Tag Archives: secularism

Martyrdom is over-rated

Terry Sanderson has an excellent article over on Comment is Free about the BA “Christian Martyr” case:

In order to be fair to everybody, BA used a union-approved ballot system to ensure that those who worked on Christmas Day were fairly and objectively chosen. If their name came up, they were at liberty to negotiate with their colleagues to change shifts and days on a like-for-like basis. But not Nadia. She insisted that, because she was a Christian, she must not be required to work on Christmas Day – or Sunday, come to that.

The tribunal commented:

“[Eweida’s] insistence on privilege for Christmas Day is perhaps the most striking example in the case of her insensitivity towards colleagues, her lack of empathy for those without religious focus in their lives, and her incomprehension of the conflicting demands which professional management seeks to address and resolve on a near-daily basis.”

I’m a political Christian!

I realise I offended some Christians last week with my pledge and many people felt that I “crossed the line”. I don’t accept that and would argue that my target in such things are people who wallow in the politics of identity (on which long time readers will appreciate I am an equal opportunities offender) not Christianity itself.

In light of the fact that Richard Dawkins has today outed himself as a “cultural Christian” allow me to go one step further: I’m a political Christian. Or more precisely, I’m a Jesusite.

Speaking personally, I find the historical figure of Jesus compelling. He was a true radical and deserves to be recognised as such. My reading of the Gospels is that his mission was primarily political, not religious (although since even Mark was written at least 30 years after his death, things got given a religious twist later), and his main target was hypocrisy. You won’t hear a peep of criticism from me for his turfing the money changers out of the temple, which is ironic given the fact that most Christians seem to have far more trouble with his opposition to usury than I have.

The narrative I see in the Gospels is of a man who strongly opposed the pharisaism and exhorted as an alternative a way of life based on values and core principles rather than rules. His was a liberation theology. The problem was that after his death, others including Paul – a pharisee – turned his message into the founding stone of a religious cult and in turn reinstated the rotes of laws that Jesus spent his life attacking.

This is of course a massive oversimplification and ultimately little more than speculation. But it is this tension between the liberators and the legislators that been the source behind much of the struggles within the Christian church and Western society in general. I happen to think that secularists ought to reclaim Jesus the politician as one of their own. Much of my contempt for Christianity is directed at those who see it as little more than bells, smells and conspicuous piety, and this contempt is shared by many believers.

Complaining about Christianity being taken out of Christmas is a case in point. It is ultimately a pagan ritual and Christmas was an attempt to subvert this (although to what extent Christianity subverted paganism and paganism subverted Christianity is a moot point). There is very little to be proud of here, and all the foot stamping demanding that we remember Christianity at this time of year is frankly insulting. If the Church and the religious are so keen for us to remember Christianity at this time of year how about spending it talking about its message and reaching out to people from where they are are rather than denouncing us as all politically correct secular extremists? That is how Jesus would have dealt with the situation and I suspect he would have resented what has fast become an annual finger wagging ritual being done in his name at this time of year.

At the heart of this Graeco-Roman death and genitalia obsessed sun god cult there is a powerful message which has resonated almost in spite of the vessel that has carried it for 2000 years. All too often I get the sense that so-called Christians would be happy if we forgot this fact so long as we kept up the nativity plays.

Dawkins’ influence over party politics

The Labour Humanists have been quite high profile at this conference and have been actively promoting their fringe meeting with A.C. Grayling on Monday. A year old, the group is mainly campaigning against faith schools. My erstwhile Doughty Street sparring partner Kris Brown is their Vice Chair and has been running around all week.

This is part of a growing trend. The Humanist and Secularist Liberal Democrats also only formed in the last few years. I have to confess to not joining this group when it was first set up. I remain wary of humanism in its more happy-clappy guise and the full page advert of the BHA in New Humanist this month, emphasising the need to “belong,” doesn’t exactly help (while recognising my own hypocrisy in that it is a sense of belonging that is one of the main attractions of party politics for me). But Richard Dawkins’ rallying cry, following the increasingly vocal anti-secularism of organised religions in the UK, has forced me to consider getting off the fence. It would appear that this is a cross-party phenomenon.

The BHA have also been high profile this past fortnight. I don’t remember them having a stand at the Lib Dem conference exhibition in the past and they are at Labour as well this week. Clearly they too are sensing the need to be more vocal and visible at the moment.

