Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in the UK has again attacked atheists for speaking out against religion. Many of you will remember that he was the minister responsible for changing the law in 2012 to prevent parish councils from facing legal challenges for including prayers in public meetings, whilst criticising the last Labour government for “diminishing Christianity” by saying that religion and politics could not mix.
At the Conservative spring forum in London he said in his speech “I’ve stopped an attempt by militant atheists to ban councils having prayers at the start of meetings if they wish. Heaven forbid. We’re a Christian nation. We have an established church. Get over it. And don’t impose your politically correct intolerance on others.”
It is sad that a government minister, especially one for communities, should see fit to attack atheists for their beliefs. Is it really so surprising that the majority of atheists refuse to accept prayers at council meetings being forced on them? One can only imagine what his opinion is of same-sex marriage, but he has obviously been warned off the subject by No. 10 on the basis this change in the law is predicated on equality.
In an article last year, the BBC said that spokesman for the Church of England said that average weekly attendances overall fell by 0.3%, to about 1.1 million in 2011, representing a “stabilising” of attendance figures. The latest figure given by the Church shows that “approximately one million participate each Sunday” indicating a further decline. This is largely confirmed by a poll conducted by YouGov in March 2011 on behalf of the British Humanist Association. Asked when they had last attended a place of worship for religious reasons, most people in England and Wales (63%) said they had not attended in the past year, 43% of people said they last attended over a year ago and 20% of people said that they had never attended. Only 9% of people said they had attended a place of worship within the last week.
Mr. Pickles notion that Britain is a ‘Christian country’ may be correct historically, although I would argue that if you looked back more than 150 years, what you would see would be a church that was not representing the social or humane aspects of Christianity. For example, doctrinal disbelief or dissociation from the Church was an extremely risky position to take, the further you look back, the more deadly the risk. I am sure that many people must have wondered about the veracity of Jesus being cloned by the ‘Almighty’, but they would never have dared to put such thoughts into words. Even Darwin was too scared to publish his work ‘On The Origin of Species’ because of the tumult he knew it would cause.
Mr. Pickles may be happy wallowing in the murky mud of religion as a blueprint for morality and standards, but the problem is that belief in ‘god’ is ebbing faster than a pre-tsunami tide. I for one detest the ubiquitous ‘bless you’ after every sneeze. More so, I loathe the way that creationism is built into our language with words like ‘creatures’ and ‘genesis’. I am sure that many religious believers bridle at the word ‘genetics’, but this is the name of the game. Jesus’ six ‘Matthew’s antitheses’ are on six topics. In each of them, Jesus opens the statement with words to the effect: “You have heard it said…but I say to you….”, to those of you not aware, this is where Jesus peeled back the principal tenets of the Old Testament, taking six well-known prescriptions of the Mosaic Law and calls his followers to do more than the Law requires. That, I am sure, was seen as intolerance in its day. Od course the antithesis of belief in religion is atheism and the problem with that is that atheists are always back-footed by disbelief, a kind of negative which has no obvious ‘blueprint’ attached. However, most atheists know that morality is a concept that has grown since the beginning of time and to attach it to ‘Christian values’ is patently absurd.
Whether Pickles, or any other believer for that matter, accepts it, disbelief in religion and ‘god’ is becoming more and more prevalent. People who espouse such views have the right to voice their discontent when religion is imposed or when there is a bias in favour of religion in provision. To give an example, I believe that BBC Radio 4’s today programme should allow atheists and agnostics on the ‘Thought For The Day’ slot just before 8 o’clock weekday mornings, but the BBC continues to impose religion on me in this way. Is that fair, Mr. Pickles?