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FALSE EQUATION

In the United States of America, where it is almost impossible to get elected unless you profess a strong religious faith, it would have passed completely unnoticed. Not one of the 100 US senators ticks the “No Religion/Atheist/Agnostic” box, for example, although 16 per cent of the American population do. But it was quite remarkable in Britain.

On December 16, in Oxford, Prime Minister David Cameron declared that the United Kingdom is a Christian country “and we should not be afraid to say so”. He was speaking on the 400th anniversary of the King James translation of the Bible, so he had to say something positive about religion — but he went far beyond that. “The Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today,” he said. “Values and morals we should actively stand up and defend.”

Where to start? The King James Bible was published at the start of a century in which millions of Europeans were killed in religious wars over minor differences of doctrine. Thousands of ‘witches’ were burned at the stake during this time, as were thousands of ‘heretics’. They have stopped doing that sort of thing in Britain now — but they’ve also stopped reading the Bible. Might there be a connection here? Besides, what Cameron said is just not true. In last year’s British Social Attitudes Survey, conducted annually by the National Centre for Social Research, only 43 per cent of 4,000 British people interviewed said they were Christian, while 51 per cent said they had “no religion.” Among young people, some two-thirds are non-believers.

Why would David Cameron proclaim the virtues of a Christian Britain that no longer exists? He is no religious fanatic; he describes himself as a “committed” but only “vaguely practising” Christian.

Social control

You’d think that if he really believed in a God who scrutinizes his every thought and deed, and will condemn him to eternal torture in hell if he doesn’t meet the standard of behaviour required, he might be a little less vague about it all. But he doesn’t really believe that he needs religion himself; he thinks it is a necessary instrument of social control for keeping the lower orders in check.

This is a common belief among those who rule, because they confuse morality with religion. If the common folk do not fear some god (any old god will do), social discipline will collapse and the streets will run with blood. Our homes, our children, even our domestic animals will be violated. Thank god for God. Just listen to Cameron: “The alternative of moral neutrality should not be an option. You can’t fight something with nothing. Because if we don’t stand for something, we can’t stand against anything.” The “alternative of moral neutrality”? What he means is that there cannot be moral behaviour without religion — so you proles better go on believing, or we privileged people will be in trouble. But Cameron already lives in a post-religious country. Half its people say outright that they have no religion and two-thirds of them never attend a religious service. Yet the streets are not running with blood.

Indeed, religion may actually be bad for morality. In 2005, Gregory S. Paul made the case for this in a research paper in the Journal of Religion and Society. In a statistical survey of 18 developed democracies, Gregory showed that “In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, [venereal disease], teen pregnancy, and abortion.”

Whatever. The point is that David Cameron, and thousands of other politicians, religious leaders and generals in every country, are effectively saying that my children, and those of all the other millions who have no religion, are morally inferior to those who do. It is insulting and untrue.