What was once venerated is now, in many ways, dismissed and even despised.
Matthew Arnold, the great Victorian poet, marked the turning moment. He had early intimations of "the way we live now," a way largely evacuated of its Christian allegiances, certainly - in the public sphere - evacuated of the regard and respect that the profession of Christianity once automatically evoked.
"The Sea of Faith/ Was once, too, at the full," he wrote, before going on in lines of immense power to record:
But now I only hear Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, Retreating, to the breath Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear And naked shingles of the world.
Arnold was more than a bit of a prophet. Blasted by the great cold winds of secularism and scientism, faith in the old sense, faith in Christianity in once or so-called Christian countries, is not only in decline and defensive. Faith is, at the public level, being actively pushed away, visited with dismissive scorn. At the same time, ideas, attitudes and "positions" that have never been seen under the rubric of faith increasingly seek the protections of "sanctified" belief.
What else to make of a human-rights ruling (no, not from one of our own restless engines of pseudo equity) from the European Court this week. According to this ruling, the crucifixes that hang in most Italian classrooms violate religious and educational freedoms. Yes, the cross in the Catholic country violates religious and educational freedoms. Is Dan Brown on the European Court?
A case was brought before this noble court (we know it's noble because it bears the banner of human rights) by a Finnish-born woman, an atheist, who complained that her children - in Italian classrooms, mind you - were "exposed" to crucifixes. Crucifixes in Italy - who would have guessed? It's like going to Newfoundland and complaining about wharves.
The court said this imposition might "disturb" children who weren't Christian and, to ward off a wave of trauma, ordered Italy to remove the crucifixes from its schools.
A case could be made that, whenever you hear of an action by a human-rights tribunal of any kind, you should mark it down that - quite likely - they are busy circumscribing the real rights or dignity of the various branches of Christianity, with a particular focus on Catholicism.
In this case, the European Court of Human Rights - in response to one complaint, from one atheist - told an entire country that has been the centre of world Christianity for 2,000 years to get rid of its most revered and cardinal symbol. It's the same old story: In the name of official tolerance, mandated intolerance.
At least the Italian authorities mustered something of an appropriate response to this insolent busybodyness. One government minister, Roberto Calderoli, loosed this volley: "The European court has trodden on our rights, our culture, our history, our traditions and our values." Another minister noted that preventing the crucifix from being displayed is "an act of violence against the deep-seated feelings of the Italian people and all persons of goodwill."
Meantime, in the country of Matthew Arnold's birth, another judge was busy passing an Alice in Wonderland verdict. This case arose from a wrongful-dismissal claim by a man of intense Green passions who said he was fired because of his global warming beliefs. The judge ruled that "a belief in man-made climate change … is capable, if genuinely held, of being a philosophical belief" for the purpose of the Employment Equality (Religion and Belief) Regulations.
So there you have it: Global warming is a philosophical belief and, if you "genuinely" believe it, has the status of a religion. And will be zealously protected by some courts when an actual religious symbol is objected to by someone who "genuinely" does not believe in any religion.
I have no idea what this "genuinely" believing something has to do with the actual belief in question. Some people genuinely believe the details of An Inconvenient Truth. Is the Al Gore sermon now protected as an "article of faith"? A PowerPoint version of the Mosaic tablets?
I have long thought that the "ism" in environmentalism was a very worrisome suffix. All "isms" are thought-blockers, flags of ardent belief, signals more of passionate intensity than mature judgment.
Well, now it's official. Global warmingism has court-warranted standing as a religion. And a 2,000-year-old religion is banned from manifesting its most precious symbol in front of the eyes of trauma-prone atheists. Lord, have mercy on us. Please.
Is everything sacred - except religion?
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