Where this will all lead is unclear. The anti-Dawkins’ backlash is already midflow, while a veritable anti-God publishing industry has taken the book world by storm. What is clear is that there is a lot of latent frustration out there. The emergence of these political groups is definitely a positive development but we need to be clear about our aims and I suspect will need to work together on a cross-party basis to be effective.

Ming Campbell outed as Georgist secularist human being!

Odd last day of conference for me as I got to bookend Ming’s speech. I was in the fundraising video they showed at the start, having agreed to be a prop for Greg Stone to talk about the value of online advertising. In retrospect, it looked rather like a Children in Need appeal with a celebrity asking for money to support special needs kids. Not the most glorious start to my new sideline in whoring out my “celebrity” status for the good of the party (which I suspect has already come to an end).

At the other end of the speech, I was interviewed on News 24 for a quick reaction. My reaction then, as now, was one of faintly surprised praise. Ming was good in a number of different ways and his speech was the most rousing I’ve heard a Lib Dem leader give since 1999.

Kennedy certainly had his moments, but always struggled to fill a whole 45 minutes without sagging. Worse, I don’t think he was ever blessed with particularly awe-inspiring speeches – something which he cannot absolve himself of the blame for. This speech was more consistent than Kennedy at his best and while the delivery was little more than competent, the content was much stronger.

Two passages in particular leapt out for me. First of all, Ming declared himself a secularist:

Discrimination and intimidation have no place in a liberal society.

And on the matter of faith, let’s be clear.

A truly liberal society guarantees the freedom of all religions, but it accepts the tyranny of none.

People must be free to live without threat or fear.

To say the things, write the words and live the lives they choose.

Does that offend some people?

Yes, of course.

But the price of freedom is the risk of offence –

And, for me, that price is always worth paying.

I like to think even Laurence Boyce would be pleased to hear a Lib Dem party leader say that. He didn’t need to tackle this issue here; he chose to. That suggests a leader with strong liberal instincts. Can you imagine the Conservative or Labour leader saying the same over the next fortnight?

Secondly, he dealt with the interesting area of environmental rights:

And at the foundation of it all a Bill of Rights –

A Bill of Rights to reclaim the civil liberties stolen from us by this Labour government.

A Bill of Rights to anchor freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and freedom of association within our law.

And I am prepared to go further still.

Climate change is the greatest challenge facing the world today.

So I want a Bill of Rights that puts the protection of the environment at the very heart of Britain’s constitution:

We should guarantee the right of every citizen to clean water, pure air and unpolluted land.

I hope Ming appreciates the implications of what he has said here, because some of us will hold him to it. This passage effectively outs Ming as a Georgist. If everyone has an equal right to nature, then the privatisation of economic rent would be illegal. The BBC are missing the point when they suggest that it means that people would have a “right” to block new roads or airports. It could never be made to work that way (although environmental rights would of course have to be a consideration); what it would do is entitle people to a fair share of the wealth such projects create.

Frankly, this is radical stuff. We Georgists have contented ourselves to fighting for LVT in taxation policy working groups while the party leader effectively calls for the collection of economic rent to be hardwired into our constitution! Plaudits, Ming, plaudits. I look forward to these ideas being developed.

Finally, he finally realised that politics is personal:

Over the past few months I have travelled throughout this country.

I have had the privilege to meet – in private visits – some of the most extraordinary and courageous people:

People from all walks of life.

I met Jamal – a young musician who wants to go to university but is frustrated and angry at the prospect of being deep in debt.

I learned from him and his friends of the terrible waste of talent and the alienation of so many young people.

I met Anne, a 20 year old woman in prison for drug offences.

She’s had little formal education.

Yet she’s studying to take GCSEs and wants to enrol with the Open University.

I learned from her that if prisoners get proper education and training it will help them to find work on their release.

That’s the way to cut reoffending.

I met Jane – a 26 year old former addict, in a shelter for the homeless.

She has beaten her addiction.

She now hopes to get custody of her four young children.

I learned from her how important it is for the homeless to regain their self-respect and to feel that they are in control of their own lives.

I met Michael, a 29 year old British soldier who had suffered terrible injuries in a mortar attack in Iraq.

He was determined to get fit again and rejoin his unit.

I learned from him at first hand what our young men and women are going through in Iraq.

He told me he was lucky – two days before he was hit, one of his best friends had been killed by a single small piece of shrapnel.

That’s the price being paid for a war that should never have been.

These are inspiring people:

People with the spirit and determination to beat the odds.

But for every success there are too many stories of shattered dreams and frustrated ambitions.

