The Spell of Faith and Politics

The Magical Spell of Faith

God’s SatNav for Britain

By Willem Sander van Boxtel

The first time I set eyes upon the glorious House of Lords chamber, in the  summer of 2013, I was an ignorant tourist in the UK. With blissful awe I gazed on the golden decorations, the wooden benches, the leather seats, the red armrests. The red armrests which only seemed to be added to one bench. But the question why did not race through my fifteen-year old mind. Only much, much later did I find out the Bishops were granted those seats. The Bishops? Yes, the Bishops.

To a Dutchman, the notion of an unelected body of Parliament was a strange one – although after moving here, I have grown used to it – but the right of senior clergymen to help decide laws that apply to everyone, including non-Anglicans, is one I still cannot get behind. And I know I’m not alone. This tradition is but one of the examples that show faith, not just the Church of England, but faith in general, is still paid extraordinary deference in twenty-first century Britain, and beyond.

Moreover, in a type of Americanisation – and a bad type at that – we seem to be stuck with leaders who claim to feel inspiration from God; although, if the recent past is anything to go by, it could be argued God’s sense of direction is about as bad as the average tourist’s in Birmingham. Especially to relative newcomers like myself the strange and worrying excess of respect paid to bringing one’s religion into public life is an inexplicable concept.

The House of Lords – God’s Meddling Finger

The twenty-six Lords Spiritual, as the aging Bishops given the privilege of attending Parliament are called, have been in the House of Lords since its early days. One of them opens the House with prayers every day – perhaps an interesting, objectionable notion for another piece of writing – and their role in the Lords is, thank God, non-partisan. Although, perhaps the party of God is more limiting than any political grouping we know.

Interestingly, the Church of England website states the bishops represent “all people of faith.” I’m positive most Muslims would disagree. As a matter of fact, when Henry VIII founded the Church of England and allowed Bishops to remain in Parliament, he inevitably set the precedent for an inherently divisive Parliament. Putting representatives of the cult that burned multiple people alive on unprovable claims in your legislative is in itself a rather extraordinary move, but there we are.

Moreover, the Bishops’ intelligence, and their ability to govern us, is questionable. I would not want to insult any fellow primate, but when the Archbishop of Carlisle claimed the 2007 floods were God’s punishment for the “moral decadence” of our country, I can’t but doubt his judgement. God’s aim must have been slightly off, though; why else would these floods have hit largely rural areas, and not major cities, the centres of “arrogance” and “greed”? I don’t think Worcestershire is a hot-bed of explicit homosexuality, after all. But the Archbishop can dream. As can anyone. But dreamers should not decide matters of national importance.

When Parliament came to represent not just the English and Welsh, but also the Scottish and Irish, the Anglican bishops were already stuck in the limbo of having to represent a multi-denominational country. With the influx of migrants with other beliefs in modern times, no one can seriously argue the Bishops are in Parliament to make the case for people of faith. Religion is divisive, as we have seen countless times again. In Northern Ireland, people killed each other and each other’s children for what kind of Christian they were for decades. Do you think any Irish Catholic would be happy to have an Anglican bishop speak on behalf of them? What about our fellow Muslim citizens? And, more to the point, what about the most important minority in British society today: those of us who do not believe? Are we even a minority anymore?

I think it is more than evident these Bishops, however well-intended they may be, do not deserve to have a special say in how our laws are made. Not a bigger say than the rest of us, anyway. The refusal of successive governments to reform this antiquated arm of our legislative is worrying, and is yet another example of how religion still very much has its own way in this country.

Remembrance Sunday – Who’s Sent to Hell?

The annual ceremony held at the Cenotaph in honour of military dead is, to any benevolent human being, a worthwhile cause and something we must continue to adhere value to. Unfortunately, this occasion, too, has been poisoned by God’s meddling finger. In remembrance ceremonies around the world, the dead are remembered and their names passed on to posterity in a secular way. But not here.

The Cenotaph ceremony is “enriched” by the presence of a squadron of patriarchs, priests, bishops, imams, rabbis, and other religious prelates who seem to convey a general aura of “look at us, we’re so co-operative.” Let’s not mention the fact that presumably each one of them believes servicemen belonging to any of the other representatives’ religions are now in their imaginary hells, but oh well. Moreover, the service is partially led by the Bishop of London, surprise surprise.

The main issue with this, of course, is one of inclusivity. Not only are not all religious denominations represented at the Cenotaph – I bet Scientologists would love to commemorate the dead – but far more importantly, there is no secular presence attending. When the Cenotaph was built in 1920, King George V intentionally refused to add religious symbols to the statue. It was designed to be an irreligious monument, commemorating servicemen and women of all faiths and, importantly, none. Why have our leaders forsaken the intended sentiment of this national monument?

Here, too, God’s breath seems to infect our national ceremonies without anyone – except the religious themselves – having any say in it. I would ask him to eat a mint or spray some mouth freshener and allow us to conduct our memorial services, and our state politics, taking everyone’s views into account. Not just those of a limited amount of religious people. War dead commemoration is too much of an important issue to be left to religious men.

Mrs May’s Divine Hotline

A rare interview opportunity by the Sunday Times exposed Prime Minister Theresa May as a theist stateswoman. “I am a practising member of the Church of England and so forth, that lies behind what I do”, the woman in charge of Britain during one of its most turbulent times in recent history claimed. Whatever one might think of Brexit – the beauty of atheism is that it rises above politics as far as issues like this are concerned – I don’t think God is going to have a positive influence on the exit process.

Interestingly, the Prime Minister then went on to say about decisions she makes with help of her God Hotline: “I’ll think it through, have a gut instinct, look at the evidence, work through the arguments.” The evidence? I don’t want to claim Mrs May is unintelligent, but stressing the importance of evidence whilst being a practising Church of England member is one of the most self-imploding and self-refuting positions I have ever heard.

