Incensed secularists pile on David Cameron for saying that Britain is a Christian nation

Four days ago I described a Torygraph piece recounting Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent spate of pro-religious remarks, including these:

The prime minister’s religious messages began last week with an Easter reception at Downing Street, at which he said religion had brought him his greatest moments of peace and claimed “Jesus invented the big society 2,000 years ago”.

He also released a videoed Easter message for the country, in which he talked about the “countless acts of kindness carried out by those who believe in and follow Christ”.

In a separate article for the Church Times, he argued that some atheists and agnostics did not understand that faith could be a “guide or a helpful prod in the right direction” towards morality.

While acknowledging many non-believers have a moral code and some Christians do not, he added: “People who advocate some sort of secular neutrality fail to grasp the consequences of that neutrality, or the role that faith can play in helping people to have a moral code.

“I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country, more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organisations, and, frankly, more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives.”

Thank Ceiling Cat that nonbelievers are more vocal these days! Today we find four letters in the Torygraph criticizing the PM’s unwise religious comments. And one, reproduced below, is signed by a panoply of heathen luminaries. You’ll recognize many of the names.

SIR – We respect the Prime Minister’s right to his religious beliefs and the fact that they necessarily affect his own life as a politician. However, we object to his characterisation of Britain as a “Christian country” and the negative consequences for politics and society that this engenders.

Apart from in the narrow constitutional sense that we continue to have an established Church, Britain is not a “Christian country”. Repeated surveys, polls and studies show that most of us as individuals are not Christian in our beliefs or our religious identities.

At a social level, Britain has been shaped for the better by many pre-Christian, non-Christian, and post-Christian forces. We are a plural society with citizens with a range of perspectives, and we are a largely non-religious society.

Constantly to claim otherwise fosters alienation and division in our society. Although it is right to recognise the contribution made by many Christians to social action, it is wrong to try to exceptionalise their contribution when it is equalled by British people of different beliefs. This needlessly fuels enervating sectarian debates that are by and large absent from the lives of most British people, who do not want religions or religious identities to be actively prioritised by their elected government.

Professor Jim Al-Khalil
Philip Pullman
Tim Minchin
Dr Simon Singh
Ken Follett
Dr Adam Rutherford
Sir John Sulston
Sir David Smith 
Professor Jonathan Glover
Professor Anthony Grayling
Nick Ross
Virginia Ironside
Professor Steven Rose
Natalie Haynes
Peter Tatchell
Professor Raymond Tallis 
Dr Iolo ap Gwynn 
Stephen Volk
Professor Steve Jones
Sir Terry Pratchett 
Dr Evan Harris
Dr Richard Bartle
Sian Berry
C J De Mooi
Professor John A Lee
Professor Richard Norman
Zoe Margolis
Joan Smith
Michael Gore
Derek McAuley
Lorraine Barratt
Dr Susan Blackmore
Dr Harry Stopes-Roe
Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC
Adele Anderson
Dr Helena Cronin
Professor Alice Roberts
Professor Chris French
Sir Tom Blundell
Maureen Duffy
Baroness Whitaker
Lord Avebury
Richard Herring
Martin Rowson
Tony Hawks
Peter Cave
Diane Munday
Professor Norman MacLean
Professor Sir Harold Kroto
Sir Richard Dalton
Sir David Blatherwick
Michael Rubenstein
Polly Toynbee
Lord O’Neill
Dr Simon Singh
Dan Snow

Richard Dawkins is conspicuously missing, but I suspect he simply didn’t get a chance to sign, as he’s on tour. And where is Ian MacEwan? But I’m glad to see my old friend Steve Jones among the signatories.

h/t: Aaron

44 Comments

  1. Posted April 21, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Richard Dawkins is conspicuously missing …

    Perhaps it is a good thing that Dawkins didn’t sign, and perhaps it was deliberate. In saying that I support Dawkins to the hilt, but had he signed all the publicity would have been about him, overshadowing the other 50, and the reaction would have been: Well *Dawkins* would say that wouldn’t he? I think it good that secularist attitudes are seen to be far wider than Dawkins alone.

    • Posted April 21, 2014 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      @BHAHumanists replied to a tw**t on this: “@BHAhumanists: .@holysmoke Sorry Damian, no conspiracy here – he was asked at the same time as everyone else and simply didn’t reply in time…”

      /@

  2. Ricker
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Dr Simon Singh in listed twice.

    • Posted April 21, 2014 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      “Richard Dawkins is conspicuously missing”

      I was going to say that Dr. Singh signed for him. (gotta be quick here)

      • Gareth Price
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

        You were quick! I was about to make the identical comment!