There are too many forgotten people in Brown’s Britain.

What was interesting about this section in the speech is that it is here that Ming’s oratory came alive. Let’s be honest – he isn’t great at calling up great emotional swoops on demand. But in this section he came across as honest, sincere and respectful of these individuals’ dignity. The thing is, Ming is actually a good narrator. He tells stories well; he pitches policy poorly. Too many of his speeches and his predecessors’ have all been about relating official Rennard Approved(TM) policy bites. Not one of them has been as effective as these three simple human stories.

In my News 24 interview I said that Ming was the turtle to Cameron’s hare: he plods along but gets results while Dave falls apart before reaching the finishing line. Friends have since commented that they think this is a terrible analogy as it makes Ming look undynamic: personally I think it is time we started to concentrate on selling what he is rather than trying to pretend he’s something different. What was effective about this speech is that, broadly speaking, this is precisely what was done.

Next: let’s start selling the party on what it is rather than going around pretending it’s something different. One step at a time, I know.

How the BBC gets it wrong over religion…

I got a response from the BBC today about my complaint regarding Jonathan Sacks’ programme on Rosh Hashanah a couple of weeks ago in which he lauded a Jewish school which had a multi-faith intake while, off-camera, doing everything he can to prevent faith schools from having to have a minimum intake of pupils of other faiths and none.

The response is as follows:

Dear Mr Graham

Thank you for your e-mail regarding ‘Rosh Hashanah 2007’ on 9 September.

I understand that you had concerns over how the issue of faith schools was dealt with in the programme.

This programme was an authored piece by Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks’s which examined the British public’s attitude to faith and religion. During the programme he visited a Jewish faith school at which over 50% of the alumni were non-Jewish. His point here was that the fact that so many people wanted to send their children to faith schools showed (in his opinion) that people still have an appetite for religion. The programme was not intended to be a programme-long debate on the positives or negatives of faith schools. Sir Jonathan Sacks’s views on faith schools are well-known and BBC News and Current Affairs programmes have often featured debates on whether or not these schools have a place in modern society, how they should be funded etc. The views expressed by Sir Jonathan Sacks in the programme do not represent those of the BBC.

I would like to assure you that we have registered your comments on our audience log. This is the internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily for all programme makers and commissioning executives within the BBC, and also their senior management. It ensures that your points, and all other comments we receive, are circulated and considered across the BBC.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact the BBC.


Paul Wheeler
BBC Information

This is to completely miss my point, which was, as I put it in my complaint, “he was using this faith school to justify public expenditure on all faith schools, despite the fact that he believes they should be free to have a religiously exclusive intake.” This school was being used as a beard to justify the policies of other schools that have more restrictive practices. I’m a little surprised they went along with it to be perfectly honest.

The BBC’s justification is that this was just an “authored piece” by Sacks and therefore not reflective of BBC policy. But they are selective about who gets this free air time and don’t allow any response or debate.

This whole episode had lead me to look at the BBC’s religious coverage online. The first thing that struck me was that the religious broadcasting editor does not have a blog, unlike most other editors these days. So no dialogue there then. Secondly, their mini-site is called “religion and ethics,” which suggests that it is concerned with the wider philosophical debate. Indeed, it includes details about atheism and humanism – but they are listed as religions. Lest you think that they were getting equal treatment though, famously atheists are excluded from Thought of the Day.

So in short, the website claims to be about the wider debate about ethics, antagonises atheists by calling them a religion only to shut them out when it comes to actual programming. But it gets worse, because its section on “ethics” is restricted to the sort of ethical issues that religious people restrict themselves to. Thus, we have whole sections of the rights and wrongs of female circumcision (carefully balanced so as not to any child abusers who happen to stumble upon it), while poverty gets studiously ignored.

It seems to me that all this is hopelessly confused. The only policy that I can find governing all this are the BBC’s editorial guidelines regarding religion:

The BBC respects the fundamental human right to exercise freedom of thought, conscience and religion, this includes an individual’s freedom to worship, teach, practise and observe. At the same time, we recognise our duty to protect the vulnerable and avoid unjustified offence or likely harm. We aim to achieve this by ensuring our output is not used to denigrate the beliefs of others.

The guidelines are very clear about respecting people’s “religious views and beliefs”. The only time this rubric is not used is very telling:

Contributors should not be allowed to undermine or denigrate the religious beliefs of others.

Of course, Jonathan Sacks was entirely free to “author” a half hour programme denigrating the non-religious beliefs of others, but that then isn’t against the guidelines.

