David Cameron has recently given a major speech on “extremism”, and the full transcript can be read here. Here is my reaction to parts of the speech.
The title states that “Prime Minister David Cameron set out his plans to address extremism”. What sort of extremism? Well, we all know that we’re referring to extreme versions of Islam, though many politicians are reluctant to spell that out. Let’s see how Cameron fares.
Early on he declares that “Today, I want to talk about … how together we defeat extremism”. It is another nine sentences before he overcomes the “Voldemort effect” and actually names it:
“And because the focus of my remarks today is on tackling Islamist extremism — not Islam the religion — let me say this.”
Well done! Islamist extremism (even if it is accompanied by the hasty and obligatory assurance that Islamism is nothing to do with Islam). Continue reading
Americans are used to politicians openly mixing their faith with their politics, but British politicians usually “don’t do God”, to quote the advice offered by Tony Blair’s spin doctor. This convention, though, is breaking down, with David Cameron’s Conservative-led government increasingly being proud to “do God”. Such religiosity is meeting a mixed reception in a nation that is increasingly secular and which is no longer in tune with the traditional privilege afforded to religion by the British establishment.
It is said that Prime Minister David Cameron found consolation in his Christian faith after the death of his disabled son, leading to a much more overt Christianity. Further, the Conservative Party fears that the anti-EU, anti-immigrant UKIP will siphon off votes at the forthcoming election, letting Labour in. It is thus pitching its appeal at older, more-Christian, UKIP-leaning voters, and perhaps it is calculating that there are not enough secularist Tory voters to worry about losing any.
Cameron has declared the UK to be a “Christian country” while his Christmas message says that “giving, sharing and taking care of others” are “very Christian values”, adding that “we [the nation?] celebrate the birth of Christ”, despite the fact that only 13% regard Jesus as an important aspect of their own Christmas.
On this day, October 6th, in the now distant year of 1536, William Tyndale was burnt at the stake. It is recorded that his executors had the mercy to strangle him beforehand, but that they botched the job, and that he revived to consciousness as the flames took hold. What was Tyndale’s crime, worthy of such an extreme punishment? He wanted people to think for themselves.
Established religions are about power and control, and the Catholic Church had long realised that they could control people by telling them what God wanted. Thus they didn’t want the people to read the Bible and to think for themselves about what God wanted. The Church insisted that they stood between the people and God, and that only they could interpret God’s will. Thus they kept the Bible in Latin so that the people could not read it. As early as the 1380s John Wycliffe had translated parts of the Bible into English, but the mere possession of a copy merited the death sentence. Continue reading
The Bishop of Oxford and the Theos Think Tank are complaining that the debate over state-funded “faith” schools in the UK is getting “overheated” and too “ideological”. So let me explain, from the non-religious perspective, why this is so.
First, the number of people attending a Christian church in a typical week in the UK is down to about 6%. Yet fully a third of taxpayer-funded schools are handed over to be run by Christian churches. This means they can discriminate on religious grounds over which pupils they admit, and further, they then get frequent opportunities to proselytise to the captive-audience pupils and can compel them to participate in Christian worship.
Despite the fraction of the population attending church being in long-term decline, and despite the number of people regarding themselves as “non religious” rising fast, the number of “faith” schools is increasing, with thousands of new religiously-restricted places being set up each year.
Why are the non-religious getting “overheated” about this? Firstly, we regard the very concept of taxpayer-funded schools being able to choose pupils according to their parents’ religion to be morally wrong in a modern society that should treat all citizens equally. The fact that this requires a special exemption from the 2010 Equality Act is revealing. Continue reading
Religious equality — the idea that people should not be treated any more or less favourably because of their religious opinions — is a fundamental principle in any modern liberal democracy. It is written into the American Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. Everyone is agreed on it. Aren’t they?
Well no, unfortunately not. Owing to Britain’s long heritage of religious privilege there are still many instances of the state treating the non-religious less favourably. Here are the ten worst violations of religious equality in the United Kingdom today:
(1) Admission to taxpayer-funded schools: Even though the non-religious pay the same taxes as the religious they have worse access to taxpayer-funded schools. This is actually deliberate and legal. The government put special exemptions into the 2010 Equality Act enabling “faith” schools to treat pupils unequally according to their parents’ religion. About a quarter of state schools are “faith” schools, and often a non-religious family can only send their children to one if it is undersubscribed, even if they live next door.
The government’s excuse is that such schools do well and are popular. Well yes, schools that get to pick their pupils can indeed do well (as private schools show). Study after study has found that “faith” schools use their power of selection to pick middle-class pupils with strong parental support. Parents want such a peer group for their children, so these schools tend to be oversubscribed, and that gives the school more choice in selection, and hence the feedback produces popular schools with good exam results. Being oversubscribed also means that such schools can both expel problem children and not have to take children expelled from other schools. When corrected for the differences in pupil intake, “faith” schools do not do any better.
The non-religious family doesn’t get to play this game since non-“faith” schools don’t get to pick pupils. This is a racket that only the religious can take advantage of. It even extends to provision of school transport. Even worse, religious discrimination is now spreading to non-“faith” schools! Continue reading
There has been a kerfuffle over a German court ruling that a boy’s right to choose whether he spends his adult life with an intact penis supersedes the religious freedom of the parent, and thus that circumcision amounts to illegal “bodily harm”.
“The body of the child is irreparably and permanently changed by a circumcision” said the court. “This change contravenes the interests of the child to decide later on his religious beliefs”. Further, the “fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents” and “The religious freedom of the parents and their right to educate their child would not be unacceptably compromised if they were obliged to wait until the child could himself decide to be circumcised”.
Predictably, religious groups — Muslim, Jewish and Christian — have been in uproar, claiming that that this ruling violates their “religious freedom”, a supposed right to impose their religion on their children. Notably, they make no mention of the religious rights of the child. Likely they consider that the child has no such rights — or at least, has only the “right” to have his parents’ choice of religion imposed on him. After all, in the United Kingdom, children at state schools are legally compelled to worship the Christian god, and have no right to opt out. When opposing the repeal of this compulsory religious worship in a House of Lords debate Baroness Trumpington said that it “did not matter if pupils were bored, did not like going to chapel or were not interested in religious matters”. So much for religious freedom. Continue reading