Monday, 21 April 2014

A Modern Nation

I've been watching with some alarm at the pernicious fundamentalism creeping into public life in this country. The increasingly hardline pronouncements from former moderates, the assertion that we should all share certain values and follow a religious philosophy which discriminates against sections of society, the demonising of dissenting voices, the promotion of a 'state' based on religion. No, I really don't like David Cameron's new-found 'evangelical' brand of Christianity.

Let's  put aside for a minute that new-found piety, along with patriotism, is the last refuge of the scoundrel. We know that this is vote-seeking, UKIP-neutralising hypocrisy. Let's just consider what (if he was genuine, which he isn't), Cameron thinks our nation should look like in the 21st century.

So what does Christianity "bring to Britain"?

"All over the UK, every day, there are countless acts of kindness carried out by those who believe in and follow Christ"

None of these acts, it has to be said, from the current government, whose most notable self-declared Christian (IDS) has been responsible for driving the sick and disabled to suicide (still a sin in the Catholic church to which he belongs).

"The heart of Christianity is to ‘love thy neighbour’ and millions do really live that out."

Although a fair number of Cameron's party voted against equal marriage and support 'Christians' who refuse to allow gay couples to stay in their bed and breakfast establishments, portraying them as "persecuted."

"And we saw that same spirit during the terrible storms that struck Britain earlier this year. From Somerset to Surrey, from Oxford to Devon, churches became refuges, offering shelter and food, congregations raised funds and rallied together, parish priests even canoed through their villages to rescue residents. They proved, yet again, that people’s faith motivates them to do good deeds."

And common humanity and decency motivated people with no faith to do the same!

The fundamental problem with ascribing all good deeds to faith is that it simply ignores the fact that all over the country people of no faith live their lives according to decent principles and strive to make life better for their fellow citizens. He does concedes that "many non believers have a moral code" (big of him!), but clearly considers this inferior to one underpinned by Christianity. He states that "some atheists and agnostics [do] not understand that faith could be a 'guide or helpful prod in the right direction' towards morality." Aside from this being patronising tosh, he doesn't for a moment seem to consider that it's not a lack of understanding but a lack of demonstrable evidence that faith necessarily leads to morality that makes atheists and agnostics doubtful of its worth.

We should, apparently, be "more confident about our status as a Christian country." Except that we aren't a Christian country in the way that we were up until the 20th century - today we should aspire to  be a modern, multi-ethnic, culturally-diverse country where people of all faiths and none are treated with equal respect and tolerance, and we have a way to go on that one.

I'll happily declare myself as an atheist who has been advocating the separation of church and state for as long as I can remember. I don't "have a problem" with faith (although I do have one with organised religion as a tool of social control), but it is a very personal thing and should not be entwined with the offices of state. Equally, I'm not in favour of the kind of rigorous legislative secularism which is found in France, for example. Just as intolerant in its own way.

I have many friends who are people of faith for whom I have great respect and admiration, but I don't feel the lack of such faith in my life, and the true people of faith respect that about me (even if they don't understand it). Equally, there are some atheists that I find very tiresome; Richard Dawkins has become a parody of himself, knee-jerk reactions replacing reasoned thought. And being an atheist doesn't excuse Ricky Gervais being a spiteful bully.

Significantly, though, it is not people of faith but politicians who think that religion should play a part in politics. I have always been deeply suspicious of politicians who feel the need to tell you how much their faith informs what they do (especially as it so often involves some very nasty stuff!), and I'm very much in the Alastair Campbell camp on the matter of whether we should "do God" in politics. Whatever your personal faith, you do not have the right to impose it on others. 

Cameron is right in one respect, though. Christians are now a minority. Yesterday's news carried a piece about garden centres being prohibited from opening on Easter Sunday. This, according to the garden centre managers, means a loss of income (very much part of the Easter message!). No consideration of allowing shop staff a rare day with their families to celebrate the Christian church's most important day, just loss of profit. The customers who were vox-popped all seemed to think that Easter is about the ability to buy bedding plants! 

What Christians in this country aren't, though, is a "persecuted minority". Refusing to comply with your employer's dress code and being disciplined for it is not persecution. Being prevented from exhibiting bigotry in contravention of the law of the land is not persecution. I'm staggered by quite how little respect this attitude affords Christians in parts of the world where they are still murdered on the basis of their faith. 

I am quite happy to live my life without a god, but happy for others to do otherwise if they wish. It should, though, be a very personal matter, and the state should not be co-opting religion. When I am afforded the same respect and tolerance for my lack of faith that I afford others I shall be more than happy, but we are a long, long way from that in modern Britain. So, Mr Cameron, enough with your false piety and 'morality'. I don't like your 'faith' any more than I like your politics (and the same goes for Blue Labour!).

In the words of Dave Allen:

"Goodnight, and may your god go with you."

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