As far as I can see, the organisation has no guidelines whatsoever about what constitutes an ethical issue and how they are presented. The religion department appears to have co-opted “ethics” to suit its own ends, the clear implication being that religion is primarily about ethics rather than identity or politics. I would strongly question that equation; what’s more I would suggest that the subtext of that is that religion, of whatever flavour, is good. That godlessness means immorality.

Mark Braund, who I alluded to yesterday, has a lot to say in his book the Possibility of Progress that is of relevance here. I’m halfway through the book and don’t currently have it on me, so I’ll leave discussion of that for another time. Suffice to say he has plenty of interesting things to say about morality in pre-agrarian (and thus pre-organised religion) societies, and the tensions between morality and moral codes. But to bring this article full circle, and back to Jonathan Sacks’ programme, is it really any wonder that people seek out faith schools to educate their kids if they have it drummed into them that such schools will have a strong ethos which, by implication, non-denominational schools inevitably lack?

Secularism isn’t unethical – it is all about living with each other according to a shared set of universalist moral values. Those fundamental moral values are not only shared by religious people but by atheists too; they are the fundamental building blocks of civilised society. The only time we get into conflict is when principles such as equality and tolerance conflict with religious strictures such as the proscription of homosexuality. It seems to me it is those univeralist values we want schools to be teaching, not the exceptionalism of religion. Yet our national public service broadcaster seems to want to only discuss ethics in the narrow terms of how each religion differs in its approach.

Credit where it’s due therefore, Gordon Brown is therefore probably onto something when he talks about the need to develop a British set of shared values. A bit of universalism can’t do us any harm. Once such a set of values has been written down – even codified – it must therefore be up to public services to embrace them. If this lead to all schools becoming much clearer about their ethos, and the BBC suddenly finding itself having to distinguish ethics from religion, it can only be a good thing.

The proof will be in the pudding however.

The Great Faith School Swindle

The Phantom Laurence points me to this excellent article by Francis Beckett about faith schools.

In a weird cosmic juxtaposition last night (which, were I of lesser intelligence I might attribute to a Higher Power), after watching Munich on DVD I found myself watching the tail end of Jonathan Sacks’ BBC programme about Rosh Hashanah.

It was basically propaganda about the need for faith schools, in which he visited a Jewish school in Birmingham which accepts pupils from all denominations. All very nice and fluffy, except that this is the exact same Chief Rabbi who said the following about government proposals to ensure that at least 25% of pupils in a faith school must come from a different religion or no religion at all:

“A measure this fundamental, undertaken at such speed without adequate consultation with the parties affected, is bad legislation, bad government and bad governance. It was created in haste and will be regretted at leisure.”

As Beckett acknowledges, Sacks’ intervention – along with the Catholic church’s – proved successful.

So, here we have a man lauding the power of faith schools to bring people together, while actively fighting legislation that would actually mean it happened. On a programme about a religious festival; some would call that politicisation. And he uses license fee payers’ money to indulge in this wanton hypocrisy. Doncha just love it?

A lack of proportion

A jokey blog post of mine on Friday about a dog with two noses, questioning whether it counted as “intelligent design” resulted in the furious response “Are you planning to purge the Lib Dems of Christians?

This rather extreme reaction is remarkably common. An article posted on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website yesterday by one Gordon Lynch makes some unflattering comparisons between Richard Dawkins and a TV evangelist on the rather tenuous grounds that he uses the medium of TV to promote his agenda. I’m not convinced his argument holds up to much scrutiny. Dawkins is promoting ideas; other than encouraging them to buy his book, he isn’t seeking to get his supporters to donate money or tithe themselves. He isn’t claiming any methaphysical authority, or suggesting that people who fail to heed his words are condemned to hell, literally or metaphorically.

As I’ve said before, I (still) haven’t got round to reading Dawkins’ latest book. In his previous books however, he has an unfortunate tendency to set up straw men and easy targets. I’m sceptical of the merits of condemning “religion” rather than looking at the power and potential abuse of ideas more generally (on which point I will lament the passing away of Norman Cohn this week, and point you to an interesting article by Peter Thompson). But his knack of inspiring the most ridiculous venom against him is quite remarkable. You may recall my response to an article by Stuart Jeffries a few months ago in which he and his interviewees explicitly drew parallels between Islamist terrorists and support for secularism as if they were morally equivalent. We were expected to swallow the idea that militant secularism, which at its most extreme means calling for things like burkhas being banned from public places, was equivalent to flying a passenger liner into a skyscraper. Gordon Lynch, similarly, wonders aloud about a “future conflict between militant atheists and religious conservatives.” The unnamed horrors that these militant atheists might commit are of course unspecified, but Lynch goes on to warn that “the rise of the atheist movement he symbolises could do more than the alternative spiritualities he disparages to threaten the fragile cohesion of our societies.” In short, we mustn’t yearn for rationalism as it might lead to irrationalism.