The idea of having a Church of England-inspired government is in itself a rather scary one. The church “founded on the family values of Henry VIII”, as Christopher Hitchens aptly put it, isn’t one I would base my morals off. God sending himself as his son down to earth to be hideously maimed doesn’t provide a decent example to our politicians. Nor, more to the point, does the man who was prepared to viciously murder his own child to show devotion to a deity (Genesis 22:2-13). Will the divine injunctions to murder entire peoples guide our negotiations with the EU? (Genesis 19:24-5; Exodus 14:28; Numbers 11:1-2-33; 16:35; 49; 1:7; 25:8-9; Joshua 10:10-11; I Samuel 6:19; I could go on, and on, and on…)

Many heads will roll before Article 50, it seems, if God’s example is anything to go by.

In short, the obviously fake guidance from God some politicians seem to enjoy, and the privileges they demand from it, should be met with strong opposition. Are there any reasons that prevent politicians from saying they’re not religious? From saying they derive their decision-making from factual evidence, from experience, from learned instinct? I cannot think of any. Religion, therefore, seems to still enjoy this special status in the minds of most people. Extraordinary deference is paid to those who claim to be inspired by blood myths and masochistic worship. By slaughter, murder, torture, and belief without evidence. This is the twenty-first century. It is high time to stop this medieval chain of thought and focus on the material world, which is the only world we have.


And so the Church of England Collapse Continues…

I know I only posted yesterday about the ongoing war over homosexuality that is taking place in the Church of England which has revealed a deep split over the issue (although I think we all knew it was there).

Well, the ongoing collapse continues with two more stories (both taken from the BBC website):

Continue reading “And so the Church of England Collapse Continues…”


Is the CofE About to Tear Itself Apart?

In a week when the first Church of England Bishop came out as gay and in a relationship (and yet stating that he is obeying the rules and staying celebate… we believe him don’t we?), another CofE vicar in Tunbridge Wells is threatening to form a new group to orchestrate a formal split from the church on the issue of “watering down the church’s teachings on homosexuality. Oh, and he has gone on to state that old, hateful and now thoroughly debunked canard that Gay Pride encourages child abuse.

Continue reading “Is the CofE About to Tear Itself Apart?”


Blackburn Diocese says fracking ‘damages God’s creation’

I initially did not know how I was going to write this post given the controversial nature of the subject matter. One thing is for certain I am not going to take a position on Shale Gas Drilling aka Hydraulic Fracturing or “Fracking” in this post. I am sure there are subscribers to this site who are passionately against it, those that are for it, and those that have no opinion due to a lack of scientific knowledge (I place myself in the latter camp). I do not wish to raise that controversy and if you want to discuss the merits or lack of them for fracking there are other websites and forums to comment on; this is a site about Atheism after all!

What this post is about is a rather unhelpful (or more accurately useless) contribution by the Church of England’s Diocese of Blackburn in the current debate over fracking. What they have said is that fracking “damages God’s creation” As reported on the BBC website. No science, no links to peer reviewed research just a statment that humans should not sacrifice the environment for profit. Whilst I might agree with some of the sentiment, invoking the “guy in the sky” to build your argument on is unhelpful at best, ridiculous at worst. But it gets worse, after a summary of what fracking is the Diocese’s document goes on to say:

“Any consideration of the pros and cons of an issue like ‘fracking’ has to be viewed in the context of global climate change, which itself cannot be ignored by Christians, as it raises questions of justice, fairness, provision, stewardship and love for God, his creation and his creatures, including our global human neighbours.”

And it goes on:

“The time we spend thinking, praying and acting now to protect our drinking water, and the rest of God’s glorious creation cannot compare with the time succeeding generations could potentially spend trying to make good what will likely happen if we in the church remain uninformed and silent.”

If there is an answer to whether fracking is damaging to the environment or not, what the effects on the environment might be and the risk benefit analysis of whether or not that risk is worth taking is purely a scientific question. It is science that will answer it, not the CofE making these pronoucements invoking a deity as an excuse. There is no stewardship of any gods, we are not a creation of any gods and prayer will do nothing to “protect drinking water” if drinking water needs protecting from this procedure.

Leave it to the scientists to answer these questions!


Let’s Pull The Plug

Story from the Telegraph

A new report by the Church of England states that it is in danger of being “wiped out” and that the Church is currently “on life support”. This is good news and I have to ask, is there anything we can do to help pull the plug?

However a few comments on some items in the report:

The Church needs to recruit more believers: it seems (and this is admittedly anecdotal) the best way to recruit is indocrination at an early age as relatively few adults convert. We must keep vigilant about this and continue our campaigns on RE and faith schools.

“This decline in membership, and the accompanying rise in average age, means that fewer people are becoming disciples of Jesus Christ, and that the Church is able to have less impact and influence in the public realm, both nationally and in the transformation of local communities”

Maybe this is because people are waking up and realising it’s fiction!

“…do we dare to believe a different future, that God might want his Church to grow, in holiness and in numbers?”

..or maybe you should realise that your imaginary friend in the sky doesn’t exist, get on with your lives, and build communities based on rationality!

The General Synod will also hear a call for an emergency debate on homosexuality. Church officials will be accused of “woeful” failure to protect the institution of marriage from erosion by the rise of civil partnerships and Coalition plans to allow same-sex couples to register their partnerships in religious settings. other words the CofE has not been effective at being homphobic bigots. Although bearing in mind wider society is much more accepting of homosexuality and gay marriage, if they want to improve numbers why don’t they drop the bigotry and accept homosexualty and gay marriage fully?