        • Posted April 21, 2014 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

          It’s a PILE-UP!

          • papalinton
            Posted April 21, 2014 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

            Two’s not a pile up. But I thought it too. IT”S A PILE UP.

  3. Sastra
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    “People who advocate some sort of secular neutrality fail to grasp the consequences of that neutrality, or the role that faith can play in helping people to have a moral code.”

    The problem with faith “helping people to have a moral code” is that this moral code is going to be a crapshoot. Sure, faith can inspire and it can entrench. That’s not necessarily a good thing when you couple it with the ‘virtue’ of being impervious to worldly reason.

    • Posted April 21, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      The clamor by Christian bishops opposing executions as a form of punishment is deafening…

      So far for them helping people to have a moral code…

    • gravityfly
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      And that moral code can have different meanings for different faiths…

      • Posted April 21, 2014 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

        Well, some faiths appear definitely to be lacking in this aspect. As long as some UK bishops proclaim that homosexuality is “sin” they are encouraging the lynching of gay people in some African countries. Again, where is the “moral code”?

    • Posted April 21, 2014 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      Worse, what sort of moral code is faith going to inspire people to when they read red-letter text in which Jesus orders Christians to kill all non-Christians? (Luke 19:27 for the uninformed — and no, it’s not “merely” a parable; it’s Jesus commanding his followers to do as he himself will do come Armageddon.)

      That’s the heart of the “Cookbook Problem,” as I’ve been calling it. Even if we assume the gods are real, even if we assume they have accurately communicated their desires to us, how are we to know they’re not fattening us up for the slaughter or otherwise putting their own interests above ours? The good shepherd, after all, is far and away the biggest predator of sheep, more than any wolf pack.

      Even in principle, only we can truly decide for ourselves what is right and what is worng. Others can offer advice and guidance, but the actual decisions can only possibly ever be ours and ours alone.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted April 21, 2014 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

        Ben, your icon is missing.

      • gravityfly
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

        Good point. There’s no getting away from the fact that we are responsible for ourselves.

        • Posted April 21, 2014 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

          It, of course, also demonstrates the whole Freudian psychosexual nature of the gods as surrogate parents that the religious want to swaddle them.

          b&

  4. eric
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    Would’ve liked to have seen a few “Rev.”s on that list. It would’ve really brought the point home that secular does not necessarily imply non-christian.

  5. Dominic
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    What is really interesting is that some of those listed like Raymond Tallis, are definitely ‘moderate’ atheists who are not ‘extreme’ materialists (as I am!) – he wrote his Darwinitis book some may recall; also Steven Rose who has been mentioned in WEIT.

    Agree with Coel, the list does not need RD to sign it. Wait for the religious nutters to criticise though. Interview with Raymond Tallis on Radio 4 at lunchtime also with Peter Tatchell this am on the Today programme – both no doubt available on listen again…

    • Andrew D
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      Raymond Tallis has also co-authored a book defending the NHS and attacking the Condem destruction of it,so he will be definitly not on Cameron’s Christmas card list! Unfortunatly, I do not have the title to hand.

  6. Nwalsh
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    We should be remembering Thomas Aikenhead in all this.

  7. Posted April 21, 2014 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    The only annoying thing about the letter is the unsplit infinitive that starts the last paragraph!

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      To constantly claim where no one has claimed before!

      Feel better now? ;-)

  8. moarscienceplz
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Oh to be a British journalist. I’d love to ask Cameron whether he’d care to walk back his comment in light of this letter or to double-down.
    As I understand it, eating popcorn has not been embraced by the Brits, but this would be a good time to take it up.

    • stephen
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      Please be reassured that at least a substantial minority of us do eat popcorn: it is on sale at all cinemas…

      • moarscienceplz
        Posted April 21, 2014 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

        Excellent! Our scheme to undermine all other cultures is working, I see.

        • stephen
          Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

          Oh! I have been on to your nefarious scheme for a long time! But I would be be prepared to change sides in return for a substantial emolument :-;

      • Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

        Oh, people *eat* it! I thought it was just for decorating the carpet …

        /@

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted April 22, 2014 at 1:10 am | Permalink

          :)

  9. Posted April 21, 2014 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Cameron spoke of the faith that leads him “to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives.”

