According to Wikipedia: Extremism is “driving (something) to the limit … Nowadays, the term is mostly being used in a political or religious sense, for an ideology that is considered (by the speaker) to be far outside the (acceptable) mainstream attitudes of society… The term “extremism” is usually meant pejorative: to express (strong) disapproval, but it may also be meant in a more academic, purely descriptive, non-condemning sense”.
I have been increasingly aware that regardless of whether we are seeing more extremist behaviour in our culture (I suspect we are) the fear of extremism has increased, especially among the ruling class, and this mainly, although not exclusively, due to a rise in militant Islam, reference “Operation Trojan Horse” and the radicalization of young Muslims who then go on to commit terrorist acts, in the UK and abroad. Understandably, government has tried to combat extremism but not always wisely, as my “Sledgehammer to crack nuts” and “British Values” posts have argued.
The most recent initiative is the announcement in the recent Queens Speech of the Extremism Bill that the government intends to bring forward in the current Parliament. While full details are yet to be presented and debate is to be anticipated, alarm bells are already beginning to ring, not least because government may take on extra powers that may not only threat civil liberties but may target the wrong people. This much has been argued in an article titled “Ex-spy chief: ‘Anti-extremist’ law could target preachers”. While it has been a long time since I have done street preaching, and some of the examples I have seen have struck me as not being the best approach to win folk for the gospel, it has seemed to me that the freedom to publicly declare our opinions is a much valued part of British democracy and to lose it, as is already happening when those exercising their religious freedom are penalized, will mean we as a nation will lose something precious and without seeing the end result of combating the excesses of radical Islam, as is hoped.
Another recent article titled: “Freedom of religion should be a cornerstone of the West” is also pertinent. It begins: “A national newspaper columnist has criticised Britain’s increasingly secular society which “seems indifferent” to almost 200,000 abortions every year but “can’t find room for faith schools”. Tim Montgomerie, writing in The Times, said while Britain and America are moving away from their Christian heritage, “they don’t need to become anti-Christian societies”. The columnist, who co-founded the Centre for Social Justice think-tank, also said there should be less “vacuous talk” on issues around ‘British values’. He said there were signs of a ‘drift towards’ an anti-Christian society in the “mounting campaign to close all faith schools” and in the concerns expressed by a US Supreme Court judge about the recent same-sex marriage ruling.” In doing to, it articulates another concern I have raised, and that is the marginalisation of Christianity.
While I am all for having laws that penalize behavior that harms the citizens the law is meant to protect, I do have reservations that the government is necessarily going about things in the right way and what we will end up with is good people being penalized and bad people getting away with doing more bad. Having recently been hammered by people, backed by a shifting culture endorsed by political leaders, for my own supposed extremist views I am concerned although not fearful because I trust God in these matters. As I stated in my recent “When God doesn’t make sense” post, it seems to me that most will be ok if we (Christians) focus on love, tolerance and being nice, but if we point out that the remit of the Holy Spirit is to convict people of sin, righteousness and judgment, then we will not be ok. Such is the arrogance of today’s culture, people would want to redefine religion if not dismiss it altogether.
I do get there are concerns over extremism in our society, given we have seen the harmful effects of extremist behavior, and would want to prevent in future by supporting reasonable measures to combat the untoward effects, but to attack the law abiding citizens that hold traditional views on their religion is not reasonable. “You should not bite the hand that feeds you” or similar quotes come to mind. While some might point to schools and other institutions as being the conduit for re-enforcing anti-extremist sentiment, and there may be an element of right in this, what is really needed, besides the need to uphold the rule of law, is a cultural shift that wishes to do right in these matters, and that brings me back to the Gospel.