It’s a serious charge that surely needs to be backed up by evidence, but of course it is just a thought that is left hanging at the end of an article. Of course, you could write that about anything and anyone. While, particularly coming from an academic, it has the veneer of serious intellectual inquiry and impartiality, it is a smear pure and simple. Every time I read a silly article like this, replete with vague, unspecified innuendo about the possible consequences of what might happen if atheism becomes too popular, I become more convinced than ever that Dawkins and co must be onto something. The apologists for religion protest too much.

Turks march for secularism

Presumably Sentamu and Williams will be condemning this:

Hundreds of thousands of people have rallied in Istanbul in support of secularism in Turkey, amid a row over a vote for the country’s next president.

The protesters are concerned that the ruling party’s candidate for the post remains loyal to his Islamic roots.

The candidate, Abdullah Gul, earlier said he would not quit despite growing criticism from opponents and the army.

The sad moral decline of Rowan Williams

Rowan Williams, like so many other public figures over the past couple of months, sought to co-opt William Wilberforce in a speech yesterday. In an act of stupendous logical contortion, he uses Wilberforce, an elected politician (albeit in an era of rotten boroughs) as a tool for his argument against reforming the House of Lords:

“It is important in our current debates about the Upper House of Parliament we take seriously the role of such a House in offering channels of independent moral comment”

I wouldn’t dream of claiming that Wilberforce was a secularist, but it has to be pointed out that it wasn’t the Bishops in the Lords that lead the campaign for the abolition of the slave trade. And they aren’t providing moral leadership in the House of Lords today – indeed, they barely deign to show up at all. There may well be a decline of moral leadership in modern politics today, but that is helped, not hindered, by a church which desperately clings to unelected and unaccountable power and evangelises about the desirability for us to adopt an Anglican version of the caliphate. In Iran, the state (similarly lead by old men with improbable beards) religion offers bucketloads of moral guidance. Williams has yet to offer a clear reason why we should want to adopt this as our model for governance.

In truth however, I pity Rowan Williams. He seems a shadow of his former self. He has tried to mediate in the civil war going on inside the Anglican church and in striving to retain unity has ended up siding with the swivel-eyed loons who want to plunge it into medievalism.

Three years ago, I blogged about his favourable review of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. The possibility of him writing something so conciliatory now is inconceivable. The reason for this appears to be, in part, that he is constantly looking over his shoulder at John Sentamu. More media-savvy, instinctively populist and less burdened with the constraints of nuance (as well as uncannily resembling Graham Norton), Sentamu has managed to turn his role as Archbishop of York into something that looks rather a lot like Prince of Wales. He’s been running a campaign for the top job almost since he got promoted, and Williams must surely be all too aware of this. Capitalising on Williams’ fear about a schism, Sentamu has been frogmarching him onto his own, somewhat demented and very dangerous territory.

The political truism “Only Nixon could go to China” sadly also works in reverse. A liberal, Williams has presided over a period of sustained de-secularism for the Church of England. We were better off with Carey at the helm. While homophobic and morally conservative, Carey was constrained by the more liberal elements in the Church to not step out of line.

If the Church of England wants to pursue a strategy of moralistic activism, it is crucial that it does so separate from the state. It can’t have it both ways. The fact that it seeks to have it so suggests an insecurity.

Equally, if it does seek to pontificate about morality, it needs to look inward. Morality, for the Church, is increasingly being define in narrow evangelical and Catholic terms: fundamentally, it’s about sex first, everything else second. Incite protests about gay rights, and make the occasional squeak about poverty to keep the lefties happy.

I find it deeply ironic that the Government is introducing something which it calls Islamic Finance at the same time that Christians are calling for more adherence to the Bible. Islamic Finance would be better termed Semitic Finance. It’s based on the Bible’s explicit ban on usury. I happen to think the Bible has a good point on this one. Yet have you heard a single Church leader point this out? In the run up to Easter, how many times did you hear a leader of the Church of England – one of the largest corporations in the UK – recount the story about Jesus throwing the money lenders out of the temple?

