind someone coming out to express a sexual and erotic preference – it’s thought brave. But to come out for the love of God is thought to be arrogant and bigoted. But then it’s those word games the liberal elite love playing again – chosing one word and meaning the opposite. It’s ‘wicked’!