Pickles’ ‘Christian Nation’ baloney is roundly attacked
The bloated buffoon told the Conservative spring forum in London:
We are a Christian nation. And don’t impose your politically correct intolerance on others.
These words, Fraser points out, come a few days after Pickles had ordered the police into Tower Hamlets council to investigate apparent financial mismanagement of a local authority that is run by Britain’s first Muslim executive mayor, Lutfur Rahman, and this in a borough with one of the highest ethnic minority populations in London, many of them Bengalis.
At the very least, this sort of crass Christian flag waving is wildly inappropriate, especially from a communities secretary. Tower Hamlets has a good record of community relations. From the curry houses of Brick Lane to the largely white working-class estates in Bow further east, Christians, Jews and Muslims get on remarkably well.
Fraser said that for Pickles to talk provocatively of us being a Christian nation at the same time as sending the coppers into a Muslim-dominated council is a whopping misjudgment.
For if political correctness means anything, it is surely that language matters. It matters because language often serves and reinforces the interests of a dominant culture to the exclusion of others – women, homosexuals, people of colour, people of other religious traditions. Eric Pickles may not think this matters much: but as communities secretary, he should.
Christianity, he said “went bad” when it became appropriated by the Roman empire and the cross went from being a symbol of political oppression to a religious form of state triumphalism. Which is why all Christians should be extremely queasy about any cheap talk of us or anyone else being a “Christian nation”.
If that is what Christianity is, then I will happily side with the militant atheists. For only when Christianity has come out of the shadow of Constantine’s conversion of the Roman empire to Christianity – thus creating the dangerous idea of a Christian nation – can we return to recognising its essential force: that God is to be discovered alongside the victim, no matter what colour, class or creed. And if that is a form of political correctness, then so be it.
The National Secular Society accused the posturing prig of taking the usual easy pop at “militant atheists”, pointing out that he also reportedly said:
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.
NSS President Terry Sanderson set the record straight:
He was referring, of course, to the National Secular Society’s 2012 High Court case that ruled that it is illegal for local councils to include prayers as part of their official agenda.
After that decision, Mr Pickles rushed to bring forward by a few weeks the Localism Act and in doing so announced that councils could now keep prayers on their agenda if they want to.
There is no mention in the Localism Act of council prayers, nor was there any in the parliamentary debates leading up to it. And the Act was given Royal Assent long before the High Court judgment was issued.
In that case, the High Court ruling stands and Mr Pickles’ contention that it doesn’t has never been tested in court.
Mr Pickles’ seems to be taking the Alice in Wonderland approach to the law, as to paraphrase Humpty Dumpty “the law means what I want it to mean”.
The NSS has told Mr Pickles repeatedly that he is misrepresenting the facts of this case and yet he continues to do it. We never said that all prayers in Town Halls should be banned. We simply said that it shouldn’t be part of official business so that everyone, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, atheist or anyone else, could take part in good conscience and without intimidation.
Many councils now have prayers before the meeting agenda begins, and we have no objection to that.
Mr Pickles is entitled to be as enthusiastic an evangelical Christian as he wants to be, but we live in a democracy, not a theocracy. He cannot – as he has done – simply place his personal beliefs before the law.
The British Humanist Association also entered the fray, describing Pickles’ words as “comical”:
BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented
The Minister’s views are deeply misguided and he is simply incorrect – only a minority of people in Britain are practising Christians and over half of the population sees itself as non-religious according to repeated surveys. Although Christianity has undoubtedly had an 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 a purely factual level Eric Pickles remarks are simply untrue.
His comical misrepresentation of reality conceals a tragic public policy error. Any politician or 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.
His remarks are deeply concerning for anyone who values reason and evidence in public policy and fairness and secularism in our political life.
Hat tip: George Broadhead