When did you last hear a Christian go on about Jubilee? 2000 I suspect. Yet Jubilee is supposed to happen every 7 years, not every 2,000. And it is supposed to apply to everyone, not just distant, convenient Africans. Next time you hear politicians from the Church of England pontificate about their importance as moral agents in society, ask them why they interpret this to mean getting into a lather about homosexuality, but not economic policy.

Another thing to blame on secularism

Each week, the Guardian provides a religious person a written version of Radio 4’s Thought for the Day in the form of its column Face to faith. This week it is the turn of a chap called Nicholas Buxton, who has written on the familiar subject of ‘secularists just follow a different kind of religion.’

Now, I don’t disagree that some secularist ideologues tend to evangelise with religious fervour. But where these examples of such religiosity creep in it tends to be in spite of whatever ideology, school or theory they are espousing, not because of it. Darwin is not responsible for the drivel of Herbert Spencer. Marx, famously, was not a Marxist. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. This is a stark contrast to a religious faith, it’s very raison d’etre is living your life with a wholly certain worldview.

More to the point, Buxton appears to lump ideologies, schools and theories in together. Marxism is a political ideology. Freudianism is a school. Darwinism is a theory. The latter is rooted in the scientific method, and is only a theory because it is, by definition, falsifiable. So if people are clinging to it in a faith-like way, they are rejecting the scientific method. Care to name some names?

Marxism and psychoanalysis aren’t, so far as I am aware, even that. They are approaches that people use from time to time to develop hypotheses, but what’s important is whether those hypotheses have validity, not the ideology or school itself. Both have tended to fall in or out of fashion over the years depending on their ability to explain the world. By contrast, you don’t find evangelical academics publishing papers on how Adam’s fall from grace explains why anti-social behaviour has become endemic in post-industrial western countries. Theologians aren’t under anything like the pressure to adequately explain the world, and seldom do so in a way that has any practical application.

So, ultimately, Buxton is comparing apples and oranges here. He then becomes even sillier:

One outcome of this post-Enlightenment disenchantment is that the world, indeed life itself, has become a commodity subject to economic forces that we have as little control over as the weather. With God as capital, every aspect of life gets translated into the language of economic transactions: passengers become customers, patients become clients. Where once we were souls, we are now consumers. And the problem with this is that when everything has a price, nothing has any value; especially vague notions such as human rights and dignity. In the market state, greed is good and the maximisation of profit is the only viable ethic.

In the days of the Roman empire Christians were called atheists because they did not worship the gods of the state. We have come full circle: Christians are once again atheists and heretics because they do not worship the “gods” of today’s orthodoxy. Now that atheism is the new “religion”, religion is the new “atheism”. To be a Christian in such circumstances is to be unconventional and nonconformist: it is to be something of a freethinker, espousing a radical vision of human flourishing that shows us how we can be more than what we are, rather than reducing us to less than what we should be.

Where do I start? The commodification of human life began a long time before the Enlightenment. Christians like to claim the credit for the abolition of the slave trade, but it was the Enlightenment which made it possible*. Before then, the Church was a political body which was perfectly happy to treat the hoi polloi as so much fodder to work on its land and fight and die in its wars. Trendy lefty though I may be, I’m much happier being a post-Enlightenment ‘consumer’ than a pre-enlightenment ‘soul’.

You also only have to look around you to see that there are plenty of Christians who are perfectly happy to treat us as consumers. Brian Souter is hardly the poster child for corporate social responsibility. Thatcher, the vanguard of neoliberalism in the UK, was hardly famous for her atheism: Reagan and his spiritual heir George Bush are famous for their faith.

Once again, we find a religious writer seeking to blame atheists and secularists for a mess that religion is at best passively, at worst actively, complicit in. What Buxton fails to mention when he attempts to draw an analogy between the Christian experience in the 21st Century Britain with that of the early Christians’ in ancient Rome (ha!), is that those Romans tended to distort and lie about what the Christians actually believed in order to justify their attacks. As I’ve blogged before, while atheists are losing their shyness in attacking religion, the blatant distortion all appears to be coming the other way.

* Before anyone points it out, yes, I am aware that the Enlightenment would not have been possible without the Church. But I’m also aware that it was dependent on Islam. We have a rich history of religions’ support of science and reason that anti-secularists would have us ignore. The purpose of this article is not to caricature organised religion as fundamentally indefensible but rather to rebut the increasingly prevalent claims that secularism is responsible to all the ills in the world.