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Does the Pope shit in the woods?

PM David Cameron this week, at a speech in Oxford commemorating the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible, made the world shaking announcement that the UK was a Christian country. This astounding peroration was made in support of his claim that a return to the country’s Christian values would stop its “moral collapse.” If this were true, then bears are Catholic and the Pope shits in the woods.

Religious Ursidae and defecating pontiffs aside, this would be the kind of meat Christopher Hitchens would relish sinking his sharp teeth into, but in his place lesser moral philosophers will have to chew on it the best they can.

My two main issues with this statement are that I do not believe the UK is as much a Christian country as the Prime Minister makes out, and, even if it were, we do not get our morals from the Bible and should hold any individual who does in deep suspicion. There are lengthier dissertations on just this subject, such as The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and End of Faith by Sam Harris, but I’ll make a brief summary of the main points as I see them.

According the the 2001 Census, 72% of the UK population describe themselves a Christian, and 16% as having ‘no religion.’ This doesn’t give an accurate sketch of the actual religious beliefs of the country. There is an increasingly secular movement within the population, which isn’t reflected by these figures. Technically, I am a Catholic, and I’m quite sure when my father filled out the form ten years ago he would have marked me down as such. However, when old enough to decide for myself what I did and didn’t believe in, I decided I most definitely did not believe in a personal god and confidently describe myself as an atheist. ‘Atheist’ was not an option on the census a decade ago, nor was agnostic, nor secular. Yet these combined describe a large slice of the opinions of the population. We’ve all filled out forms and know that if your preferred choice is not represented you pick the closest option. The majority of people of voting age and above – i.e. those legally eligible to take part in a census – will have been at least born into if not actually brought up in one or other version of the Christian faith and so would pick that. But given the current falling church attendance figures they could not in all fairness be described as practising their religion.

According to a 2008 survey by the Office of National Statistics, only 38% of the population professed a belief in a personal god, and 45.8% considered themselves to have ‘no religion.’ Take into account that that 38% includes other faiths with large representations in the UK – Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Sikhism etc. – which it can generally be said are less secular than British Christians and combined account for at least 6% of the population in the 2001 census. In the 2010 British attitudes survey, only 43% described themselves as Christian, with just over 50% choosing the option ‘no religion.’ That’s half the population last year. This shows a distinct trend of increasing secularism. If democracy is meant to represent the majority of opinions, then the majority of opinions are that the UK is not currently a Christian country.

On the second point, that we do or should get our moral values from the Bible and the Christian religion, I would like to make David Cameron – a man confessedly a non-practising Christian – aware of some of the more morally reprehensible qualities in the Bible. According to the King James Bible it is morally acceptable to do the following: Commit genocide against non-Christians; give up your daughter and/or wife (it doesn’t matter, as, according to the Bible all women are the property of their parent or spouse) for gang rape; slay any individual caught worshipping another deity; and to persecute and execute homosexuals. Anyone who suggests the world would be a better place if we followed the values prescribed by the Bible has, I suspect, not read it.

But things are better now, a religious apologist might argue. No one pays much attention to the Old Testament any more. Are they better? The current Pope – apologies if it seems I am picking on Catholics, but I was brought up one so they receive the majority of my ire – is a man who is known to have shielded paedophile priests, and instigated the lie that condoms spread HIV/AIDS and has refused Vatican financial aid to African nations that hand out free contraceptives. Hardly a worthy example of ethical behaviour.

The most strongly religious countries at the beginning of the 21st century are undoubtedly the so-called Islamic-fundamentalist nations, such as Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Recent legal judgements in these countries have included the handing out of death sentences – to be carried out by methods ranging from stoning to having a tractor push a wall over and crush the convicted – for such ‘crimes’ as homosexuality, blasphemy and for being the victim – yes, the victim – of rape. As good an example of why religion should be kept out of politics and the law as any.

The United States – a country more strongly Christian than probably any other – has a per capita prison population of 743 per 100,000 (0.743%) – the highest in the world. The United Kingdom, for all its ‘moral collapse’ comes in at 89th of the 216 on the ICPS (International Centre for Prison Studies) list with 155 per 100,000 (0.155%) – about a fifth as high.

To be frank, if these facts and figures are an indication of the benefits of a Christian nation, I’ll take moral collapse any day.

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About stuartjamesbox

I'm a 30-something graphic designer, employed by a large newspaper and magazine publisher, but a writer at heart - only one who struggles to find the time or motivation to sit at the keyboard and bash keys in a pleasing order. I'm a progressive, liberal, atheist. I think everyone is entitled to their opinion, but some people are just plain wrong. I love books, films and music, and if you only like one kind of anything you don't like them at all and seriously need to broaden your horizons. I can cook, bake, and play guitar to various degrees. I have an unhealthy obsession with fonts; vintage clothing, especially tweed; cats of any variety, except pointy, skinny ones and ones with flat faces. Follow me on Twitter @ Stuartjamesbox

Discussion

5 thoughts on “Does the Pope shit in the woods?