    He’s done that all right, as anyone will know who has been following the shredding of Britain’s social services.

  10. The Moother
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Clearly absent from the objection of the “secularists” are the words: WE REJECT

  11. Posted April 21, 2014 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Best tw**t:

    Dan Snow (@thehistoryguy)
    21/04/2014 09:41
    More people in the UK support Manchester United than practise Christianity, but that does not make us a ‘Man Utd supporting country.’

    /@

  12. john frum
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Nice to see Professor Alice Roberts on the list.
    If anyone doesn’t know of her, she is one of the presenters on the series ‘Coast’ which is a fantastic doco on the coast of the UK.
    She is also a good writer and I have been reading her book on anthropology.
    She is also lovely and I think I’m secretly in love with her but unfortunately she is already married. :-)

    • stephen
      Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

      All thinking men,surely,MUST be secretly in love with Professor Alice Robert;,but I also think you are supposed to get over that kind of thing by the time you are about thirty.

      • Dominic
        Posted April 24, 2014 at 3:26 am | Permalink

        :(

    • Posted April 22, 2014 at 7:26 am | Permalink

      Prof Alice Roberts, Distinguished Supporter of British Humanist Association, anatomist, paloaeopathologist, author (check out her books) and TV presenter, Prof of Public Engagement in Sicence; her interaction with the creationist Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm, and their response, was the subject of my most successful blog piece to date, http://wp.me/p21T1L-at

  13. Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    A PM stating Britain is a Christian nation seems to me, as an American, more offensive than a US President claiming the same for my country. I’m so used to USA politico’s figuratively wrapping themselves in the flag while holding aloft their ancient torture fetish, my primary reaction to this jingoism in recent decades is disgust instead of anger — along with increased resolve to resist the Borg at all costs. But this:

    “People who advocate some sort of secular neutrality fail to grasp the consequences of that neutrality, …”

    Oh, yeah? Sez who, f^_kface?

    A: Care to list each and every consequence secularists are not quite keen enough to comprehend, sir, plus the specific reason each is beyond the ken of the individuals who comprise the secularist group? (I suspect “faith” is your sole criterion for your accusation of diminished capacity, but I will withhold premature judgement pending your response.)

    B: When you finish that task, please provide an essay that lays out exactly how you are able to establish that each item on your list is one that exceeds the capacity of Britons who do not meet the Prime Minister’s stated intellectual standard. (“See response to item A,” I fear, is how you will respond to question B.)

    Richard Olson

  14. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    No Pythons. No Steve Coogan. Neither M. Amis nor S. Rushdie.

    • Jonathan Wallace
      Posted April 22, 2014 at 4:28 am | Permalink

      Is this a problem? There are no doubt many prominent people who would be likely to agree with the letter but why is it important that they all sign it?
      It was signed by a broad cross-section of thinkers from various fields who collectively form a more than sufficient sample of serious opinion to refute Cameron’s trite and foolish observations. Had they spent time chasing down every person who might have agreed to sign the letter they might never have got around to publishing it!

  15. potaman
    Posted April 21, 2014 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    Was surprised to see Peter Atkins missing. I had his chemistry textbook in undergrad. Did not know he was a very strident atheist till grad school. Made me very happy to find out.

  16. Posted April 21, 2014 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Sachinewdelhi’s Weblog.

  17. Nick Evans
    Posted April 22, 2014 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Usual pre-election nonsense. This time Cameron’s pretending to be more Christian to try to stop UKIP from wooing traditional Tory voters, who are annoyed about gay marriage.

    Suspect we’ll get a bit more of this next year, as he tries to differentiate himself from the atheist he’s in coalition with.

  18. Posted April 22, 2014 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

    “I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country, more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organisations, and, frankly, more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives.” W.T.F!

    Cameroon is sucking up to the Religious so that they continue to feed the poor, so that he doesn’t have to pay living wages and benefits. Even Jesus fed the poor!

    Britain is a Beer Country: More people attend pubs that Church.

    Anyway, latest pew polls show that more Muslims attend Mosques than Christians attend Church. Therefore Britain is a Muslim Country… So we can say goodbye to pubs!?

    • john frum
      Posted April 23, 2014 at 12:00 am | Permalink

      I hope not.
      I am planning to visit the UK in a couple of years to 1. Visit pubs and 2. Visit my long lost brother. :-)


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