The BHA has criticised the David Cameron’s weird speech concerning ‘Christian morals’ and society. Here’s what I said:
‘As a simple factual statement what the Prime Minister said is incorrect – only a minority of people in Britain are practising Christians and over half of the population sees itself as non-religious according to the latest British Social Attitudes survey. Although Christianity has undoubtedly had a sometimes positive influence on the cultural and social development of Britain, it is far from being the only influence. Many pre-Christian, non-Christian, and post-Christian forces have shaped our society for the better and Christianity has often had ill effects. So, on the factual level the Prime Minister’s remarks are simply bizarre.’
‘The most hopeful political reading of his speech is that Mr Cameron doesn’t really mean it and that his statements are intended as a way to pacify the increasingly strident lobbying of a minority of Christians for more influence in our public life and greater privilege for those with Christian beliefs. The case for this reading is supported by the fact that the Prime Minister used his speech to peddle the myth that those of non-Christian religions are best off in a Christian society – a claim unsupported by history and logic but one of the favourite arguments of activist Christian groups against a secular state. If this were the motivation behind the speech, at least it would give less reason to fear future policy initiatives shaped by these destructive ideas.
‘Most concerning would be if the Prime Minister were serious. A politician and a government that tried to make Christianity and Christian beliefs the foundation of British values or a social morality would be building on seriously unstable foundations. All the evidence is that religion makes no difference in terms of a person’s social and moral behaviour – the same percentage of religious as non-religious people do volunteer work, for example. And people certainly don’t want to see it have more influence in government – in a 2006 IpsosMori poll, ‘religious groups and leaders’ actually topped the list of domestic groups that people said had too much influence on government.
‘However you look at it, whether as a sop to appease increasingly assertive and aggressive Christian lobbies, or as a serious proposition to change public policy, his remarks are deeply concerning for anyone who values reason and evidence in public policy and fairness and secularism in our political life.’