by email@example.com (Charlie)
It’s been a successful week for those busy folk at the National Secular Society. Not one, but two of their miserable little campaigns have twitched the radar of the national news. First, they expended public resources by pushing through a freedom of information request to find out how much public resources are expended on military chaplains. When they got their answer, they predictably squealed with rage. It’s far too easy for their spokesman Stephen Evans to take figures like this and make them look silly. But how much does he expect it would cost to send fully trained support professionals to the front line with UK service personnel? When we leave Afghanistan, the cost of chaplaincy will reduce, along with the overall military budget.
Then yesterday it emerged that, in Woking, the NSS has bullied the local council into re-thinking their policy of giving free parking to Sunday worshippers at three town centre churches. "Discrimination" whines the preposterous Keith Porteous Wood. The council confirmed it is taking legal advice on the matter.
Can the Woking Borough Council possibly justify discriminating between those who pay to park and those who don’t? Of course it can. Let me offer them a reason. The Christian churches are the single biggest volunteer charitable movement in the UK. Every day countless thousands of volunteer hours are put into society by churchgoers, alongside financial giving of a generosity that most charities would give their eye teeth for. Large amounts of this time and money are given for the benefit of the community in general, without any discrimination. Each week the hungry are fed, the poor are offered hope, damage is undone, the lonely are visited, and God knows what else, through the agency of churches. In the days of the Big Society (also known as do-it-yourself), any sensible local authority would do everything in their power to encourage this. In order to be completely fair, let Woking say that anyone engaged in the business of a bona-fide charity can park for free, and the NSS can take a hike (except in the unlikely event that they qualify for a free ticket).
Can anybody, perhaps one of the more rational atheists/secularists who occasionally drop by here, explain to me what the point of the NSS is anyway? What is to be achieved by stopping churchgoers parking for free, apart from demonstrating what a bunch of miserable killjoys they are, compared to the people whose enjoyable and uplifting experience they are trying to spoil? Perhaps Keith, Steven, and the rest really believe that we will be a more secular nation once everyone has to pay their two quid to go to church ("well, that should put paid to Christianity once and for all").
As for military chaplains being too expensive – the chaplains are not imposed by the churches, as Mr Evans seems to believe. The Forces employ and train them at their own expense, because they think they do a good job. Perhaps he should ask them why – I suspect that he would be told that men and women in life-threatening situations would rather have spiritual support than "counselling", which he thinks would be better. I suggest he tests his views and goes out to Afghanistan for six months to offer secular support. I don’t suppose he will, though, because that would involve finding out what people really think, not to mention doing something useful with himself.