  1. I too am an Atheist and find at this festive and heart warming time of year, the sick making Christian drivel of ‘Lets put Christ back into Christmas’ a little on the nauseating side. You see, I love Christmas….I love it for all the wrong heathenous reasons such as the bustle of shopping and gift buying, and the excitement of my children on Christmas Eve. Heaven forbid (pardon the pun) I even love it for the excesses of eating and drinking. As I wade through the vocal cries of ‘hypocrisy’ from our bible reading bretheren, I actually chuckle to myself because I know a (not so secret) secret. Donkeys years ago, long before Christianity swept the land with its ‘join us or else’ big stick, Pagan’s celebrated the festival of Saturnalia over this period where they had an absolute whale of a time for the seven days leading up to December 25th. This coincided with the much celebrated re-birth of the sun, and they got up to all kinds of debauchery that would scare modern day women and horses!! All of that and not a Manger in sight!!
    Therefore as an Atheist, non believer and general all round Heathen myself, I shall continue to celebrate Christmas in the same manner that I have done for years. Ok….the debauchery has dimmed somewhat but instead of dragging my children along to sit bored in a Christingle on Christmas Eve, we will sit at home and make the difficult decision of whether to watch ‘Home Alone’ or ‘Christmas with the Kranks’…..decisions decisions…….

    Posted by traceyskinner67 | December 18, 2011, 8:18 am
    • I’d say you’ve pretty much summed up my feelings on Xmas – I refuse to call it Christmas, as I prefer it without the Christ. What the season has to do with religion any more, I don’t know, as it’s become about something completely different. Come to it, what has Easter got to do with Christianity either? Ask your average kid what they think of when you mention Easter, 99% of them would say chocolate eggs. There’s no reason an atheist can’t enjoy formerly religious festivals.

      Posted by stuartjamesbox | December 18, 2011, 1:51 pm
  2. Hmm….well wouldn’t you know it. Easter (spookily enough) also has nothing to do with Christianity either! Easter is named after Eostre, the teutonic dawn goddess of fertility whose name was derived from the ancient word of Eastre, meaning Spring. The Pagan’s were big on the old celebration business and whereas their winter festival was all about the re-birth of the sun, Easter or Eastre is all about new life and fertility….hence the Easter Bunny. Hey, check me out….ill be walking barefoot with floral wreaths on my head at this rate. I just like to spout an alternative when my ‘believer’ friends attempt to convert me :o)

    Posted by traceyskinner67 | December 18, 2011, 5:28 pm
  3. I think your last point is a little misplaced in terms of the rest of your argument. David Cameron was basically saying that Britain could use an injection of morals from somewhere, and that the Bible would be as good a place as any to start. You point out that people no longer tend to look to the Old Testament for guidance, and I think anybody who does is hugely deluded to think that that book was not written as a means of oppressing anyone who isn’t a powerful, white, male priest. However, one could argue that to disregard the Bible entirely, as Alistair Campbell and Tony Blair didby removing the religious base from non-faith schools, has in fact led to the “moral collapse” you claimed to favour. If you read the New Testament and the teachings therein, you will see that the overall message is to love one another, regardless of anything. Whether you believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God or not, I’d say that his message is a much more comforting ideal than one in which humans believe in nothing but themselves and take no responsibility for their actions.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t claim to be a practicing Christian and I don’t go to church every week, but I do try to treat people with the same respect and love I would like to receive in turn. I find it rude and quite patronising that someone would place the term believer in speech marks, as though it’s all a big joke and that people who do have a spiritual belief are some how stupid. I would never try to force my opinions on someone else or make fun of the fact that their opinions are different to mine…I find that kind of behaviour morally wrong. But I learnt that in faith school, so what would I know, right?

    Posted by bee1487 | December 18, 2011, 7:00 pm
    • In answer to that, I’d say that David Cameron is not an idiot, and more than capable of adequately expressing himself. I presume him to mean just what he said, rather than applying my own interpretation. If I am guilty of misunderstanding him, it’s by presuming ‘moral collapse,’ in this context, can only mean criminal behaviour, because if he is referring to human ethics he is just plain wrong. Ethics and religious belief are demonstrably inversely proportional. Just think what within recent history – recent on a Biblical scale, at least – was ethically justifiable and/or legal: child labour; gender inequality in terms of pay, voting etc; it was illegal to practice homosexuality; torture was common and, probably the most disgusting and unethical practice in human history, slavery. Nowadays we frown and express our disgust at human rights violations in China and the Middle East. You would not, I presume, argue that in this country we are less religious than we used to be, and yet when we were more religious, these things were accepted as part of normal life.

      Also, as an exercise in lateral thinking, consider the following. Undoubtedly, there is much to admire in the teachings of Jesus, and the New Testament is a massive improvement on the Old. It’s an easy distinction make. BUT, if we are capable of deciding for ourselves which of the teachings contained within that tome are good and which are bad then we don’t get our morals from the Bible at all. We KNOW genocide, rape, murder and persecution are bad, and that loving thy neighbour, respecting our parents and so on are good. It isn’t a matter of legality either. We don’t go around raping and murdering just because they are illegal, and the vast majority of people would not go around doing so if it suddenly was. We do not behave ourselves out of fear of the law – at least, not in itself – and we do not behave ourselves out of fear of god. We don’t need a book to tell us what is and isn’t moral.

      In defence of that last point, I say this. There is a dominant cause of criminality, and it is not a lack of morals. The number one cause of crime is, and always has been, poverty. I would suggest those figures for prison population are due to the huge disparity between rich and poor in the US. Their social security and benefits system are less developed than in the UK, and the poor tend to be very poor. But, as it happens, there is also a correlation between poverty and religious belief, so I feel justified in including them as a pat-example for shorthand’s sake.

      Posted by stuartjamesbox | December 19, 2011, 7:28 pm

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